This is not a Defense of JK Rowling

(but it is in favour of waiting and seeing, for me, anyway. You do what’s right for you.)

(imagine that the Jude Law Dumbledore leaning back with that slightly disappointed expression on his face is looking at that David Yates article and the entire way JKR handled Dumbledore’s sexuality reveal)

Re this.

If you’re inclined to be angry and disappointed because Yates said Dumbledore’s sexuality isn’t “explicitly” going to be in this upcoming HP extended universe movie, I understand. Maybe Yates spoke clumsily, maybe he means that Dumbledore’s complicated past with Grindelwald will be onscreen, just in a sneaky, hinty kind of way that maybe isn’t “explicit” but that doesn’t leave room for heteronormativity, but even so, it’s disappointing. Dumbledore is gay, he’s gay, he’s gay. There should be some way of placing that onscreen without jumping too far ahead into the Dumbledore/Grindelwald backstory or whatever.

Gay people don’t magically become heterosexual when they’re single or not infatuated/in love with someone. If Dumbledore is focused on other things and only sneaky/hinty focused on his past feelings for Grindelwald in this movie, there are other ways of throwing queer fans and viewers a bone and nodding to Dumbledore’s identity onscreen unambiguously because of course it’s well past time for that. It should have been in the books, explicitly.

But.

(OK first it was Yates who said everything. He’s the director. If “Dumbledore is gay make it clear” wasn’t written in the script he could certainly have added it in himself. He’s not getting a pile-on, I noticed. Nobody is “done forever” with David Yates. Just the successful lady writer. I’m not saying don’t call my favourites out for things because they’re women and my favourites, but do note that we seem to expect perfection from her and not really from him. Guys. Come on.)

(Second, everything everyone has said about “you need to be explicit otherwise no one will know they’re queer” is absolutely true but I kind of sort of a lot think in this case it… isn’t)

(Everyone knows Dumbledore is gay)

(Ask everyone you encounter tomorrow about Dumbledore; they all know he’s gay)

(In A Very Potter MusicalSequel, and Senior Year Dumbledore is explicitly gay. In the Epic Rap Battle between him and Gandalf, Dumbledore is explicitly gay. It’s like… a thing that everyone knows. Voldemort is bad, Dumbledore is good, and he’s gay)

(It wasn’t in any of the books or the movies explicitly and yet everyone knows he’s gay)

(Very few authors can pull that off. None of them should, really. It isn’t fair that it worked in this case. But it did. It doesn’t mean Dumbledore is great representation, because he isn’t. Because he can’t be, if the only confirmation of his identity is a footnote. But there is an overwhelming sense of “Well people just won’t know that the character is gay unless you state it explicitly,” and yes that’s true, in all cases but this one. This is the exception that proves the rule, and it’s the exception that proves that even if you can pull this off, you shouldn’t. His orientation should have been explicitly in the book. It wasn’t. It’s annoying. It’s heteronormative as hell and honestly it’s hurtful. But everyone knows Dumbledore is gay.)

(97% of the people who watch Grindelwald’s Crimes or whatever it’s called are going to be watching it knowing Dumbledore is gay even if there isn’t so much as a wistful glance in Grindelwald’s direction on Dumbledore’s part. Doesn’t let the filmmakers off the hook, but, we should be honest about that. Gives us a chance to say, hey, look, do the actual hard work of getting representation right rather than just having it be a footnote, because this isn’t good enough. Leaving it at “Dumbledore doesn’t count because it’s not explicitly in the text” will cause a lot of people who won’t do basic extrapolation (and you know they won’t… because you know you have to tell them in the book that the character is whatever marginalized identity explicitly for them to accept it, so of course they need this one thought all the way through for them as well) to look at this situation and think, “Um, everyone knows Dumbledore is gay so this is clearly wrong.” The problem isn’t that no one knows he’s gay. The problem is that JK Rowling, because of decades of heteronormativity, didn’t think it was necessary to make it explicitly clear in the book that Dumbledore was in love with Grindelwald even though that sort of detail actually does add to the themes and character development, but it’s made explicitly clear that Madame Pince has a crush on Filch, which is not important at all. Dumbledore counts and is super useful to the representation conversation because he counts precisely as an example of how you do it wrong: yes, he’s gay, personally I think it’s generally good for the world that he’s gay, but his being gay is apparently an unimportant bit of trivia and doesn’t need to be known explicitly for readers to understand him, and that is the problem.)

All right. So. People seem to be under the impression that there won’t even be a nod to the complexities of Dumbledore and Grindelwald’s romantic and/or sexual past in this movie, which is about, I think, the war between them. If that’s the case, yeah, that’s stupid. Personally, I think what Yates means is that Grindelwald and Dumbledore aren’t going to make out onscreen in this one. Because. Well. Grindelwald is a genocidal dick and Dumbledore isn’t. So.

Personally, I think it would be pretty much impossible for JKR and Yates to have made a movie about their war without nodding to the complex history of the two characters. I do on the other hand think it’s possible to say something worded badly in an interview about your upcoming movie that you can’t spoil because it isn’t out for another several months and you weren’t planning on detailing exactly how the complex relationship shows up onscreen because you want people to pay the money to see it. I’m not saying all the people complaining should shut up and wait and pay and go see, because it’s up to you what you spend your money on. I understand if you’d rather spend it on queer creators’ stuff. That’s great. That is obviously the better choice, especially considering that it’s pretty much a given that Dumbledore/Grindelwald is going to be problematic. It’s just that I’m struggling to understand how it’s even possible for there to be not even a nod to the context of the Dumbledore/Grindelwald past here, and I’ve landed on, “He just misspoke.”

Maybe I’m naive. Maybe they really did try to get away with depicting Dumbledore’s famous defeat of Grindelwald without any clear reference to their romantic history.

What I do know for sure is that if they ever actually get around to depicting that relationship, Dumbledore and Grindelwald is… not going to be a nice story.

But I’m still looking forward to it, I have to admit.

I’m looking forward to it because: it is going to be fascinating, fitting into a pattern of tragic romances that JK Rowling has already written into the main story as well as a couple of peripheral stories, all of which are heterosexual. It is going to be a bit of a mess, too, simply because this romance is going to be at the very least tragic and it’s probably going to be way worse than just “tragic,” and, well, why is the only gay relationship depicted in the Harry Potter universe going to be a tragic, toxic sludge? And once it is depicted, there will probably be specific aspects of this relationship that will fit into typical bad tropes and stereotypes about gay men and their relationships, unless JKR manages to pull off the frankly impossible and avoid all of those entirely. Ultimately, I think the whole thing will be useful to dissect and critique. Especially because, before I knew he was gay, I thought Dumbledore was ace. And I think, given what we know for sure about Dumbledore, he could still be somewhere on the ace-spec. THIS DOESN’T EXCUSE ANYTHING. I’m not trying to say that my head canon ace Dumbledore solves the problem of his gay identity not being explicit on the page because OF COURSE IT DOESN’T. I just mean that JK Rowling does interesting and maybe a little bit problematic and maybe still sort of intriguing things with her tragic romances, as far as ace and aro people are concerned, and this relationship is going to shed more light onto what and how I think about all of that.

(But yeah, I don’t like that Johnny Depp is in it. I don’t like that JK Rowling defended keeping him in the movie. I really don’t like that.)

And as much as I’m looking forward to the inevitable critiquing, I’m also extremely wary of how this is all going to turn out, with regards to Dumbledore himself. I love that he has flaws and weaknesses, yes. I’m worried that he’s going to turn into a tragedy, romantically speaking. He is a tragedy where his family is concerned, and that’s important and needs to stay. I don’t want him to be a romantic tragedy, though, and I kind of think that’s how this story ends.

I think that because I saw Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. I saw the extremely creepy, unsettling relationship between Grindelwald and Credence. I saw how Grindelwald was manipulating Credence’s obvious feelings for him. He used the word “friend.” They both used the word “friend.” But. I saw what I saw.

I was looking for it, too, because I also read Deathly Hallows. Yates, in his movie version, skimmed almost entirely over the Grindelwald/Dumbledore’s past thing, but I still remember the book. Dumbledore got all white-supremecyish as a young ‘un. Partly he was inclined towards that because of what happened to his sister.

The other part of his anti-Muggle bigotry is that he was in love with Grindelwald. And Grindelwald, it was strongly hinted at, had manipulated Dumbledore.

My prediction for their relationship onscreen is that it’s going to be extremely toxic. We know it ends horrifically. The details of it that we have so far seem to suggest that it fits into a pattern of romantic tragedies that are already explicitly detailed in the books as romantic tragedies.

There are several of them. And they’re all heterosexual and explicitly and unmistakably romances in the actual text. So. Yeah. Here are the ones I remember off the top of my head:

Snape and Lily

Super toxic. Snape is definitely in love with Lily, his best friend, but he’s also convinced that becoming a Death Eater is the only way forward for him. He wants power, being so powerless himself. He chooses that over her. Because it’s a book, of course it’s literally him who gives Voldemort the information he needs to eventually kill Lily. Snape begs for her life, which is why she’s able to die and save Harry.

As far as we know, he wasn’t in love with anyone else, ever. He maybe never had a romantic and/or sexual partner, ever. I’ve seen a lot of people criticize that for being juvenile or unlikely but, no, it fucking isn’t. It happens, it’s a thing, for a lot of different reasons. And sometimes people rarely or never feel those feelings that compel someone to seek out those relationships to begin with.

(JK Rowling seems to know that without really knowing that there’s a word for it. See Charlie Weasley for the best example. This is a periphery story, just like Dumbledore’s sexuality is. I know people like to read opportunism into her post-publication declaration of Dumbledore’s being gay, but I’ve always seen Rowling as curating a huge amount of backstory information for all of her characters. I believe her when she says she always saw Dumbledore as gay. I assume she knew he was in love with Grindelwald before she name-dropped the dude on the Chocolate Frog card in Philosopher’s Stone. I don’t think she was trying to score “ally points.” I think she was just being clueless. Which is not an excuse, but there is a difference. But apparently these things, like Dumbledore being gay and Charlie being ace, are not explicitly stated in the text because she considers those details to be trivia, irrelevant to plot and theme. That’s a pretty large problem because, first, Dumbledore being in love with Grindelwald absolutely changes how we read that history. Dumbledore being romantically in love with Grindelwald explicitly absolutely would have enriched the thematic resonance and all of the character development we were getting there with him. And second, I think most of us these days understand that separately from theme and plot, a fictional character’s identity matters. And that JK Rowling seems to not understand that, or that she seems to not understand that there’s work that authors need to do to ensure that people don’t just read white, straight, cis, able-bodied, thin, allo, and so on and so forth into every single character because they’ve been trained to do that through decades of the huge white canon, is the actual problem here. Dumbledore could easily have said to Harry, “… oh and I was also in love with him.” It would have worked, it would have been explicit, it would have been easy, and ultimately it seems that JK Rowling didn’t think it was important to make sure the readers knew what she was implying, whereas in other, hetero, quick little romance stories it’s absolutely clear that it’s a romance.)

(Honestly, though, considering how many characters of hers I can read ace into, I maybe have a little niggling about a certain author and a certain ace-spectrum and I’m not even a little bit sorry)

(If she is an ace egg, that doesn’t excuse any of this, of course. And I know we’re complaining about needing more than just our head canons. Still. It’s not often that fictional characters fit so easily into being read like this and I can’t separate it from how I interpret all of the romance, tragic and not tragic, implied and explicit, in the story.) 

On the other hand, maybe the tragedy of Snape’s first and only love compelled him to live a life of self-loathing and self-loathing–induced celibacy. Which is kind of silly, or it’s kind of Arthurian Romantic, take your pick.

I’m picking a-spec Snape because it makes more sense and is less sad, but you do you.

The Grey Lady and the Bloody Baron

We get this one in a whirlwind reveal while Hogwarts collapses around Harry and company. The Grey Lady was beautiful, narcissistic, and a thief in life. The Bloody Baron was some guy who was in love with her in life. He confessed dramatically, she was like, “Ew,” and then he murdered her. And then, overcome with remorse, he killed himself.

What sticks out to me for this one is that Rowena Ravenclaw was the Grey Lady’s mom and the broken relationship between her and her daughter was the actual tragedy here, rather than the Bloody Baron being terrible, which is kind of nice.

Merope Gaunt and Tom Riddle

Merope is a victim of constant abuse. She brews a love potion in order to catch Tom Riddle’s attention. It works. It’s a love potion. It’s rape.

They get married, have a baby, she stops feeding him love potion, maybe, Dumbledore speculates, out of remorse, or maybe she was hopeful that he might really have fallen in love with her by then.

But no. It was rape.

Voldemort had been conceived, though. Tom Riddle leaves, Merope gives birth and lets herself die from heartbreak after naming the baby after his father.

Voldemort grows up not understanding “the power of love.” Deliberately, I think. I think somehow he understood that hopeless, delusional love for his father was ultimately a horrible experience for his mother, and that a love potion had taken away his father’s ability to choose, and that both of his parents chose not to love him because it was too much. I’m open to other interpretations, because Voldie was a bad dude even when he was a little kid, but Dumbledore gives him a bit of the benefit of the doubt while he is a student at Hogwarts and I think that means he was capable of turning out differently, but, upon learning the sad, twisted story of his family, he started making some wretched, soul-mutilaty choices to try to avoid the same fate as his parents.

I think JK Rowling is saying, with these three doomed love stories, that love is painful. It’s hard. It’s almost not worth it, except, in the end, it is. Because even if you mess up and then you have to live as a regret-ghost because you did a terrible thing, or as a regret-living person because you did a terrible thing, your only other option is to cut your soul into eight pieces and your greatest ambition in life becomes trying to murder a baby, so, love people however you do that, and try not to get them killed indirectly/directly murder them.

There are also lots of non romantic, non sexual, also doomed love stories that aren’t tragic in the same way as those romantic ones are:

Harry and Lily

It all comes back to this, again and again. Lily loved her son enough to die for him, of course she did. She saved him doing it. Eventually he emulates her and dies for everyone he loves as well, to save them. Lily’s last moments are horrifying and not your typical awesome, self-sacrificing hero standing between a monster and the innocent. She’s begging, crying, powerless without a wand. She endures it anyway, dies anyway, because she loves her son, and it’s what saves the wizarding world, eventually.

Sirius and James

I think Sirius is aroace. You want him to be gay? Go for it. But I think all of the telling “not interested in the hopeful girl in the exam” and “pasted posters of Muggle women and motorcycles to annoy bigoted parents, not out of interest towards the women” hints can be read either way. And either way, Sirius loves his friends. He thinks he’s doing the right thing, making Peter be the secret keeper. When it turns out he was wrong and his mistake gets Lily and James killed, Sirius pretty much gives up on his own life. A lot of factors beyond Sirius’s control come together to land him unfairly in Azkaban, but those factors that he can control he misuses out of rage and grief.

When he escapes, he does a lot of sulking and almost ruins his newfound relationship with his godson because he won’t grow up and be responsible. It’s very understandable. The murder of his best friend ruined his life. Still, it’s clear, made clear all the time, every time Sirius talks about James, that having James in his life makes it worth living for Sirius, who had been miserable right up until he met and was accepted by James on the train. Love is messy and Sirius doesn’t navigate it as gracefully as he could have, but ultimately it’s his core, making him different in all the ways that matter from his evil cousin as she kills him.

Harry and Hedwig

I’m not over this.

Harry and Dobby

I’m not over this either.

What Harry keeps learning, every time someone dies, is that love is awful. But worth it anyway. Knowing that you might very well lose the people you love doesn’t mean shutting yourself off from them and choosing not to love.

But do note that in the romances, Snape doesn’t love again, ever. The Bloody Baron certainly doesn’t. Merope couldn’t even love her son after Tom left. Tragedies, the lot of them.

So… what’s going to happen to Dumbledore, after Grindelwald?

Dumbledore and Grindelwald

I’m convinced we’re going to see this onscreen. And here’s how I think it will go.

They probably are going to have a whirlwind romance. It might be cute. For a bit. But they start feeding off of each other’s bigotry, and eventually it will become clear that Grindelwald is manipulating Dumbledore’s feelings for him in a way that is disturbing but not as disturbing as the Credence thing because at least here they’re the same age and neither of them are troubled, abused teenage boys.

Dumbledore cuts off their relationship when he realizes that he doesn’t actually want to be an “Enslave the Muggles” kind of guy. Or is that why he cuts it off?

Is it actually only when Arianna almost kills them all, and when one of them, accidentally, maybe, kills her, that Dumbledore ends it?

And then Dumbledore is idle. He won’t confront Grindelwald as he begins his atrocities, because he is terrified that Grindelwald will confirm that it was Dumbledore’s spell that killed his own sister. Probably also because of all of the complex romantic/sexual feelings, too.

When I was a kid and had no idea that asexuality was a thing, I still always picked up on and paid special attention to characters that didn’t have romances. Dumbledore was an old guy, unmarried. It seemed right to me, that he should be unmarried. At some point I thought to myself, “I just don’t think he feels that way about people, and that’s why he never got married.”

And then JK Rowling said he was gay.

I think Dumbledore can be a-spec too. Maybe the type of feelings he has for Grindelwald are rare or almost absent, and for him they strike only once. Because while it’s possible that post-Grindelwald Dumbledore did some dating and romance and stuff (which he could still have done even if he is actually some sort of ace and/or aro), I kind of sort of a lot think he absolutely didn’t. Maybe it’s because he usually doesn’t think of people in romantic and sexual ways, like I thought when I was a kid.

Or, maybe, and I think this is the winner here, it’s because it fits into the pattern those other tragic romances all fit into and he fell in love young with a guy who turned out to be manipulative on the one hand and genocidal on the other and they got into a fight that killed his sister, and as punishment for himself, he chose to never love again. Something like my interpretation of Voldemort, but much less extreme. He chose to never pursue romantic love again, because he didn’t consider himself worthy of it.

That’s what I’m expecting, anyway.

Based on all the Harry Potter I’ve consumed throughout the years, I think I’ve picked up on Rowling’s Harry Potter love and tragic love and tragic romantic love patterns. As much as I think she’s kind of writing her way around the a-specs, I think she really does love a tragic romance where it goes bad and the one partner decides never to do it again maybe because they’re broken now, and maybe it’s because they’re still trying to grapple with the after-effects, and maybe it’s because they only feel those things rarely and it just doesn’t happen again for them. All of that is there, possible, to read into these romances. When we finally get Dumbledore and Grindelwald it will probably be there too.

There’s a lot to say about this story, the way I’m expecting it to happen. There’s good stuff there, maybe, and there’s some problematic stuff as well. Maybe it will happen completely differently. Maybe Dumbledore did love other men afterwards and it was never discussed because it wasn’t relevant to the plot but, like, pepperup potion is though. And also firecrabs. And flobberworms. And Sir Cadogan. THERE IS A HINT AT A ROMANCE BETWEEN MADAME PINCE AND FILCH. SO.

Whatever happens, it’s kind of crucial that Dumbledore is stated to be gay, and that this statement comes separately from his complicated and very likely toxic relationship with Grindelwald. Because the Dumbledore/Grindelwald love story is a tragedy, and Dumbledore being gay is not a tragedy.

I’m looking forward to analyzing this love story, critiquing it, wondering about what went wrong and what could have been better and what, hopefully, works about the portrayal of this relationship. But Dumbledore’s identity should be its own thing, not only onscreen tied to a toxic romance. That I can say right now, without waiting to see any of the movies or waiting to see how the relationship itself is portrayed.

I hope Yates apologizes to Rowling about that interview, btw. Also I hope both of them do the thing, or that they have done it already, because it honestly isn’t that much to ask for. And I hope we all keep reading and recommending stories that are explicitly about queer people and those that are written by queer authors, because that is always a good thing. This tag contains all the ones I read last year. So far, this year, I’ve read Let’s Talk About Love which has a biromantic asexual protagonist, and I’m reading Beneath the Sugar Sky of the Wayward Children series which features an ensemble that includes a trans boy, an ace girl, and maybe the lesbian girl shows up again. I’m only halfway through but I’m hopeful because she’s my favourite.

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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.

The Polar Expressay

Anecdote time.

A few years ago, my younger cousin was beginning to doubt, so one day, finally, he went to his mother for reassurance.

“Mom? Do you believe in Santa?”

This is a tough situation because, first of all, the kid has trusted you with one of his innermost fears, a sneaking doubt that he wishes would just evaporate, a sneaking doubt that he never used to experience when he was younger. Now you have to answer properly because this is a big deal question and it has taken a lot of courage for him to trust you with it.

Next, it’s hard because he’s at the age where it’s too early to just rip the band-aid off and admit the truth, but at the same time, he’s too old for a bald-faced lie because he’s going to remember asking this question and that you bald-face lied and he won’t trust you ever again.

So what do you do?

My aunt, thinking quickly (and amazingly), said, “… I believe… in the… spirit… of Santa.”

And he nodded sagely and said, “Yeah, I believe in the spirit of Santa too.”


Belief is a pretty big deal this time of year – not necessarily in Santa, or even in the religious aspects. I always try to believe in the spirit of the season, and the importance of family and friends, or whatever. The inherent gentleness inside all of us. The potential for peace. That stuff is what all of the songs are about, anyway.

This year I’m in a bit of a funk. It’s not down to any one thing, but these days it seems like it’s a little difficult to believe in all of that in general. Due to that, I wanted to look at the Christmas animated movie that is entirely about belief, but that also leaves me with too many questions to be comfortable.

If you want to be an awful cynic about it, you can do a surface reading of The Polar Express (the movie, anyway – I haven’t read the book and I don’t know if or how it differs) that goes like this:

  • The Pol Ex tells kids it’s a buzzkill to be skeptical
  • No, really. Main Boy is always questioning Main Girl and it’s depicted as if Main Boy is a huge buzzkill and Main Girl is always right anyway and all his questioning does is make her doubt herself, but what if she one day is wrong? Is she really not supposed to listen to criticism or “sober second judgement” ever? So when her ticket says “LEAD” at the end, what, is she supposed to be a dictator?
  • Billy is told to just buy into Christmas™ because everyone else is doing it, it doesn’t matter what his lived experiences are
  • Billy is told to trust some elves and a magical gift dude who has never given him a present before because everyone else is doing it, it doesn’t matter what his lived experiences are, and also, all of those previous Christmases that didn’t work out were… his fault?
  • There’s a ghost on this train
  • No, really, there’s a ghost and he’s extremely creepy, and there’s also a room full of terrifying marionettes and the ghost makes one of Scrooge move and yell existentially terrifying things at Main Boy for kicks
  • There are so many potentially child-murdering fuckups on this magical journey, and the conductor, engineers, and all of the elves should get fired

But I’m not an awful cynic. All of the “don’t be skeptical” messaging that seems to be going on is rather undercut by Fourth, Arrogant Kid’s entire existence. It’s not that you shouldn’t be skeptical or curious or even self-conscious and doubtful – all of those are essential things. It’s just that there are times, such as when you’re about to die for the fifth time in a row on this bullshit train journey, that you need to kind of just trust yourself. And your friends. And, I guess, God, or something. Whatever your guiding light is. And on Christmas Eve at 5 minutes to midnight, your guiding light is “The Spirit of Christmas.”

Billy’s subplot is strange, though. If you’ve got nothing productive to say about poverty or neglect or whatever is going on with Billy, then, um, maybe don’t include it and give it a simplistic magical solution.

As for the ghost and the terrifying stuff, I really like it. I find it quite comforting, actually. Whenever the ghost shows up I feel inexplicably safe (yes, even when he’s marionetting Scrooge). It’s likely because the ghost’s entire existence is to mock the kid for being skeptical. Sometimes skepticism needs to be mocked (because you’re being a dick, Declan), and the times to mock skepticicm are basically Christmas time.

I also like all of the almost-death because it’s fun to watch, so sue me. I’m not a fan of “In the real world these people would be so fired” criticisms in general because, first of all, duh, this is a movie, if you meant to watch real life for an hour and a half you took a wrong turn somewhere, and second of all, IDK, have you seen the White House lately aidhfjsdnkandcka

But here’s some less awful cynical critique.

The culmination of Main Boy’s doubt vs belief conflict has him turn away from struggling to see Santa behind columns of elves, and turn away from reindeer anxiously trying to fly while their bells jingle absolutely silently, and close his eyes. “OK. OK. I believe. I… believe…”

It’d be a pretty shallow movie if just seeing Santa confirmed Santa’s existence. It’d be pretty shallow too if the sound of the sleigh bells is what did it. But no, it’s neither of those things. Main Boy can’t hear the bell until he lets himself believe, tells himself he believes, insists that he believes. It’s more about the fear of believing in something in case it turns out to not be true, or if it turns out to not be all you imagined, and you get hurt.

The sound of the bell becomes concrete evidence of Main Boy’s belief, instead of being concrete evidence of the existence of Santa and all of the magic around him. This is all well and good, because although concrete evidence of the magic is what Main Boy has been looking for this whole time, finding that evidence can’t possibly give him what he needs. The problem is, once you prove something with concrete evidence, you can’t really believe it anymore, not truthfully, because then it’s just a fact. “The Spirit of Christmas” is something you believe in, not something you prove.

What I don’t like about the sound of the bell is what’s said about it at the very end of the movie. Main Boy, having grown up into Tom Hanks (like everyone else in this universe), talks about how his friends and even his sister all one by one found that a year finally came around when they could no longer hear the sound of the bell, but Main Boy always could. That’s the part that just doesn’t work for me, because if it’s supposed to be a point about kids having a specific way of believing as opposed to adults, then Main Boy Who is Now Tom Hanks should really not be able to hear it as an adult. And if instead it’s supposed to be about how the Polar Express experience itself was a lasting thing that ensured he would always be a little bit more childlike and believey than everyone else, I’m not a fan of that either, because that’s weird, and the train almost fell through ice and went down a roller coaster, and, I don’t know, it just doesn’t work for me.

Maybe they just didn’t know how to end it otherwise, so they went with, “Our parents couldn’t hear it but we could but then all the other kids grew up and couldn’t and while I grew up into Tom Hanks I still could, TA-DAAAA.”

(that has nothing whatsoever to do with this, nothing at all, but I can’t even think the “word” “ta-da” without thinking about this so)

I’d rather think about the duality of what’s strictly, factually real here, and what’s not but still kind of is. All of that junk is firmly on my playlist: magical realism, Life of Pi, etc. When Main Boy wakes up on Christmas morning, he rips his pocket, even though at 5 to midnight the night before he already ripped his pocket as he made his way outside to see the train. There’s some concrete evidence that the polar experience was a dream.

But then his sister finds the bell wrapped under the tree, with a note from Santa referencing that he lost it the previous night.

Two pieces of evidence, proving two different and conflicting realities.

Their mom comes over and asks what he’s got, and asks who it’s from.

“Santa!” they tell her, and her “Santa, really?” answer sounds really skeptical. I don’t know how it’s possible to instruct an actress to read that short little line and somehow convey that she knows Santa isn’t real while humouring her kids and being a little bit confused but not overly worried about it, but, they did it. Or maybe I’m just reading that into it, but it really does sound like she’s doing double duty there.

And if she doesn’t believe in Santa, and if it’s her and her husband who are putting the gifts under the tree and pretending they’re from Santa, and if the bell is not from her and her husband, then Santa is both real and not real in this universe, which is… interesting.

Belief is a tricky little abstract concept. The duality of “Santa is real!” and “But he’s not, actually!” and then again “But he still kind of is, ultimately!” is interesting but it doesn’t have much to contribute on the subject. It probably comes back to the important climactic moment where Main Boy decides to believe. Deciding to believe in something is big, important, crucial, but in this movie, it also happens right before Main Boy sees Santa up close and actually talks to him. Metaphorically it’s nice I guess; it grants catharsis. But choosing to believe in something, even if it’s “The Spirit of Christmas,” is not a thing that you do one time and then that’s it, you’re set. Faith gets shaken. Time moves on, you get older, you lose people, unexplained things happen in “free and fair” elections, and it takes near-constant work to remain believey, no matter what it is you happen to choose to believe in.

I’m of two minds, fittingly. I like that The Polar Express illustrates belief the way that it does, but I also think its conclusion is a little too simplistic for the big concepts it’s trying to discuss. It’s why I prefer A Christmas Carol and Arthur Christmas – both of those have pretty simplistic ideas at their hearts. A Christmas Carol meshes generosity of spirit (and wealth) with the Christmas season, and Arthur Christmas is about doing your job for the right reasons and very much masculinity all day with the masculinity oh my God it’s entirely about masculinity. Simple ideas expanded with detailed stories and characters. Pol Ex is more about simple characters grappling with big ideas, and, maybe it’s just me, but I like the “simple ideas, complex characters/exploration” type better. They seem neater, cleaner, and ultimately more satisfying.

But there’s really nothing like the train materializing out of the mist.

Anatomy of a Traitorous Disney Opinion: We Liked the Beauty and the Beast Remake

Hi there! Here we all are on this fine day, finding ourselves parked on this web page which belongs to two people who preferred the 2017 Beauty and the Beast to the 1991 Beauty and the Beast. It’s not the first time we’ve liked the newer, live actioner version of a Disney classic better than the original version, but our preferences tend to run against the grain of how, like, everyone else in the universe feels about these live action Disney remake movies.

We wanted to discuss our B&tB feelings in depth but were too lazy to write another long-winded post about it, so we went on a Canadian staycation and had an actual verbal conversation about it and recorded it, probably while black bears lumbered around outside looking for snacks. But we didn’t bring the right equipment for the microphone so the sound is not great; only one of us is properly audible. So, this is an extremely informal transcript/summary of that conversation. It’s really important that we share it, guys. We were totally insightful. *shifty eyes*

First, we complained about our internet names and how weird they are instead of actually introducing ourselves.

To fix this I’ll just stick this here: hi, I’m erm, I had a stupid day today and it involved a lot of dying animals. Three is my sister and she’s currently making a video about Michael Scott for a class for her MBA.

So then we yelled at each other about who should start talking. Then Three tried to hum the iconic Disney opening “When You Wish Upon a Star” notes and it was really bad. She may actually be tone deaf and/or she doesn’t remember 3/4 of the notes and the order they go in of that song. But then we started, right off the bat, with something important.

Erm: I think you’re too harsh about Belle.

Three: I think YOU’RE too harsh about Belle.

Erm: Wow, good counterargument. You said, that she – she’s elitist. I think you’re right, but I think, sometimes –

Three: Did I say she was elitist?

Erm: No, that was between the lines. I think that sometimes, in a movie, your character has to kind of be elitist.

Three: Well, I think that’s why Belle works for so many people. Because everyone wants to believe that they are the one person –

Erm: That’s what you were saying, and I think you’re being harsh.

Three: How is that harsh?

Erm: Because –

Three: I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, I’m just saying it’s a thing.

Erm: Well, you have to keep pointing out that it’s not a bad thing.

Three: OK, well, next time I write a post about B&tB I’ll point out that it’s not a bad thing. But it is the whole – look, it’s not a bad thing unless it’s the entirety of the character, is to be better than everyone else.

Erm: But that’s not really the entirety, because she’s so isolated from everybody most of the time, and then, OK, so, in the town, that’s what it’s about but when she goes to the castle that’s not what it’s about anymore, now she’s just at the castle.

Three: But she doesn’t do anything in the castle.

Erm: OK, but that’s your other thing, is that she does nothing, so –

Three: Well that’s my – that’s what I’m saying is when the entirety of your –

Erm: She does go off and save her father twice.

Three: Yeah, that’s something, but, why is her only personality saving men?

Erm: That’s not a personality, that’s actions.

Three: Sorry. Why are her only actions saving men?

Erm: … because… that’s just… how it is.

Three: At least in the live action she saves herself, or tries to.

Erm: Yeah, I think she has more to do in the live action, but not that much more.

Three: And she tries to teach a little girl to read.

Erm: Yes, but still, these are small things, like her story doesn’t change all that much. It’s just little details that they added that make it a little more –

Three: I like to see little hints of a personality in there because I know that she’s there to perform a specific role for the audience to make you feel like you could be put in this story, she’s the avatar character, she’s the Bella Swan of this story, and you can be like, “I can be her,” and, yeah, you probably could, but it’s nice to see her occasionally do something other than be kind of a blank slate, save men from themselves.

Erm: *mutters unintelligibly through that whole speech*

LATER…

We argued about whether the Beast was going to save Belle from the wolves or apologize or just to get her back in the animated one, and basically decided that it doesn’t matter. But we note that in the new version everyone knows about the wolves so it’s clearer that he is trying to save her, not just recapture her.

We compared how the servants cower while Belle is yelling at the Beast for not cooperating with the hurt/comfort she’s trying to provide him with, whereas in the new version, while the servants are still occasionally scared of him, mostly, they don’t let his dickish behaviour go uncommented upon.

Three: So, you say that in the animated version it’s not clear what lesson he’s supposed to be learning, ’cause it’s almost like there’s two stories happening simultaneously, like one about appearances and one about controlling your temper, and he doesn’t seem to learn either.

Erm: Yeah.

Three: So what lesson would you say he’s learning in the live action?

Erm: He does learn that – he’s a snob, and that goes away, and that’s all that happens. Basically, he learns a lesson she should have been learning if they had made her character flawed and needing an arc. It could start with her being a snob, and she has to learn.

Three: That not being able to read doesn’t make you less of a person.

Erm: Yeah, but, I don’t think that’s what she believes, but, sure.

Three: She believes it about Gaston.

Erm: No.

Three: Although, he is a terrible person.

Erm: She knows that he’s a terrible person because he’s a terrible person.

(We agreed to disagree)

We talked about how we haven’t seen Gaston apologists ever. But there are a lot of Scar and Frollo apologists and we’re unimpressed. I informed Three that there are Ratcliffe apologists – more like, there are people who are honestly impressed by Pocahontas for showing how “both sides were wrong.” When, y’know, one side was clearly the wrong one.

Erm: We also complained [in the blog post we did on the animated movie] about the town and how it’s designed to be awful. Um. I don’t know. Is it that big of a deal? Is there anything like that in a Disney movie, ’cause that is a thing, like, if you live in a really intolerant place and all of your neighbours are horrible people…

Three: I think we wrote that in a time before Trump was elected, where we were a lot more likely to look at these people and say “Oh I bet there’s human inside of them and they’re probably very nice and have a lot of real problems and insecurities,” and now we’re just like “Ah you know what, they probably would have voted for Trump.”

Erm: Yeah. But in the live action version they do have – I think it’s in the spur of the moment that they [form a hate mob], but then the magic breaks and then they remember that they’re married to these people. So, it’s weird, the hate mob that just showed up is a bunch of good people.

Three: The hate mob is just like, “Can we kill my wife and child?”

Erm: It’s just really bizarre.

Three: It is really bizarre. I don’t – that’s true, maybe that doesn’t work.

Erm: A lot of the story doesn’t work in the live action and the animated one.

Three: I really enjoyed the fact that some of them were married to the servants, though, because why wouldn’t they be?

Erm: Because it’s hard to be married to someone who lives in castle.

Three: Well maybe they all lived in the castle. I don’t knooooow. I’m just saying they have families and lives, they’re not just servants, like there’s more to them than that.

We debated whether three’s description of Belle in the post was too harsh, because erm thought that you could do that with any of the Disney princesses (at least until the early nineties), and we didn’t really get anywhere except to suggest that maybe Belle seems “worse” (for lack of a better word) than the others in terms of agency is because it isn’t really her story, she just serves a narrative purpose in the Beast’s. Falling in love with the Beast is important, because it shows that she’s compassionate, but the act of falling in love is also really passive. It almost seems to happen against her will, in fact.

Erm: And we already know that she’s capable of [falling in love with the Beast] because she knows Gaston is an idiot despite the fact that he’s pretty.

Three: I think the reason I go out of my way to say that Belle is a bad character as opposed to any of the others is because –

Erm: Is she a bad character or is she just not the focus of the story when she seems like she should be?

Three: I don’t know. She doesn’t work for me as a character. And the reason why I always have to fight that is because the understanding is she’s supposed to be ours. If you’re a brunette, she’s supposed to be yours. If you like to read, she’s yours. If you’re quiet, she’s yours. If you’re an outsider, she’s your princess, she’s for you. She’s supposed to be our favourite.

[Three is apparently very angry about the several people who assumed her favourite princess is Belle]

[Shoutout to all the Middle Eastern, Native American, Chinese, African American, Polynesian, and, we’re assuming, Scottish women who dislike the movies/princesses that people must automatically assume they love, because apparently this is a problem]

[Seriously, though, we imagine that, for example, being Native and having to hear about Pocahontas all the damn time when it’s not a good look – like, at all – at colonialism, would be kind of a nightmare]

Three: There’s just nothing to her.

Erm: It’s because it’s not about her, it’s about the Beast.

Three: Yeah. And I guess what it is is that the story that could have been didn’t happen, and I feel like I was cheated out of a princess.

Erm: I don’t think I was cheated out of a princess but I do think that Beauty and the Beast is a missed opportunity. To have a female character who has to learn something and who starts out as unlikable because this would have been the opportunity to do that.

Three: They’re never going to write an unlikable princess. They get chewed up and spit out every time they try.

Erm: I don’t know that they try.

Three: Merida?

Erm: That was Pixar. But yeah. When Brave came out I saw people arguing that she was wrong, she should have just gotten married and why was she so mad, and it’s like, are you serious? Do you want to actually think about that for a minute? I just think – when you’re used to all the princesses being nice people from the start and then you have one who is slightly selfish – and I think Merida was right.

Three: Yeah I think she was too.

Erm: And I think the movie doesn’t think that she’s right, but she was right.

Three: She was right.

Erm: She’s basically Ariel. She does exactly what Ariel does. She goes and finds magic to solve the problem of her parents not letting her do what she wants to do and then it ruins her parents’ life, and then in Brave it comes down to, she has to apologize. But they were kinda going to ruin your life, and they weren’t listening to you, so what were you supposed to do?

Three: Yeah, I don’t even think she is selfish.

Erm: No, and I think that her parents have a lot more power than she does, so it is more their responsibility to actually listen to their kid.

Three: But, for some reason, people can’t handle seeing a princess who isn’t perfect. And this comes back to the fact that female characters are held to a much higher standard than male characters. We’re fine seeing male redemption arcs all the time but when do you ever see a female redemption arc, especially in children’s lit?

Erm: And this would have been perfect for that, because in the original fairy tale – it’s not like she really learns anything, it’s just that the beast is a good guy except for the fact that he sentences people to death for picking a flower, but other than that, he’s a good guy, and she lives in the castle, and over time she learns that he’s good even though he looks scary, and then she leaves, and decides to come back. So all you had to do was add some personality, so that she would be resistant to liking him, even though he’s nice, because of the way he looks, and there you go.

Three: So she learns that appearances don’t matter.

Erm: Yeah, it’s not about him. He’s like any of the cursed princesses in any story. He just needed to be saved.

This said, we still like that they fleshed out the Beast’s story for the live action, which they did because the Disney version really is his story. And we felt that they should have just committed to that.

Cinderella was Jack Jack and Gus’s story, according to us, which is a thing we’ve said before.

So then erm wanted to talk about masculine self-hate and managed to not talk about it very well.

Erm: I think that, mainly in the animated one, most of the Beast’s conflict is just about masculine self-hate. He’s just wounded and he lashes out, and he recognizes immediately that she could break the spell but thinks it’s also impossible.

Three: And tries anyway, and when it doesn’t work he’s like, “Of course it didn’t work.”

Erm: He’s afraid of rejection so he asks her in a really aggressive way.

Three: What part in particular is the self-hate, is it the end?

Erm: Yeah. Yeah! Because she leaves and then he gives up on life.

Three: So he literally lies down and lets Gaston try to kill him.

Erm: And still doesn’t get up despite being beaten to death and shouted insults at, he’s like, “Ah, it’s fine. This is how I die.” I don’t know – it’s hard to talk about because I don’t think I understand it at all, being female, but I know that it’s a thing, like, that’s why they put women on pedestals, that’s why Belle doesn’t have a character, that’s why most of the princesses don’t have [unintelligible – but, maybe something along the lines of flaws, arcs, idk].

Three: So what is the man and the beast archetype?

Erm: So it’s a dichotomy – I think that Disney does masculinity really well, usually, but here, they’re kind of relying on – it’s a really old model of perfect masculinity against animals. So everything that’s perfect, like, being logical, and – uh –

Three: Gaston?

Erm: No, because he’s not. He is and he isn’t. But like, being at the top of the food chain, and logical, and smart, and thoughtful, are all on the man side, and then everything chaotic and hysterical and emotional and – violent is usually on the animal side. But then what happens is that they put anybody – so like women: women are considered to be emotional, so they get put on the animal side. And then, anyone who isn’t really rich is more like an animal because they’re uneducated, so they can’t be as logical, and then anybody who isn’t white is obviously more like an animal – that’s how they justify everything to do with colonialism, that’s how they justify slavery, obviously anybody who’s gay – anybody who isn’t a really rich white guy from Europe, is more like an animal. So this system hurts everybody, except the extremely rich white guy, basically. And the way that they do it in Beauty and the Beast is that the Beast proves that he’s not a beast by not being violent towards Gaston, and not caring about his life anymore, and being tamed by femininity, and Gaston gets put on the animal side – and the problem with that is that he’s uneducated, and a brute, and he’s a villager. I think that they’re not trying to do that, but in some ways it’s still connected.

[this stuff is more complicated than this]

[and is 100% the basis of the intersectionality of animal rights, btdubs]

Erm: And I don’t think that – Hunchback doesn’t do that.

Three: No. Well, Frollo is clearly a powerful white man.

Erm: He is, and he’s religious, and virtuous, he thinks.

Three: He seems to be nonviolent – until he doesn’t anymore, but still.

[“Seems” is a good word here. Frollo is torturing people and genociding from the very beginning of the movie. It starts with him killing Quasi’s mom and attempting to drown an infant. He just thinks he’s justified, and despite the fact that the audience knows he isn’t, right from the start, his authority and self-righteousness kind of makes us forget what a reprehensible and violent person he is, which is exactly how logical powerful rich European white men got away with all sorts of atrocities – it was for everyone else’s own good, because those dudes knew best. Or at least, that’s what they kept saying.]

Erm: Oh and, um, Tarzan. Because the guy – he’s British, and like, really British, with a pompous accent, he’s got the gun, he’s the logical one, he’s manipulating everybody –

Three: But Tarzan, the uneducated ape-person, is – so, Disney likes to ask the question, who is the monster and who is the man, not just in Hunchback but in a bunch of different movies, and in Beauty and the Beast, the answer was, the blond-haired, blue-eyed prince with the expensive education, who happens to be having a bad hair day, is the man, and Gaston is the monster.

Erm: Well, in this one, he says, “I am not a beast,” [it’s a really good impression of Dan Stevens, for real] and it’s like, where did this conflict coming from? You haven’t discussed this at all. And even, in the Mob Song, LeFou gets a line that we both like, which is, “something, something, something, something,” [it’s a less good impression of Josh Gad, to be honest].

Three: It’s written really cleverly and I can’t remember what it is. Something about, yes there’s a beast, but I’m afraid the true monster has been awoken or something, it’s way better than what I just said.

[It’s: “There’s a beast running wild, there’s no question/but I fear the wrong monster’s released.”]

Three: So, saying, sure, there’s a beast out there somewhere but this guy is the actual problem, which, thank you, LeFou, for being all of us, at all times.

Erm: Well, yeah. I think Beauty and the Beast lends itself to masculine self-hate which is probably why it didn’t do as good a job at showing the healthy version of masculinity – I don’t know that there’s one healthy version of masculinity but they do show you the unhealthy version and they reject it.

Three: Well. Certainly Gaston is unhealthy.

Erm: Yeah, and I think they do that really well, it’s just a little bit uncomfortable how clear it’s made that he’s stupid. But now, I’ve changed my mind a little bit, because of what happens in politics, when you don’t uphold intelligence.

We talked about the wardrobe joke and how it’s a little, tiny bit better than the animated version of the same joke, but it’s still a joke at the expense of men in women’s clothing which isn’t cool and is sort of low key transphobic. Or not low key.

Also we liked Gad’s LeFou; a simple matter of taste. We acknowledged that he isn’t good representation at all but we liked him anyway.

Three claimed she doesn’t like Olaf, erm said, “Three of House OwlMachine, I name you liar.” Because she couldn’t stop laughing at the part where Olaf says, “I don’t have a skull.”

She continues to claim that even though she thinks that is one of the best lines in the movie, she doesn’t want Olaf to be there. And then she forgot that Hei Hei exists. But she likes Hei Hei. She just forgot him.

We talked a lot more about upcoming live action Disney movies, but we had very little else to say on the actual topic so for now, I’m going to stop transcribing.

Maybe I’ll pick it back up for when the next live action remake comes out.

In conclusion: we liked the live action one better, probably mostly because it was longer and fleshed out the side characters a lot and we responded to that. Because the main thing that we learned here is that our fundamental problems, mainly, that Belle doesn’t drive her own story/have an arc/learn anything/have to self-actualize, and that the Beast is a bit of a strange depiction of masculinity, for Disney, at least, didn’t really improve in the live action one.

The Essential Halloween Accessory

is a savvy, scrawny, old, torn-eared black cat.

I wanted to write a whole thing about this animated cat to end all animated cats and how he’s like the Cheshire Cat if the Cheshire Cat had been on Alice’s side but I couldn’t figure out how to do it without just stating facts.

Instead, here are some of my favourite caps of the Coraline cat. They’re from Disney Screencaps once again, the site which, apparently, doesn’t stop at Disney.

coraline catcoraline cat 2coraline cat 3coraline cat 4coraline cat 5coraline cat 6cat can talkcat is a bastion of wisdomi've seen that lookmy cat would never do thatcoraline cat 7

Get you a cat in case of other-dimension monsters with nefarious intentions for your eyes.

Hermione and Ron: What Went Wrong?

 

^^^^^^^^^^^^^ This, by Emily Sowers, who will hopefully make a thousand more soon, is a good video essay.

I could just leave it there, but watching it got me thinking about my simultaneously most hated and most beloved topic of discussion: Ron and Hermione, and their adaptation hell.

The video starts with Hermione and then can’t quite help but comment on Ron. In fact, I think because of the ways Ron and Hermione are intertwined in the story, it’s almost impossible to talk about the changes the movies made to one of them without discussing the changes made to the other.

I’ve often felt a little weird about complaining that the movies made Ron useless and bumbling, and then adding, “And Hermione isn’t useless enough! Where are her flaws?” I think that’s because at first glance, removing Hermione’s flaws and taking away any sign of weakness makes her a stronger female character, and if I want her to cry more and mess up and be bossy and be the butt of a joke occasionally, that’s me wanting a strong woman torn down.

But I’m done worrying about that, because no. I wanted Hermione to be more like she was in the book because she was real, and her flaws were uniquely feminine, and removing them is – look, I’m not going to say it’s misogynistic, but it does suggest that unfortunate thing where we’re all really turned off by what are generally considered to be feminine traits. Also, complex and flawed female characters are so important and WHY RUIN HERMIONE LIKE THIS. She was perfect the way she was, with her damn flaws intact.

Six years ago (nothing changes, alas) I wrote this:

The real root of the problem is that they failed at both characters separately, so their interactions inevitably didn’t work properly. With Hermione, the hair is just the beginning, but it represents what they did to her. She was supposed to be flawed, but they stuck her on that horrific pedestal and turned her into the world’s most perfect, most bland, most heroineish heroine. I suspect that deep down, the filmmakers are supporters of Grangerverse. If you’ve been reading this in sheer horror that I put so much thought into such things, I can assure you that it only gets worse from this point on. There are some crazy people who think that Hermione is God himself in human, fictional form. She is so brilliant, so perfect, that she is actually, without JKR’s knowledge, the main character. As in, when JKR named all of the books after HP and made him the protagonist she simply wasn’t thinking straight. These people are also very often people who despise Ron, which reinforces my suspicions about the filmmakers.

Grangerverse isn’t relevant anymore, but I do occasionally see the odd pro-Hermione comment that makes me feel sad. Not because I think Hermione shouldn’t be celebrated – she should. Every day we should be throwing Hermione Parties. I get sad because I can’t just take for granted that the pro-Hermione comment is informed by the real Hermione, flaws and all. Also, this typical pro-Hermione comment is usually at the expense of Ron and that’s how I can tell that, yeah, this person either didn’t read the books or did, but only once or twice, and now only remembers the movie version.

Which is a shame.

Because movie-version Hermione is a one-dimensional character: defanged, prettified, and smooth where she should be all rough edges.

I’m friends with a Hermione-type in real life, and let me tell you, sometimes conversations get difficult. Hermione is demanding of her friends. She doesn’t let things go. She doesn’t always listen. She doesn’t always spare her friends’ feelings. She’s stubborn and confrontational. These are all traits that make her amazing, but they also have their pitfalls, just as Ron’s humour and surprising displays of sensitivity are the flip sides of occasional cruelty and insecurity. In my real life friendship where I guess I’m the Harry to my friend’s Hermione, sometimes I feel like there’s a huge spotlight being shone on all of my shortcomings and my friend can’t or won’t notice that it’s making me a bit uncomfortable. She’s an amazing person and I love her, and she doesn’t mean to make me feel bad – no, she really is just trying to make me better and often that’s great and invaluable to have that, but, look. I change the subject a lot. Because. Nobody (except Hermione-types) can be that pure.

Examples of Hermione being an exhausting friend:

  • Those freaking homework diaries she gives Ron and Harry for Christmas. I can only imagine. I would rip my hair out.
  • Being infuriatingly nosy about what her friends’ marks are, all while loudly complaining about her own (very good, but apparently not good enough) marks. It’s impossible to commiserate with Hermione; she’s top in the class and yet she’s still too insecure about marks by half.
  • Remember when Harry uses sectumsempra on Malfoy, feels rotten, and she lectures him about it nonstop? It’s like, Hermione, he knows, shut up.

And Harry and Ron love her anyway.

She’s also not always Ms. Extremely Bloody Capable – she mostly is, of course, but sometimes she can’t quite do a thing. The video essay pointed out a lot of key Hermione fumbles but whatever, a short list:

  • She can’t fight Boggarts for shit, at least in third year
  • The freak-out with the Devil’s Snare in book one is a highlight for sure
  • She cannot do social justice work well. She is very bad at it. Just ask any Hogwarts House-Elf (this is not to say she was wrong, because of course she was right. But SPEW is, um, not the way to do anything, ever)
  • She’s often a mess during or after combat, especially in the Ron-gets-splinched part.

And Harry and Ron love her anyway.

Hermione is sometimes, surprisingly, really insensitive. She and Ron seem to flip-flop on this – where usually she’s the one who picks up on others’ feelings Ron is the one being a little flippant (or a complete jerk), but where she’s insisting on being confrontational Ron is noticing that it would be better if she left it alone. Some key Hermione being insensitive moments:

  • Well, the sectumsempra part works here too
  • Remember when her cat was non-stop after Scabbers? It turned out that Crookshanks was right to persecute him but nobody knew that at first. She handled that whole thing really badly, which is to say, she didn’t handle it.
  • A couple of times she gets people to do things for her by being overbearing and insufferable. A fun time was when she blackmailed Fred and George into not testing their skiving snack boxes on first years, and a less fun one was when she cornered Neville into signing up for SPEW.

And Harry and Ron love her anyway.

She is occasionally, delightfully, ridiculous:

  • Her huge crush on Lockhart is a fine example. She slept with his get well card under her pillow. Oh, Hermione.
  • When she failed her DADA exam because her Boggart turned into Professor McGonagall telling her she’d failed everything and she went to pieces.
  • She asked McLaggen to the Slug Club Christmas Party to spite Ron and regretted it almost instantly and then spent the evening hiding behind columns.
  • She blackmailed Rita Skeeter. Both ridiculous and amazing.

And Harry and Ron love her anyway.

Hermione cries all the time. All. The. Time.

And they love her anyway.

See, that’s the thing. If you take a female character from a book who cries a lot and sometimes doesn’t really act like the brightest witch of her age and you adapt her into a perfect, intelligent action girl and stick her on a pedestal because you think it’s more realistic, or entertaining, or god forbid more feminist that way, then, no. Please don’t. It’s not more feminist. Feminism is not about wanting women to be on pedestals and if you think it is you have been led well astray.

And finally, allow me to comment on the Ron thing, because I will probably never stop commenting on the Ron thing. In fact, if “The Harry Potter movies ruined Ron and I will NEVER rest in peace because of it” isn’t engraved on my tombstone then someone’s getting haunted, I swear it.

I no longer care if you wanted Hermione and Harry to end up married. That’s fine. They’re compatible. I mean, he yells a lot and she cries a lot and they aren’t attracted to each other in the slightest but fine. Have it your way – it’s eons better than wanting either of them to have ended up with Draco so I’ll take it.

But I am sick of the anti-Ron thing. Hermione isn’t too good for Ron just because she’s smarter than him. She isn’t too good for Ron just because he has insecurities and makes mistakes sometimes. She isn’t too good for Ron just because he sometimes says mean things. He’s flawed; she likes him anyway. He works on his flaws and occasionally even learns something.

If you’d like to talk about how writing a friendship-to-romance where the friendship is occasionally volatile as a way to hint that they’d be a lot happier if they’d just kiss already is problematic or at the very least not your favourite thing, I’m here for that. I’ll have that discussion. Sometimes Ron and Hermione’s fighting annoys me too. What I like is that they always get over it, even if it’s a big fight, because of course they do. They’re friends and also apparently in love. But I see that point and I’m good with it.

But can we also discuss how I think the real appeal of the Ron/Hermione romantic relationship is the appeal of having someone you know well, who knows you well, who has seen you at your best and your worst, who often expresses annoyance at you and at whom you often express annoyance, who you can argue with without the world ending, who doesn’t let you get away with indulging your worst instincts without calling you out for it, turn out to be romantically interested in you even though you’re both sometimes annoying? I think this works from both sides of their relationship. They know each other’s worst habits and are friends in spite of them, and if they’re also capable of being lovers in spite of them, well, isn’t that a lot more realistic a depiction of a healthy relationship than it ever gets credit for being?

I don’t really know. I’m more open to Ron/Hermione criticism than I have been in the past, but if you come at me with “She’s perfect and he’s always eating,” I’m going to tell you to crack open the damn books. Which is what Hermione would say. Seriously, if you hate Ron so much stop emulating him. He’s the one who would just leave it at the movie version.

**Also we went to see It again after I’d drafted this post and now I think Bev got almost the same treatment as Hermione did. I’ll have to write extensively about that at some other time.**


In other nostalgia news, I narrated an old LotR parody fic we wrote and it was definitely not a waste of time… *shifty eyes*

Click Haldir to listen.

haldir

Itttttttttt (first thoughts)

In brief: I have some notes, but I loved it.

Spoilers, for movie. And book.

the losers

“they all float” by Mark Englert

Creepy enough, Bill Skarsgård was awesome, the kids were amazing, the highlights were the Losers in all of their glory which is as it should be. So yeah, I loved it.

I’m going to go ahead and say that I think I prefer Skarsgård as Pennywise to Tim Curry. I know I’m in the minority but this new version worked better for me. I think it was those little moments where he’d be doing his thing and then something would go off, like when he was laughing way too much with Georgie, or when he’s about to kill Eddie but then Bill sees through his tricks upstairs at Neibolt Street. That was truer to book It than Curry’s version – but I mean. They’re both really good at evil galactic clown, in the end.

Aaaaand so the notes.

Things I’m disappointed by but completely in vain because this is a movie and it can’t do things the way the book does them:

  • I just really wish it had been set in ’58. I get why that would be a terrible choice for the movie but
  • All of the details that got cut or that were breezed over. Obviously there wasn’t room for that here.
  • I wish Stan and Mike got more hero moments. Even Ben got the shaft a bit, which surprised me. Again, that’s time constraints for you.
  • Bowers wasn’t as much of a threat as he was in the book – even in the TV movie he was a more constant, threatening presence. That’s another one that’s probably down to time constraints.

Changes I like:

  • Yaaaaay Hocksetter died early and we never learned any of the horrific details of his past and present
  • Not that I like Mike as a slaughterhouse worker now (I mean come on) but at least we traded the wanton animal cruelty of the Bowers/Hocksetter dream team for “humane slaughter” for meat consumption. I guess.
  • I don’t like that Bev’s dad is an actual rapist in this version but at least that way we don’t have to see an adult physically assaulting a child

Changes I didn’t like:

  • I get it, but having Georgie pulled into the sewers rather than just outright killed in the gutter is a bit of a gruesome change and I prefer it the other way. Poor Georgie.
  • Mike’s parents are dead now. Horrifically. Um. Why. They were the best parents of the group.
  • The movie is a lot more upfront about Bev’s being sexually abused than it is about Bowers being a racist dick towards Mike. The implications are there, and I’m not saying we need Bowers screaming racial slurs at Mike nonstop as he tries to beat him to a pulp the way he does in the book, but I do think there was space to be a little more specific about the racism and the movie (and we all) would have benefited from it.
  • Also Mike was the history buff of the group – I get that making it Ben is an efficient thing to do but I’m really, really hoping that part 2 doesn’t open on Mike the 40-year-old slaughterhouse worker. I need him to be a librarian and amateur historian still.
  • Bill/Bev/Ben was too much of a thing and can we talk about it for a second

I really didn’t like that Bev was pulled into the sewers to be rescued by her friends. It works for the narrative but it makes her a bit of a damsel in distress. The saving grace here may be that she’s the one to figure out not being afraid of Pennywise, but it’s still a big set up for a Sleeping Beauty moment.

I was sitting there in the theatre thinking, “Oh god, she’s going into the deadlights. Just so that Ben can kiss her and wake her up.” And that is literally what happened.

Don’t get me wrong.

I am a huge fan of Bev/Ben.

But.

Why.

Here’s a treat for you: a chunk of It by Stephen King.

Finally, unaware she was going to say it at all (and certainly not because it had any discernible bearing on the situation), Beverly said: “Thank you for the poem, Ben.”

Ben stopped laughing all at once and regarded her gravely, cautiously. He took a dirty handkerchief from his back pocket and wiped his face with it slowly. “Poem?”

“The haiku. The haiku on the postcard. You sent it, didn’t you?”

“No,” Ben said. “I didn’t send you any haiku. Cause if a kid like me – a fat kid like me – did something like that, the girl would probably laugh at him.”

“I didn’t laugh. I thought it was beautiful.”

“I could never write anything beautiful. Bill, maybe. Not me.”

“Bill will write,” she agreed. “But he’ll never write anything as nice as that…”

“How did you know it was me?” he asked finally.

“I don’t know,” she said. “I just did.”

Ben’s throat worked convulsively. He looked down at his hands. “I didn’t mean anything by it.”

She looked at him gravely. “You better not mean that,” she said. “If you do, it’s really going to spoil my day, and let me tell you, it’s going downhill already.”

He continued to look down at his hands and spoke at last in a voice she could barely hear. “Well, I mean I love you, Beverly, but I don’t want it to spoil anything.”

“It won’t,” she said, and hugged him. “I need all the love I can get right now.”

“But you specially like Bill.”

“Maybe I do,” she said, “but that doesn’t matter. If we were grownups, maybe it would, a little. But I like you all specially. You’re the only friends I have. I love you too, Ben.”

“Thank you,” he said. He paused, trying, and brought it out. He was even able to look at her as he said it. “I wrote the poem.”

Annnnnnnd I get that you can’t really do that, at least not easily, especially with kid actors, in a movie. But it’s just so much better and I reserve the right to be annoyed about it.

I also got the feeling that the part of Bill/Bev/Ben that was Bev having a major crush on Bill was kind of sidetracked, which tends to happen in love triangles such as these. There’s never enough focus on what the girl in the middle of the whole thing actually wants, because the movie is more intent on what both dudes want and how they go about getting it and how she responds to their attempts. So if this triangle had to be as front and center as it was, I would have preferred if Bev got to have an actual, relatable crush and wasn’t just responding to the boys’ feelings most of the time. But maybe that’s something that I can go on endlessly about once this comes out on DVD, and I can compare Bev’s crush in the TV version, this new version, and the book version, because that actually sounds like the most fun I’ll have next year.

Siiiiigh. But I liked this movie. Eddie Kaspbrak was the fucking MVP, though. Wow. Didn’t see that one coming.

PS: There was. A lego. Turtle. A lego. Turtle.

Does that mean.

The turtle.

Is going.

To be.

In part 2.

Because.

If so.

Then.

sokka suki 9

❤ erm

Magic is Might

I remember watching Deathly Hallows: Part 1 in theatres for the first time. I thought it was a step up, quality-wise, from the other movies in the series (I’ll always love Prisoner of Azkaban, though; that one is interesting to look at). I liked the animation sequence for the fairy tale.

I liked how quiet and thoughtful it often was, and I found everything at the Ministry of Magic really impressive.

I do remember thinking, “But why Nazis?”

The Nazi imagery is pretty unmistakable in this movie. I thought it was well done, but I also thought comparing the tyranny of Voldie and like-minded wizards to Nazis was a little bit reductive since, oh, I don’t know, it had been decades since the Nazis were defeated. Comparing everything to Nazis, I thought, was a pretty unchallenging thing to do. Everyone knows Nazis are bad, I thought, and it’s been so long since they’ve had any real power and influence that it would probably be better to make some other, fresher connection with a prejudice story like Harry Potter.

So. I’ve changed my mind.

Let’s not dwell on the empowerment of idiot Nazis all over the globe because of the idiot president, though. I just wanted to take a look at the statues at the Ministry to see how Rowling makes her fantasy society all flawed and oppressive and stuff by degrees and it’s awesome.

The Fountain of Magical Brethren

ministry statue 1

I spent happy hours staring at this illustration on the back of Order of the Phoenix. Yeah, I was that guy.

belle with a book

(That guy, but actually reading the book and not staring at the cover ^^^)

This statue simply shows magical people/creatures being happy and getting along in a fountain of magic. When Harry sees it, he’s a stressed out fifteen-year-old and promises to put 10 galleons in the fountain (it’s for St. Mungo’s) if he doesn’t get expelled.

He doesn’t get expelled and dumps all his money in it, but he also makes this observation:

He looked up into the handsome wizard’s face, but up close, Harry thought he looked rather weak and foolish. The witch was wearing a vapid smile like a beauty contestant, and from what Harry knew of goblins and centaurs, they were most unlikely to be caught staring so soppily at humans of any description. Only the house-elf’s attitude of creeping servility looked convincing. With a grin at the thought of what Hermione would say if she could see the statue of the elf, Harry turned his moneybag upside-down and emptied not just ten Galleons, but the whole contents into the pool at the statues’ feet.

Lookit Harry making wry socio-political observations. I love him.

The fountain gets destroyed because Dumbledore and Voldemort have a huge fight (I am also a big fan of the movie-fight), and then Dumbledore states things a lot more plainly:

The fountain we destroyed tonight told a lie. We wizards have mistreated and abused our fellows for too long, and we are now reaping our reward.

Before the full and open return of Voldemort, the magical community is still prejudiced and awful. The Fountain of Magical Brethren is kind of like the magical community’s version of a microaggression, in that it presents a version of reality through art that, intentional or not, doesn’t challenge anyone to rethink the status quo and probably contributes in its own way to the misguided thinking that human magical folk should be the only ones allowed wands, and that the whole house-elf thing is still a good idea, and so on.

It gets replaced with the Magic is Might statue.

magic is might 1magic is might 2

“Muggles, in their rightful place,” Hermione explains.

It’s just slightly different in the book.

Now a gigantic statue of black stone dominated the scene. It was rather frightening, this vast sculpture of a witch and wizard sitting on ornately carved thrones, looking down at the Ministry workers toppling out of fireplaces below them. Engraved in foot-high letters at the base of the statue were the words: MAGIC IS MIGHT….

Harry looked more closely and realised that what he had thought were decoratively carved thrones were actually mounds of carved humans: hundreds and hundreds of naked bodies, men, women and children, all with rather stupid, ugly faces, twisted and pressed together to support the weight of the handsomely robed wizards.

Still awful, still Nazi.

Now that a Death Eater is Minister for Magic, they can come right out and display this crap. Such a statue would not have been tolerated previously, but because of how problematic the Fountain of Magical Brethren was, it’s clear that in the wizarding world the prejudice against everyone who isn’t a witch or wizard has already been brewing for a long time. Voldemort is a product of it, he exploits it, he empowers it; it was already there before his birth and it remains after he dies.

It’s nice to take a minute and not hate the Harry Potter movies. They’re pretty decent, actually, even if they despise my favourite character. Poor Ron, no one appreciates him.

❤ erm

The Most Obnoxious Scene in The Fox and the Hound

My favourite thing about these posts is that eventually Disney will come along and force Youtube to remove the videos and then there’ll just be a giant gray empty space here where the scene I’m talking about should be.

I really hate this scene.

But I also kind of love it.

I don’t know, OK?

It’s reminiscent of the “Twitterpated” scene in Bambi which is somehow both cute and also extremely uncomfortable to watch. The animators at Disney are getting away with… a lot. Let’s just say a lot. It’s because the characters are animals, so, well, fair game, I guess.

In Grade 9 science there was that infamous day we all referred to as “The Day They Made Us Watch Animal Porn.” But the animal porn we watched that day had nothing on these. I watch both of these scenes from behind my hands or just giggling uncontrollably as though I were 12 (that might be a bit of an exaggeration) (but not really).

You may say, “Um, what are you talking about, they’re cute fluffy animals falling in love and it’s sweet and 100% G-rated.” And I’ll just raise my eyebrows at you. Because no.

We can talk all day about how I’m just a huge prude or something, because honestly I do feel kind of like a prude watching these scenes. They are upsetting and somewhat thrilling to me on a very basic level of mine that I don’t fully understand. But that’s not really why I think the “Tod Meets Vixie/”Appreciate the Lady” scene is the most obnoxious one in The Fox and the Hound.

No. I kind of like the romance aspect of it, as much as I have to hide my face watching it. I like that it shows them sort of communicating nonverbally in a successful fashion – not the exaggerated harrumphing/flower picking part, that’s stupid, but the part where she gets embarrassed and he notices. I think there isn’t enough emphasis in media about paying attention to what your partner is feeling in any given moment and reacting appropriately.

But still. Here’s a list of what I don’t like:

  • why do foxes have last names though (that one is minor, I concede)
  • the peanut gallery is super obnoxious
  • “Appreciate the Lady” has to be the third or fourth worst song EVER. Apologies, Big Mama, but why didn’t they write you a better song for this part?
  • I know early Disney movies like their courtship swift and bland but wow
  • I can’t really call it bland though, not when he calls her an “empty-headed female” and two seconds later all is forgiven
  • Tod’s woes about being dumped in the woods are cured because he sees a girl fox which is stupid because Tod being dumped in the woods is perhaps the WORST THING THAT HAS EVER HAPPENED IN A DISNEY MOVIE EVER AND THAT’S DISNEY MOVIES WE’RE TALKING ABOUT, IN WHICH PLENTY OF HORRIFIC THINGS HAPPEN, AND YET THAT IS PROBABLY THE WORST.
  • It’s one thing to do “Hakuna Matata” shortly after Mufasa’s death. That works thematically. This is just some nonsense right here.
  • You have been abandoned in the woods but it’s fine, now you can be a wild animal again even though YOU NEVER WERE A WILD ANIMAL BECAUSE YOU HAVE BEEN RAISED BY A HUMAN IN A HOUSE AND YOU ARE FULLY DOMESTICATED AND YOU DON’T KNOW HOW TO SURVIVE IN THE WILD.

So it’s kind of cute, kind of annoying, and mostly frustrating because people need to not dump their pets in the woods. Or on the side of the road. Or like literally in a dumpster.

Also OMG don’t raise wild animals at all. It ends badly. Contact the proper organizations that will rehabilitate them responsibly.

The Life of Pi Movie Misinterprets Itself

So Life of Pi. I’m talking about the very end of both the movie and the book today so it is fully a spoiler fest on here.

Hi there, you. Whoever you are. I’d read Life of Pi, if I were you and the me/you person I/you am/are haven’t read it already. The movie will do in a pinch but the book is seriously good.

There’s a scene near the end of Life of Pi in which the movie very helpfully tells you what the meaning is behind the whole thing. I get it, sort of. We live in such times as apparently nobody wants to have to think ever. It’s probably also because the selling point of this book and movie has always been, “This is a story that will make you believe in God.” I think that’s the bigger problem in need of a “explain the meaning during the runtime” solution right there. That’s a pretty bold statement, and in the book, there’s no outright “aha” moment. Never fear, though, it’s in the movie.

Also, it gets the whole thing 100% wrong.

We return, near the end of the movie, to grown-up Pi lamenting to his narrator friend that he never got to say goodbye to Richard Parker (that would be the tiger). By and by narrator friend says, “… that was an amazing story, but, a little hard to believe?” So grown-up Pi tells another story. This time, we don’t flashback to teenage Pi. We just watch grown-up Pi tell the story in the present day.

In this one, there’s Pi, an evil cannibal chef, a Buddhist sailor, and Pi’s mom. The chef amputates the sailor’s leg to be “helpful” but actually so that they can eat some meat (the chef is a big advocate of meat-eating), the sailor dies, Pi’s mom flips out at/physically attacks the chef for being evil, and the chef kills Pi’s mom, right in front of him. Not long afterwards, Pi kills the chef, who doesn’t resist his own murder. Pi survives on the lifeboat alone and gets to Mexico.

Gross.

So then grown-up Pi asks narrator friend, “Which story did you prefer?” And narrator friend says, “The one with the animals.” And grown-up Pi says, “And so it is with God.”

Sigh.

No, movie. No.

Grown-up Pi’s statement is pretty vague, so it’s not exactly entirely wrong, but the easy interpretation of said statement is, “It’s nicer and funner and more interesting and more comforting and less horrific to think that there’s a God/the sacred texts have some/lots of truth to them, so that’s why we believe that stuff.” And that’s pretty nihilistic, if you ask me. Also the book did it much differently and it’s better.

In the book, the story proper completely ends with Pi lamenting never saying goodbye to Richard Parker. He was devastated. RP meant a lot to him and he would like to have believed that he meant something to RP in turn, but RP never looked back at him. That’s sad. The end.

On the next page, we’re informed that the narrator found a transcript of a conversation between Pi and two guys from the insurance company for the ship. They wanted him to tell them the whole story to try to understand why the ship sank and also lifeboats, I guess.

The transcript starts right after Pi has told them the animal story. They, like movie narrator friend, don’t believe it. They want to be nice (somehow that gets conveyed even though there’s seemingly no artistry to this part; it’s a straight transcript), but they prod him to tell them the real story. “There’s no way you survived on that lifeboat with a tiger. And the flesh-eating island full of meerkats? Come on.”

So eventually he tells them the other story. It’s the same as the one in the movie. At the end of it, there’s silence. Then I think teenage transcript Pi asks them which one they prefer (I can’t find my copy of the book to check), and they of course say they like the animal one. This time, his “Which story do you prefer” isn’t a question of friendly interest, many years after his horrific experience. This time, it seems more pointed, as though he’s saying, “See? I told you the better story but you weren’t satisfied with it, well now look how that turned out for you!”

After the transcript ends, there is a news article about Pi that has used the insurance men as sources. The story of how Pi survived the shipwreck those men have told the journalists is the one with the animals. And that is the end of the book.

We end the book with two very strong notions of what just happened: The story with the humans and no animals is what actually happened, and that the story with the animals is better. But give it some thought, and there’s one conclusion that brings everything together.

The stories are the same.

The same things happen in both stories. The same players are there. Richard Parker is Pi. The chef is the hyena – and in the book, the french man does show up as an actual human being as well, so that even that disgusting man is portrayed as fully human and that is a different discussion – the Buddhist sailor is the zebra, and Orange Juice is Pi’s mom. He even says, during the animal story’s telling, that he’d always thought of Orange Juice as a maternal figure. She has lost her baby in the shipwreck, just as Pi’s mom had lost her other son.

There are key differences, obviously. Maternal though she may be, there’s a big difference between watching a hyena kill an orangutan and watching a horrible person kill your mother. There’s a difference also between a boy murdering his mother’s murderer and a tiger killing a hyena out of primal kill-need.

But… not that much of a difference. At least, I would argue that.

I think the fact that I’m inclined to view animals as being more or less identical to humans in most of the ways that matter means that I view both versions of this story as horrific. In the human version, as awful as all of the killing is, at least it makes sense. There are reasons and motivations for it all that I can relate to. The hyena is unnecessarily cruel with the zebra (and although Martel tries to claim that a hyena would indeed act like that in this situation, I’m calling bullshit), and on meerkat island it’s pointed out that RP kills way more meerkats than he can eat. He just kills them to kill them. It’s a thing about cats I will never understand.

Pi’s mother being murdered is awful. But because Orange Juice is an innocent, her death is, I think, just as awful, but in a different way. Orange Juice didn’t need to object to the hyena’s treatment of the zebra. She didn’t need to put herself in danger, but her compassion and righteous fury compelled her to do so and it’s just really sad that she couldn’t save herself. It’s a different kind of sad and I’ll be forever at pains to explain that being just as sad about bad things to happen to animals as I am about bad things that happen to humans is not a moral failing on my part (or, like, everyone else who feels that way). We can be equally sad about both things in different ways or similar ways depending on the situation, so deal with it. Also this is just fiction but OMG I hate fictional depiction of animal cruelty. I can’t separate it from the real things that happen everyday.

Here.

It’s super sad at first but then there’s a bunch of baby orangs in a wheelbarrow so. You know.

Sorry, fellow humans. It seems that the greatest ape is the orangutan.

Anyway. There are clear differences in how the personal trauma will affect Pi depending on whether it’s his mother and humans or his zoo animals, but other than that, it’s the same story.

Life of Pi doesn’t endeavour to make you believe in God. It’s just showing you how sacred texts work.

A religious story may bend the truth or completely fabricate it. We have no way of knowing. Jesus of Nazareth, who was probably one of the most influential people to walk the planet ever, only has one piece of historical evidence to call his own. Something about how James is his brother and they called him “Christ.” That’s it. There’re the gospels but those weren’t written down until hundreds of years post crucifixion. At least some of that stuff isn’t true. Maybe a lot of it isn’t. What Life of Pi is suggesting is that it doesn’t matter what specifically is factually true, because the point of the story is to make meaning which is a different kind of truth.

The animals on the lifeboat, RP moreso than the others, are there to give Pi’s experience meaning. Without them, it’s just another story about people doing awful things in awful circumstances. And with RP especially, Pi’s struggle for survival isn’t just a boy being resourceful and almost starving or dying of thirst and eventually making it. His relationship with RP makes his survival story something more. It’s about having compassion for that part of yourself that you are ashamed of, the more animalistic, enraged, violent side of you. Pi has to keep RP fed and watered for his own sanity, and RP needs Pi to care for him because he’s just a tiger on a lifeboat. He can’t do that himself. They befriend each other, but Pi can never communicate with RP the way he would like to. And RP, excepting those moments when he really is dying, is always a gigantic threat to Pi, if he lets his guard down.

Having the tiger there makes it a really entertaining, easy to understand story about the human condition and human nature and internal darkness and lizard brains and stuff. Everything that happens with RP is truthful, if the human version of the story is the “real” one, even though there is no tiger. Because the tiger just represents an element of Pi that shows up when he needs it to and disappears once he’s back in civilization.

About the God stuff, then. I like to think you can interpret this in both ways. In Life of Pi terms, believing in God is the same as not believing in God, it’s just that believing in God adds metaphorical meaning to the question of why we’re even here. In God’s absence, we should still probably be trying to help each other out but everything is messy and uncertain. In God’s presence that idea of radical love/kindness is made a little clearer (only for people who don’t use their faith to be cowards and bigots, of course, but still), and a little more artfully. On the other hand, because Richard Parker is real whether or not he’s actually a tiger, the book does seem to edge further towards the “believing in God” side of the spectrum, which is fine. Pi would approve; he’s a God fan.

While the ending of the movie annoys me, I do really like this one scene:

Because:

  • Pi looks at RP, who is looking at the stars
  • RP looks at the water, and his reflection
  • Pi looks at RP looking at his reflection
  • Pi looks at his own reflection
  • RP reflecting while looking at his reflection
  • Images of Pi’s and RP’s past and the shipwreck
  • Pi looking at Pi’s reflection
  • RP looking at Pi looking his reflection

AHHH! It’s so cool. And you can’t do that in a book.

Also, the flesh-eating island that looks like a tomb? That was brilliant.

The fact that they used a real tiger for some scenes and at one point he almost drowned? Not brilliant.

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

nige and gender

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.

The Best Scene in The Lion King

Real quick today, I thought I’d talk about this one.

OK the truth is, the entire sequence in which Rafiki meets Simba, talks to him, shows him sky Mufasa, and then hits him with a stick is probably the best part of the movie – it’s likely that said sequence is what made The Lion King so iconic. Now, that’s just my opinion, of course, but as always, I’m entirely, objectively, unquestionably correct.

But this scene is still my favourite. I like Rafiki’s home, with the fruit hanging up and making cool wooden wind chime sounds when he passes. I like how he cracks open this fruit and twists his one arm up like that while eating it.

I love that he learns things just by looking at, sniffing, and swirling seeds that blew in. I like the monkey quality to his laughing and also the background theme because it’s just really good music.

I don’t think I’ve ever been able to watch this scene without smiling. I like it; it’s a good one.

Power Rangers, The Lion King, Scar, and Reverence for Nostalgia

All right so I watched this review:

I plan to see Power Rangers because the trailer promised a gritty, YA-novel version of the silly show I used to watch as a six-year-old so obviously I’m there. I have very low expectations. I’m willing to put up with some boringness and way too much angst. I read the entirety of the Twilight series, so I’m immune at this point to popular YA-type angst and awful storytelling. I am looking forward to the action, though, because although I can’t really remember, I’m pretty sure that Xena-loving kid me severely dug that there were two action girls in this show, so, I’m excited.

But my expectations have been low since I heard there would be a Power Rangers movie. Because it’s Power Rangers. I was six and I knew it was stupid. It was the good kind of stupid, obviously, but stupid nonetheless.

It’s a fine line to walk, because I don’t think children’s entertainment has an excuse to be lazy and incompetent just because it’s for kids, and I also acknowledge that there are big fans of Power Rangers who maybe see something profound in the various TV versions of it that have existed for decades. But I don’t know – I feel like at the end of the review when he says something about how he’d punch someone if they adapted something he’d loved as a kid like this, he’s engaging a little too seriously with treating Power Rangers like a nostalgia property that should be worshiped like some sort of deity.

I might change my mind when I actually see it later this week, but I don’t know. I wish they’d made a fun Power Rangers movie (this and other reviews I’ve seen suggest it unfortunately wasn’t made with “fun” being the major point of the whole thing), but probably they went with angsty and overlong because they wanted it to resemble the teen dystopia stuff that sells, so. Fine.

But here’s a thought exercise for myself on this lukewarm Monday evening: what’s a nostalgia property that might be adapted so badly that I would want to find the filmmakers and punch them?

Well obviously The Lion King.

All I know about the live action CGI Lion King remake is that Donald Glover and James Earl Jones have been cast, which is good. But today my coworker turned up the Broadway Lion King soundtrack way too loudly (also he sang along wrong, singing lines too fast or too slow or outright missing key words, and then when he noticed that I was unimpressed he had the gall to ask, “Don’t you like The Lion King?” and I thought “WHO DO YOU THINK YOU’RE SPEAKING TO RN” but I settled for saying, “Yes, but-” and then he started singing along incorrectly again) and I remembered that song, “The Madness of Scar,” and how it’s actually kind of terrible.

It’s fine as a song goes, I guess. It’s funny. It was entertaining to watch on stage, mainly because Scar is the worst and it’s fun to laugh at him. But it gets laughs out of enhancing Scar’s Shakespearean villain “being haunted by the terrible thing he did” thing into HILARIOUS mental illness. And how he was never loved as a child. And then he decides what’s missing is a wife, so, he gets weird about Nala. And none of this was necessary. So I look at this and think, “The last time they adapted The Lion King, the biggest difference is that they went for sympathy – mocking, maybe, but sympathy still – for Scar, who as far as I’m concerned deserves very little sympathy. So who’s to say that in the remake, rather than perhaps outright acknowledging Timon and Pumbaa’s queerness, they’ll just add trauma or mental illness to try to make Scar sympathetic and everything will be awful?????”

So let’s talk about what the upcoming Lion King remake might do to Scar that would encourage me to write a song in which I shriek at myself about how angry I am because SOMEONE MISSED THE ENTIRE POINT OF THE ORIGINAL SO I MEAN WHY WOULD THEY EVEN BOTHER REMAKING IT IF THEY NEVER GOT WHAT WAS SO GOOD ABOUT IT IN THE FIRST PLACE GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH

Scar, for reasons that will remain eternally unknowable, has a fanclub. A pretty big one. So does Frollo, so, it doesn’t really mean anything apart from confirming that people watch movies and only pay attention to certain parts, I guess, but Scar’s fanclub does exist. If the filmmakers decide to throw them a bone and give Scar some sympathy, a couple of things begin to fall apart.

If Scar is sympathetic because he was abused or neglected as a child, our suspicions turn to Mufasa. Why didn’t Mufasa look out for his little brother? Now, look, Mufasa doesn’t have to be flawless – but what would be the point in giving him a pretty unforgivable flaw? Not looking out for your smaller brother is not cool.

Look at how the Thor/Loki dynamic turned out with the Marvelverse’s audience. And Thor tries, even, but it’s not enough. The fact that Loki is incurably selfish does very little to correct how freaking likable he is. Scar, I would suggest, can be likable without being sympathetic. We can like that he as a set goal in mind and that he achieves it. But then when he snivels and schemes and tries to blame everything on the hyenas, and when he throws Simba’s mercy quite literally right back in his face, and also before all of this when he’s scheming to murder his own brother and nephew, and also all of the nasty emotional abuse? Yeah. I don’t need to sympathize with any of that.

Making Scar a victim of childhood neglect, or perhaps even trauma, depending on where he got that scar that he’s apparently now named after, is, as far as I’m concerned, a mistake. Because The Lion King doesn’t need its villain to have a fleshed-out childhood trauma narrative. Simba is all we need.

Simba is a little baby just living his life when his uncle tries to feed him to hyenas, twice. And in between the first and second hyena-feeding attempts, he watches his father die, and then is made to believe that it was his own fault.

Simba and Scar have a conversation near the beginning of the movie where Scar calls himself “A monkey’s uncle,” and calls Simba his favourite nephew. This conversation would be sweet. If. You know. Scar weren’t trying to gode his baby nephew into running right into hyena jaws to try to prove his bravery. Scar is emotionally manipulative from the beginning. After all, he was next in line for the throne, until the little hairball was born. Simba is an obstacle in the way of Scar’s power, and must be removed.

Do we really need an extensive childhood-trauma backstory of Scar‘s to explain why he does the things he does?

Look at two things. One: American politics. Right now. Paul Ryan is very upset because his first big attempt to take down Obamacare failed. Really think about that. Paul Ryan’s ambition is to take health care away from poor people. He wants poor people to die. Sure, he probably doesn’t kneel at his bedroom window, gazing up at Evangeline, praying, “Please let me make it harder for poor people to get access to necessary health care, Evangeline, please.” Probably he really does believe that people who deserve health care will just magically be able to afford it, and that poverty only exists because liberals make capitalism malfunction by making people pay taxes or something. And for sure he has a whole, complicated personality and backlog of memories and experiences that have led him to this point, which, I remind you, is that he wants poor people to die. But. I don’t need to sympathize with him.

Let me. OK. Look. I work at an animal shelter. People in my industry, whether they’re shelter workers or even if they just work in animal medicine, have a kind of troubling suicide tendency. This line of work is hard. It puts you face to face with suffering animals and the people who outright refuse to care about them, so we work doubly hard, trying to make up for the apparently endless callousness of humanity. Emotional labour is exhausting and, unfortunately, it’s finite. I’ve met some people who maybe started out working with animals out of a love they thought was endless, but then it turned out that love did end, and they became kind of awful. An example of something I saw that was somewhat disturbing but not actually unethical was a coworker of mine was ripping feathers out of a dead hawk for a craft someone was doing. It was really violent. The hawk was dead, so, it was fine, but I said to her, “I don’t think I could do that, even though he’s obviously not suffering.” And she laughed and said, “Working here does things to you.” We need a bit of callousness for ourselves; we have to wear it as armour, but we have to be careful or we turn into monsters. So I’ll say: we need to empathize as much as possible with as many people (and animals) as possible, but there are limits. There have to be. Right now, I’m empathizing with the people Paul Ryan is fine (happy, even!) letting die, and not him.

So like. If there’s a Trumpcare movie, I don’t need a whole sob story about Paul Ryan to explain why he has the terrible ambitions that he has. The emotional focus should be on those vulnerable people he’s giddily trying to harm.

And, less depressingly, two: Remember when Star Wars tried to explain what turned Darth Vader to the dark side?

Yeah.

I think the best decision here is to just do what the original movie did. Scar is like those privileged frat guys who do horrible things even though they’ve lived more or less unchallenging lives. Sure, maybe they’ve had a bit of sadness here and there, but they’re not mentally ill (and we need to stop stigmatizing mentally ill people as the only – or even the usual type of people who do terrible things because usually not. Usually they’re the victims of violent crimes, in fact), and they’re not victims of childhood trauma and neglect (also we need to stop stigmatizing these). I think you can be pretty dark without enduring significant pain in your past. I think you can have dark ambitions and a gigantic propensity to hurt others even if your parents were basically all right to you. See Donald Trump. See George W. Bush. See Dick Cheney omg it’s always a better day when I don’t remember that man exists. *Shudder*

Why? Who knows. Probably it’s culture. Toxic masculinity, rampant individualism, anti-intellectualism, every type of bigotry and how institutionalized bigotry rewards privileged people for not noticing it. And in the utopia of the Pride Lands? Well, it’s probably because he’s a lion. Lions stand in for humans in this story (because, ahem, we’ve casually forgotten that there are humans in Africa. Also Tarzan does this). They’re the top of the food chain, kings because if they treat the ecosystem poorly everyone starves, but they’re benevolent and instead work to keep the circle of life working properly. But they don’t have to. If Scar does unethical things to gain and keep power and it works? Why should he do the hard work of ruling properly when doing the opposite has worked for him so far?

“The Madness of Scar” suggests that Scar is surprised and a little sad that he isn’t loved the way Mufasa was. I’ll firmly suggest that the Scar I know, voiced by Jeremy Irons with a perpetually smug look on his face unless he thinks he’s seeing his brother’s ghost or if the nephew he kept trying to murder when he was a baby is now an adult and is getting the better of him, DOES NOT CARE ABOUT BEING LOVED.

Banzai: Hey, boss!

Scar: Oh, what is it this time?

Banzai: We’ve got a bone to pick with you.

Shenzi: I’ll handle this. Scar, there’s no food, no water –

Banzai: Yeah! It’s dinner time, and we ain’t got no stinking entrees!

Scar: It’s the lionness’s job to do the hunting.

Banzai: Yeah but they won’t go hunt!

Scar: Oh, eat Zazu.

*Zazu and Scar argue about whether Zazu would taste good*

Banzai: And I thought things were bad under Mufasa.

Scar: WHAT DID YOU SAY?

Banzai: I said Muf- I said, uh, que pasa?

Scar: Good. Now get out.

Banzai: Yeah but, we’re still hungry.

Scar: OUT!

And then later, in public…

Scar: Where is your hunting party? They’re not doing their job.

Sarabi: Scar, there is no food. The herds have moved on.

Scar: No, you’re just not looking hard enough.

Sarabi: It’s over. There is nothing left. We have only one choice: we must leave Pride Rock.

Scar: We’re not going anywhere.

Sarabi: Then you have sentenced us to death.

Scar: So be it.

Sarabi: You can’t do that!

Scar: I am the king, I can do whatever I want.

Sarabi: If you were half the king Mufasa was you wouldn’t –

Scar: I’m TEN TIMES the king Mufasa was!

All Scar wants, the entirety of his desire, is to do whatever he wants. Which is, apparently, listening to happy tunes (but NOT “It’s a Small World”) in a cave. He doesn’t want the responsibility of keeping things in balance, which keeps everyone fed, especially considering that letting the hyenas have free reign is a major factor in his gaining and keeping power, and the hyenas having free reign ruins the balance. So.

He’s a Republican, is what I’m saying. The Lion King is about the responsibilities of power, after all, and Disney’s chosen metaphor for this is a family group of big cats where the big, scary male is in charge but actually all of the hard work is done by the females (heh heh heh). Scar’s politics are nonsense and ecologically devastating. And he hates women. What he wants and what he needs don’t actually work together. His staunch refusal to do what is necessary is so staunch that he’s willing to starve to death himself, just as long as he gets to be king (like all of those Trump voters who will likely lose their health care).

Even his guilt about Mufasa is more about his fear of losing power than it is about his fear of facing his own conscience. Probably the only law he ever enacts is the law that states that you can’t say the name “Mufasa” in his presence, because, as he screams at Zazu, “AM THE KING!” He has to keep screaming this, and banning Mufasa’s name, not because he’s secretly sad that he murdered his brother, but because he knows that once the lionesses learn that he stole power they’ll turn on him.

Scar is not sympathetic. Do you want to know how he got that scar? OK I know there’s a cool Lion Guard or The Lion King: Expanded Universe official explanation of it but here’s mine and I think it’s better: he got on the bad side of a lioness. He doesn’t even need to have been Frollo-esque rapey, to be honest (pretty sure his “unwanted affections,” if he were to have any, would be directed at the males of the species anyway). Maybe, since he’s a bully, he bullied her cub, or her sister, or something. Maybe she gave him what he deserved. I don’t know why he would be called “Scar” because of this, though. Frankly, even if he got scarred as a very small cub, that part makes no sense. But the rest of it does, right? I’m sure he has depth and motivations, but like the politicians and terrible frat guys I’m comparing him to here, they don’t mean much to decent people like you, me, and even the hyenas, in the end. Scar is the worst. He should garner no sympathy.

But erm, you say. What does this have to do with you thinking that Power Rangers doesn’t really need to be any good?

Not much, I have to admit. I think my point is that I can understand being angry at bad adaptations, ultimately because if the original works and then the remake changes one thing without radically changing everything else connected to it, everything falls apart. But Power Rangers, no matter what anyone says, isn’t The Lion King. It’s five teenagers doing martial arts and joining into a huge mechasuit or whatever and while that is awesome and while it deserves an earnest, fun, “rah-rah let’s be heroes” blockbuster movie, if its filmmakers dropped the ball and made it too YA-angsty for it to truly be as good as it could have been, well, it isn’t really a tragedy.

But that’s only my opinion. And I kind of liked the Rangers as a kid, but I memorized the other thing. I memorized it. So, of course my opinion would be that Power Rangers being good is far less important than Donald Glover+CGI everything The Lion King being good.

Shrug.

PS: I’m happy about the CGI, in case I made it seem like I’d prefer Disney to use real animals. Big cats aren’t actors and shouldn’t ever be. People hit them in the face as cubs to teach them to defer to human trainers. Also eventually some of them snap and maul and/or kill people so there’s that too.

I looked for the video I saw of leopards being hit but couldn’t find it. But who needs that, am I right?

Erm Watches Paper Towns to the Chagrin of Probably No One

I’m going to watch Paper Towns while making occasional comments like I did for Pinocchio, but first, a long-winded (and probably reductive anyway) discussion about contentious things like manic pixie dream girls, female characters in general, and John Green.

I’ve never read a John Green novel. I’ve seen the movie version of The Fault in Our Stars, and I don’t want to talk about it (mostly because I don’t want to seem heartless because I didn’t like it I’m so sorry). I’ve also seen some of his YouTube videos and he seems lovely. And I’m glad he’s as successful as he is, and I hope he keeps writing novels that are successful as his current novels are. Because when people, especially young people, are excited about and enjoying reading, everyone wins. But.

So.

I’m under the impression, perhaps (probably?) unfairly, that… well… doesn’t he write a lot of MPDGs?

It’s unfair of me to make that claim having never read his books. And I’m not getting into my thoughts on TFiOS, especially because I’ve only seen the movie. And also MPDGs are a contentious issue anyway, with the coiner of the term abandoning it because he now feels it’s reductive and often used incorrectly because of misogyny. And I’m probably using it wrong here anyway. And the reality is, as annoying as I might find this character archetype when she’s a woman, isn’t Jack Dawson in Titanic sort of the same thing, only male?

OK fine, one thing about TFiOS the movie: Gus, I think, is also a manic pixie dream girl, but a guy. But there’s more to him than the effect he has on Hazel, and in Titanic Jack isn’t really just there for Rose, but rather for the entire tragedy of the historical event the movie is based on. So sure, I’m going to agree that the term is reductive, because if the story in question uses the archetype well, then it’ll probably be fine.

I still think it’s harder for stories to get it right with the female versions, though. Female characters are always harder to get right, and it’s probably because there’s still a decent chunk of the population who think women are somehow less capable, adult, interesting, worthwhile, and human than men, whether they’re aware of those feelings or not. And media tends to sort of agree, at times. I’ve watched many a movie/read many a book in which the female love interest exists only as something for the male lead to obtain/have/enjoy or whatever. There’s the Bechdel Test (a movie must have more than one named female character, and they have to have a conversation that isn’t about a man) and the Sexy Lamp Test (where if your female character can basically be replaced by a sexy lamp because she has no agency or relevance to the story, you’re bad at writing). The Bechdel Test is reductive if you use it against individual movies – it’s mostly about showing just how seldom those three things happen in any given story, which, you know, means something. And the Sexy Lamp Test isn’t about complaining about female characters being attractive – it’s about them being irrelevant to the movie apart from their attractiveness.

There isn’t a name, or I haven’t come across it yet, for when a romance subplot is mainly about making the male lead seem cool – or if it takes a detour to make the male lead seem cool, but recently I watched two minutes each of two Chris Pratt movies: Jurassic World, and Passengers. In both moments I happened to catch before scoffing and changing the channel, Chris Pratt does something that I guess is supposed to be impressive (without context it’s hard to say), and then his love interest does a bit of swooning. In Jurassic World there are kids involved. “Your boyfriend is awesome.” Yeah. I noped right out of there.

I should hasten to add: it’s fine for characters to swoon over their love interests. Probably they should, in fact. But there’s something about the “male lead shows off while female love interest swoons” thing that makes me nope. I think filmmakers just have to be careful about it, so that the indulgence of “I get to be cool while the girl I like watches” is palatable and not just painfully obvious. For example, I don’t mind it when it’s Kirsten Dunst in Spider Man, because everyone stares at Spider Man when he swoops off like that, but it’s just extra special when she does it because he likes her. And who knows, maybe the rest of those movies add context that makes those scenes palatable if I’d been watching them properly (hahahaha I know they don’t but whatever).

I don’t remember what J Law’s character’s swoon moment in Passengers did to bother me. Probably nothing. I just know how that movie’s story goes so her swooning at all for him was enough to gross me out.

My point is that female characters often don’t get to do a whole lot, so even when they’re very important to the plot, and to the emotions, and to the themes that the main character has to engage with, like in a MPDG-type story, I think it’s probably easy for filmmakers to just allow the characters to serve a purpose solely about the male lead and not treat them like dynamic, flawed, interesting people in their own right.

With that said, I’m going to watch Paper Towns. Because I saw a couple of minutes of it, thought it looked like garbage, and now I’d like to either confirm or deny that theory.

(Can I just ingratiate myself to you, whoever you may be, whether you’re a Paper Towns fan or not, whether you like the odd MPDG or swooning female love interest or not, right now: I like plenty of garbage. Like Spice World. I LOVE Spice World. So. It’s fine. Whatever happens, I’m still the person who loves Spice World knowing it’s terrible and I’m still the person who will passionately defend its existence because of its depictions of female friendships or something. Also I don’t really like Beauty and the Beast. What I’m essentially saying is, feel free to not listen to anything I ever say, ever.)

10:26 pm. I’m just home from seeing Lego Batman so this movie is going to pale in comparison, even if it’s good.

10:28: He fell in love instantly, and they became friends as kids. They find a dead guy.

10:30: “It’s a shame, don’t you think? All the strings inside him broke.” I know it’s Green’s thing, but come on. Kids don’t talk like that. No one does.

10:31: She sneaks out the window all the time. They drifted apart and he still thinks about her and wants a second chance. What was your first chance, man? Investigating a suicide at Sea World in the middle of the night as kids?

10:32: Her life is epic. Toured with a band, and a circus, among other things. Leaves clues in alphabet soup for her sister as to where she’s going next.

10:33: This “I want to have sex with your mom” bit is one of the most obnoxious ones I’ve seen. Which, you know, is saying a lot.

10:35: His friends have weird quirks too. Radar’s parents have too many Black Santas. Ben is plagued by rumours that his bloody urine caused by a kidney infection was actually caused by chronic masturbation. K.

10:37: Senior year Margo is still making obnoxious demands but it’s less cute now that she isn’t a kid. Has a stupid name for her “goddamn dog” who “despises” her.

10:38: I’m trying, I really am. I don’t want to hate her. I don’t know anything about her. But UGH.

10:39: All right she’s criticizing his plans that will make him happy in the future and thinks he should find something that makes him happy now. She’s not wrong. But. Why are they talking about this?

10:43: This would be more interesting if he weren’t whining about everything she does as she does it. Just go with it, Quentin or you should have stayed home.

10:44: They got shot at.

10:45: Oh. He progressed. He’s spray painting a saran-wrapped car.

10:47: In 6th grade at the dance this particular guy they’re getting revenge on told all the girls not to dance with Quentin and they went along with it and she’s really sorry. And now she’s talked him into removing the guy’s eyebrow.

10:49: She’s very invested in Quentin’s new ability to have fun for a girl who’s supposedly fixated on revenge against her cheating boyfriend and disloyal friends.

10:52: Title drop. She’s being deep about how shallow everything and everyone else is.

10:53: She regrets not being friends with him this whole time.

10:55: I still think she’s too invested in how he feels about things instead of focusing on her own stuff for either of them to be worthwhile characters. But maybe it’s just early.

10:57: Now he’s threatening to release the nude picture of the ex-boyfriend to avoid getting beaten up.

10:59: She disappeared.

11:00: Margo’s parents suck.

11:02: Oh nice, a gay joke.

11:11: K they’re going to find her and I’m reading my twitter feed.

11:15: Ooh, the title now has an alternative, mysterious meaning. Moby Dick reference ftw.

11:24: “No one ever looks at me and thinks that I’m smart or interesting or clever.” Lacey’s saying this, because the first word people use to describe her is “beautiful.” Had chlamydia at one point. I actually liked that little moment between her and Quentin. Can’t this movie be about her instead?

11:29: Oh good, Lacey’s here now.

11:40: The Gus cameo was worth looking up from the kindle for.

12:01: Aaaand here’s the deconstruction.

12:09: I’m glad it ended like that. It very much redeemed itself.

So yes, I was being unfair to John Green. Paper Towns seems like it’s an attempt to write the manic pixie dream girl as if she’s a real person, with actual flaws, and criticizes the male lead for “being in love with her” when he doesn’t even know her, and she doesn’t even know herself. Margo still helps Quentin get in touch with his own sense of happiness and living in the moment, though, because she sets him on the path of going back to his friends and enjoying prom with them. It was a nice little story, worth the watch.

I wish I’d read the book rather than just watching the movie, because I think it would have been a lot better as a book. But maybe now I’ll read the Alaska one, or the too many Karens one. Katherine, I mean. Abundance of Katherines.

Disney Work Part 2

Here are some more mundane tasks that Disney movies jazz up.

*Disclaimer: I went through YouTube to find all of these clips I wanted to talk about, but at some point, some of these videos may be removed abruptly from YouTube because, well, Disney. Posting straight clips like this doesn’t count as fair use because they aren’t transformative… but they’re so short I personally doubt that they cause any financial harm to the behemoth that is Disney. But. Copyright law is important. 

Anyway, if one of these is missing but my hilarious descriptions of what goes on make you want to watch that clip RIGHT NOW just search YouTube. Someone will probably have reuploaded it by then. Or, if you’re like me, you already have access to all of these on DVD or Bluray or something, so hakuna matata.*

Cleaning outdoors/drawing water/being rudely interrupted

It’s always nice to take a break from cleaning to talk to woodland critters and daydream a bit. Even better, I think, if it’s outside and there’s a well involved. On the other hand, when some jerk comes up suddenly behind you that’s a bit less stellar.

In real life this would suck. Large. But hey, good for Snow I guess. It’s what she said she wanted, after all.

Cleaning the floor

Snow and Cinderella could stand to invest in a mop.

But also, this scene is fabulous. And it’s cool how Lucifer ties it all together as he does. There is nothing more magical than a cat ruining your clean floor – because at least it’s not a dog. Dogs are worse.

“Doing your chores” while finding time to “study”

Dogs are worse.

Little Brother may be one of the top three Disney dogs. Also, Mulan’s a genius for saving time by cheating and by tying chicken feed to her dog. Although she still ended up late. But hey, she’d be much later if she had actually studied thoroughly enough to not need her notes, and if she’d carefully fed the chickens herself.

Dig dig dig dig dig dig digging in a mine the whole day through/commuting

Mining is awful. Don’t ask how I’d know, because I don’t. But I’m assuming it’s awful. It’s probably not as glittery as this. Also walking to and from work is less than ideal.

Street performance

It’s rough being a street performer. Don’t ask how I’d know, because I don’t. But I’m assuming it’s rough. Here, it’s not as though Esmeralda has it easy, but on the other hand, until the stupid guards show up and apart from the occasional glimpse of hereditary bigotry, it seems like it’s going OK. Except maybe don’t have Djali be the one in charge of carrying the money.

Washing someone else’s stupid dishes

This is a better method. Why we don’t all just do it this way is beyond me.

Also the way Merlin says, “Rubbity scrubbity sweepity, flow,” makes me laugh. I think he’s a little too into it.

“Gathering corn”

The magic here is in having a friend that doesn’t drop you when you a) only pick one thing of corn, and b) didn’t tell her about the invader you met and befriended the other day so that she’s stunned when he shows up and you run off with him like it’s nothing and ask her not to do anything about it. Please.

Cleaning someone else’s ridiculous mess

This is a little too much fun to truly be a parody of Snow White at the dwarves’ house. It’s more of an updated version that acknowledges its relentless cheeriness but doesn’t apologize for it.

I know I’m a little out there with my lack of hatred for cockroaches but still, I’d be thrilled if a cockroach/pigeon/rat team showed up to help with the housework.

Cooking

Remy loves cooking but I’d prefer if the food would just magically appear on dishes that would magically clean themselves afterwards. But this, and all of the other Remy-cooks-something scenes, make me appreciate the actual act of cooking.

Still. If Remy wants to invade my kitchen and become my personal chef, that’s more than fine with me.

Making gumbo

Princess and the Frog focuses less on food preparation than does Ratatouille, but it still makes cooking seem magical and not tedious by highlighting the “good food brings people together” thing that Tiana is obsessed with as an adult without quite understanding what it means to her now that she’s grown.

Making gumbo as a frog in a swamp

Cooking is annoying enough as a human with opposable thumbs and… appliances, and stuff. But again, the movie shows it as being something that connects people, even if Tiana’s the one doing all of the hard work, like figuring out how to heat a pumpkin. In the middle of a swamp. As a frog.

Being forced to appreciate art

This is a bit much. They’re kittens.

Indulging in every hobby

Even though Rapunzel is just feverishly trying to give her life meaning, I admire her daily productivity and aspire to it. An achievable goal, if ever there was one.

Indulging in your hobby with just a dash of self-loathing on the side

“No face as hideous as my face was ever meant for heaven’s light.” Aw, come on, Quasi.

The whittling of the Esmeralda figure is the best thing. And it’s much better than the smoke version of her that Frollo conjures up, because Frollo is and will always be the worst.

Indulging in your totally normal, not concerning at all hobby

Lady.

Why can’t you make skiving snackboxes or something.

Disney Work

Here’s a handy but incomplete list of mundane tasks that a Disney movie makes look like magic.

*Disclaimer: I went through YouTube to find all of these clips I wanted to talk about, but at some point, some of these videos may be removed abruptly from YouTube because, well, Disney. Posting straight clips like this doesn’t count as fair use because they aren’t transformative… but they’re so short I personally doubt that they cause any financial harm to the behemoth that is Disney. But. Copyright law is important. 

Anyway, if one of these is missing but my hilarious descriptions of what goes on make you want to watch that clip RIGHT NOW just search YouTube. Someone will probably have reuploaded it by then. Or, if you’re like me, you already have access to all of these on DVD or Bluray or something, so hakuna matata.*

Getting up in the morning

The upside of dying in your sleep is that you never have to get up in the morning ever again. Getting up is terrible. Everything you have to do during this new day has yet to be done. Some days, the worst part about getting up is that you have to do all of the things and can’t sleep again until they’re all done, but some days are much worse. Sometimes you wake up to a cat violently vomiting – but at least she’s vomiting off the side of the bed, so whatever. Just don’t step in it, I guess. Sometimes you wake up to a giant centipede crawling up your wall. Sometimes you wake up and you were supposed to be at work ten minutes ago. It’s great.

Cinderella just deals with it. The various clothed animals help, I guess. None of them are vomiting. My goal in life is to be as chill about having to get up as she is. She’s just a tad disgruntled and sort of tells off a clock. I’ll get there someday.

Baking

I like pie but making pie is terrible. The crust is finicky. The filling is sometimes a soup. If you want lemon meringue but you’re a vegan you need to open a can of chickpeas and whip up the slop they come in for upwards of ten minutes and it’s weird. If you want tourtierre but you haven’t eaten pork in ten years you also need chickpeas, and some mushrooms. There are too many steps and too many dishes to wash and all of the counter space gets covered in flour.

But this little scene is awesome. To be as serene as this while making pie? Snow White must be a saint.

Packing

Why can’t it be this simple?

Also, Higitus Figitus and Madam Mim are the only reasons for this movie to exist.

Cleaning up someone else’s ridiculous mess

This may be the highlight for a scene that makes cleaning look like fun.

Hunting/Gathering

Well. Maybe everyone’s in a good mood just because the warriors have returned. But still.

Being trained on a new job

Being a new hire sucks. Colette’s training style would not help. However, as time goes on and as both Linguini and Remy listen and learn from her, she gets friendlier. She just needed to be sure that she would be treated with the respect she deserves.

Working two jobs

Plain and simple: when she falls into bed only to have the alarm go off seconds later? That is my nightmare.

Tiana’s life looks busy. Stimulating, enjoyable much of the time, but also miserable in a few significant ways. This scene manages to show the mix.

Working out

Working out is stupid. But there’s something quite satisfying about watching Herc pick up that giant arm statue by the fingertip.

Working out

… working out is very manly, and… tough.

Seriously though, this is my favourite progression scene. The Hercules one is also a lot of fun, and the Ratatouille one is great in a subtler way. Maybe it’s easy to make hard work look great when you can also show the results.

Poisoning your elderly employer’s cats

This… is my favourite part? He’s awful and all, but that dish looks so good. Even if all it is is cream, various spices, and way too many sleeping pills.

I Think Movie Aliens All Look Like Animals

And it’s probably because their designs are based on animals. Shocking, I know. Observant, I am. But redundant or not, let’s look at a couple.

BUT WAIT!!

Have you seen Arrival yet? If not, then go and do that immediately. I put some screencaps in here from the movie that show the aliens, but the movie is really clever about hiding them even while showing them, and the build up to their reveal is really effective, so if you don’t know what they look like yet just watch the movie. Now.

Let’s start with District 9.

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Awww.

This is a “Prawn” from District 9. I hope never to see this movie again; it was too real, and too upsetting. Prawn are named after an animal they sort of resemble.

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Awwwwww.

But I think they look a little more like beetles. Maybe cockroaches.

cockroach

Awwwwww.

I’m sorry for putting a picture of a cockroach here but I honestly don’t mind them. Maybe I would if they were infesting my house, but as far as terrifying insects go they’re too big to freak me out too much. If I can see how they operate, I’m less scared.

Also if you follow the link on that image, the article you’ll find which is where the image is from talks about how to try to get people to be less afraid of and hateful towards cockroaches, they have cockroach petting sessions at a zoo in Japan. Cockroach petting sessions. I legitimately want to do that. I want to pet a cockroach. I don’t know, OK, I just do.

So the Harvesters from Independence Day, which I also hope to never see again but only because it’s silly, look like this:

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So these look like a mesh of insect and see creature, just like the Prawn. Their boniness reminds me of exoskeletons, and their giant black eyes remind me both of the stupid centipede that’s wandering around inside this house at present, and of fish. And yes, I wish it was a cockroach in here with me instead.

Their faces are pretty human, though. They have nice eyebrow structure, and noses, so, OK.

Maybe this:

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Arrival, though, has aliens that clearly resemble a certain type of animal.

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Here they remind me of spiders, but the way they move and the way they write pretty strongly suggest squid.

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Look at the glistening on that… foot? Hand? I know aliens always glisten, but so do animals who live in the ocean.

Anyway later Louise ends up behind the glass with Abbott, and sees what they actually look like. Sort of. It’s still pretty misty in there.

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Yyyyup. That’s a giant squid.

As far as we ever see, they don’t have eyes or mouths. From the alien movies I’ve seen, I think this is pretty unique. Usually in movies they seem to imagine aliens as having mostly the same faculties that we do, but as Arrival is all about the major communication challenges that would arise if an alien species were to show up tomorrow, this time around they get to be a little less recognizable.

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Still, they look like squid.

I find this all really interesting. I like how we use insects and sea life to imagine what it might be like to see an alien life form, as if insects and sea life aren’t familiar, fellow Earth-dwellers like us. I think in some ways these movies are confronting a couple of truths we could use periodic reminders of: we’re not really that different, us Earthlings. And we could try to understand our most bizarre roommates on this planet a little better.

(Stitch is a Koala.)

Triple Feature: Exploitation in Trolls, Pinocchio, and The Lego Movie

I went out to buy Trolls on DVD and came home with The Lego Movie and Pinocchio as well, so I figured, why not get a blog post out of what was probably a stupid financial decision on my part?

My second favourite thing about Trolls was the exploitation stuff, and I’m pretty sure that’s a common thread in Lego for sure, and I seem to recall donkeys in Pinocchio so sure, let’s go with exploitation as a topic and examine how each of these three otherwise unrelated movies handle it.

(spoilers)

Trolls

Everyone knows that Bergens are unable to feel happiness unless they eat a Troll. This statement of absolute fact is repeated often by Chef, who obviously has a lot riding on all of the Bergens believing it, but the Trolls believe this too. Poppy’s history lesson includes the claim that Bergens don’t sing, don’t dance, and don’t hug. We see them not hugging, sure, but we also see them trudging along to the beat of a song they’re most definitely singing. A deleted scene shows Chef singing a villain song. And Bridget, without prompting from the Trolls, sings Lionel Ritchie’s “Hello” about King Gristle. And with just a bit of encouragement at the end, the Bergens start dancing.

It doesn’t take long, once Poppy and Branch reach Bergen Town, for Poppy to realize that Bergens can be happy without eating Trolls, despite the fact that she’s grown up believing that to be impossible. Although Branch insists that “Bergens don’t have feelings,” Poppy, having witnessed Bridget be sad about King Gristle not noticing her existence, begins to realize that they don’t know everything about their enemies. Poppy decides to form a partnership with Bridget rather than running around screaming trying to get away from her.

When it’s time for the trolls to move on and save Creek, Bridget despairs because she’s certain that she needs the trolls to be “Lady Glitter Sparkles” and keep King Gristle’s attention. But later, as the Trolls are regaining their own happiness and hope, Bridget decides to set them free and suffer the consequences which at this point are a lot worse than Gristle realizing that she’s a scullery maid. She and her Troll friends have progressed from having very, very conflicting interests, to a mutually beneficial hairdo-based deception scheme, and finally to a point where Bridget will risk her life for them, and where Poppy will return the favour.

This scenario probably couldn’t work in this movie, but indulge me: if the Trolls hadn’t been able to regain happiness before the feast, maybe the happiness Bergens gain from eating them wouldn’t be possible. If this movie had decided that Branch’s approach to life was better than Poppy’s, for example, this very thing may have been his strategy. “Let’s all be sad so that we don’t actually make them happy when they eat us. Wooot,” he would say, I guess. But again, I don’t know what kind of movie that would be. What we have instead is that they feel better, and Bridget, because of empathy, releases them.

It’s Poppy and her friends’ empathy at the end that allow Bergens to find their happiness. Poppy says, “She deserves to be happy. They all do.” So the dream team go back and put themselves in danger to explain how to be happy to the Bergens. Empathy is held up at the end as the true way to give someone else happiness rather than someone exploiting someone more vulnerable to attain it at their expense.

Pinocchio

All right, Pinocchio. I haven’t seen this in at least a decade and a half, and I’m nervous. Mostly I’m nervous because I remember not being a fan, but I’m also worried that it’ll have nothing to do with exploitation. So I’m going to watch it and record all of what will surely be my astute and useful reactions as I’m watching.

It’s 12:00 am. Why am I doing this at this time this was a stupid idea.

12:01 am and I guess I’ll admit one of my shortcomings as a human being: being easily bored by long opening credits. I’m glad they don’t do this anymore.

12:04: Jiminy Cricket doesn’t look much like a cricket. Missing a couple of legs and some wings, he is. Also he’s breaking and entering.

12:06: Figaro just showed up. And I guess that isn’t the worst Italian accent I’ve ever heard on Geppetto.

12:09: I’d completely forgotten about that fish.

12:10: Geppetto is using his puppet to harass Figaro. What.

12:15: Figaro is the true hero of this movie and I feel bad for him.

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12:18: Jiminy, you’re a cricket. She’s a… fairy.

12:22: I don’t want to be cynical but I kind of think he’s been set up for failure. He just has to be of impeccable character, that’s all, no big deal.

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12:26: WHAT THE HELL AM I WATCHING RIGHT NOW

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12:30: cue the furries. Why do they care about a wooden boy, don’t they have Zootopia fanart to draw or something?

12:32: OK so temptation number one: fame, offered by greedy exploitish anthropomorphic animals.

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12:36: oh good, racism. Bring back the furries.

12:48: Pinocchio and Jiminy are pretty sure this situation is their own faults. Nope, guys. And if the Blue Fairy gives him crap I’m concluding that she’s the enchantress from Beauty and the Beast.

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12:51: she’s that enchantress. The Beast was 11 when she overreacted at him too, so, lady. Surely you could be testing someone more deserving of your moralistic scrutiny than little kids.

12:53: oh no, the donkey thing is happening isn’t it. And the furries are horrified. Rightly so. But apparently they’re still going to help this horrific stuff happen, so, cool.

12:56: the second temptation is vacation. I would lose on this one.

12:57: I DON’T LIKE THIS.

1:02: I didn’t realize that playing pool was such a bad thing.

1:03: this cricket is useless. And there’s a lot of foreshadowing happening and I reeeeeally don’t like it.

1:04: NOPE.

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1:06: I can’t express how much I hate this right now.

1:09: … what? A… what? But. What?

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1:14: I’m still confused. How did Geppetto mess up searching for Pinocchio so badly that he ended up in a whale.

1:15: is he feeding fish to his fish. This guy is a mess.

1:17: that’s a nice reunion amongst dying fish. Very sweet.

1:23: I guess the third temptation is surviving. Cool. And where are Cleo and Figaro during all of this?

1:24: oh there they are.

1:25: suck it, Blue Fairy.

1:26: nooo not the clocks again.

1:28: and it’s over. Wow.

Good, there was exploitation. Mainly of vulnerable children. I could go back and forth for a while about whether the movie is really suggesting that Pinocchio and the other boys that ended up as donkeys sold into slavery deserve to be exploited as they are, but I think instead I’ll invoke the Rule of Red Riding Hood. Which is, and I quote:

“From this story one learns that children, especially young lasses, pretty, courteous and well-bred, do very wrong to listen to strangers, And it is not an unheard thing if the Wolf is thereby provided with his dinner. I say Wolf, for all wolves are not of the same sort; there is one kind with an amenable disposition – neither noisy, nor hateful, nor angry, but tame, obliging and gentle, following the young maids in the streets, even into their homes. Alas! Who does not know that these gentle wolves are of all such creatures the most dangerous!”

Perrault can go jump in a lake.

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Pinocchio manages to escape the donkey fate by jumping off a cliff. Jumping off a cliff may have metaphorical significance, I guess, but to me it doesn’t signify Pinocchio learning his lesson about trusting anthropomorphic foxes or wanting to live a carefree life filled with smoking, drinking, playing pool (the… horror… or maybe that was the joke, I’m honestly not sure), property destruction, and no school. He just realizes he’s been had and his conscience, rather than making him feel bad about the decisions he’s made that have led him to this moment, just points him to the exit. This is an interesting way to write a moral, I suppose, in that there isn’t one at all. But then Pinocchio needs to be willing to and actually die to save Geppetto before the Blue Fairy grants him “real boy” status, proving that he’s better than all of those other boys and is truly deserving of life.

Compare this to Trolls: first of all, in Pinocchio’s shoes Poppy would certainly have gone back to save all the other kids, since she is willing to do so for all of the Bergens, even the ones she doesn’t know personally. Not that I’m suggesting that Pinocchio was capable of that, but man, tell the polizia. Or the fairy. Or something.

Now if we were to apply the Rule of Riding Hood to Trolls, then Branch would have to be the main character. The fact that he warned Poppy about the loud party would be even more highlighted than it was. She’d have to learn some sort of painful lesson and become a completely different character. He probably would come up with that plan I mentioned earlier in which the Trolls all give up happiness so that they can’t be exploited. Don’t talk to strangers if you don’t want them to “eat” you, after all. If you have something someone wants to exploit, best get rid of it.

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Happily we don’t live in the world in which the movie takes Branch’s extreme side. Instead, there’s a couple of instances where “I guess we were both right” is the lesson they learn. And when Poppy does revert to Branch’s early-on-in-the-movie way of looking at the world, Branch is the one to convince her not to give hope. The Trolls don’t escape exploitation by jumping off the exit cliff, but rather by learning things, and by their extreme, all-encompassing empathy.

And the Blue Fairy really can suck it. So Pinocchio decided to skip school twice. BFD. Can’t she pick on Stromboli or that creep luring kids to “Pleasure Island” and then turning them into donkeys and selling them into slavery for her moralistic lectures about lying I MEAN GET SOME PERSPECTIVE LADY.

The Lego Movie

Lord Business is rounding up master builders and trapping them in his think tank so that they’ll come up with the brilliant instructions for all of the settings in his various realms. He’s doing this because the bizarre creations of master builders and world-mixing were confusing him. He wants his stuff to be exactly. The way. He wants it.

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Now really he’s just The Man Upstairs, Finn’s dad. And he wants to build all of his Lego sets as they are in the instructions and then glue them down so that his kids can’t move them around. Lord Business’s think tank full of such geniuses as Gandalf, Wonder Woman, Shaquille O’Neal, and Cleopatra is just Finn’s active imagination’s version of events.

The exploitation of the think tank happens because Lord Business is stubborn about how the world has to be. There aren’t infinite possibilities in his mind. Everyone needs to stand still in their own realms and stay frozen forever. Finn’s dad has decided that his Lego isn’t a toy because he’s building and gluing and now it’s become a grown-up thing. But when he sees some of Finn’s creations, he changes his mind about the crazy glue and plays with his son, building strange creations and letting Lego guys and girls who wouldn’t normally interact interact. Eventually, even his daughter is allowed to join.

Dun dun duuuuuuun.

The Lego Movie reminds me of Trolls in that all of the bad stuff happens because everyone (in Trolls) or just the one guy in charge of everything (in The Lego Movie) is working under the assumption that there is only one way to do something. For the Bergens, it’s eating Trolls to achieve happiness. For dad/Lord Business, it’s gluing everyone down so that nothing moves and gets weird. But the innocence and resilience of Poppy and Finn/Emmett convince everyone to try a less exploitative, less gluey approach, and it works out better for everyone.

Welp. That was certainly a way to spend two days.

spaceshiiiip

SPACESHIIIIIIIIP!!!!!!!

Animated Animals: The Reptile Muscle

Guess it’s Disney Day again.

I’m trying to write a thing about portrayals of animals and nature in animated films – specifically Finding Nemo and The Lion King – since Andrew Stanton gave that interview saying his reaction to the “circle of life” philosophy in Le Roi Lion was a major influence to how nature is portrayed in Trouver Nemo. I keep getting stuck, mostly because how I feel about those portrayals is tied up in how I feel about how society perceives nature in general and then I go off on huge barely-related tangents about humpback whales and I think it’s going to turn into a massive manifesto.

So for now I wrote this thing about Louis and Pascal and how they do somewhat unethical things so that their princesses can achieve their dreams without moral ensulliment. Mmhm.


Recent Disney princesses have occasionally relied on reptilian enforcement for maximum dream achievement. Let’s discuss.

Louis is the definition of non-threatening. He shows up right after truly threatening gators attack our frog heroes, but all he wants is to play his trumpet in accompaniment to Naveen’s spider webbed-branch. Actually, all he wants is to play among the great (and human) jazz musicians on the riverboats. So Louis is both non-threatening and Ariel.

“Oh I tried once.” That part is probably the funniest thing in the movie. Tiana’s “And we talk, too,” is also good, but that’s not the point.

Louis asks Mama Odie to give him a human body so that he can safely jam with the big boys, but she apparently isn’t one for simple, straight-up magical transformation and tells him he just needs to find what he needs. Which ends up simply being that he needs to be friends with some powerful and influential people who own a restaurant by the end of the film, because as we see during the finale, Tiana lets him play for her patrons.

But to get to this point, first we need non-threatening Louis to be a true American Murder Log.

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You’re better off where you’re at.

The Fenner brothers probably weren’t supposed to accept another offer after agreeing to sell to Tiana, but since she hadn’t signed the papers yet it wasn’t technically illegal. I like this because it’s a lot more realistic than having them just be outright evil schemers denying Tiana her dream property. They’re just not good people, even though what they’re doing is within the law.

I mean, the above is clearly a death threat though. I’m fine with it (sometimes you have to force people to not do terrible things), but, it’s a death threat. Damn, Disney.

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Worth it.

I’ve been to Florida many times and I’ve never seen an alligator in the wild. I’m mostly OK with that, because if I happen to meet one and it decides to eat me then I think I’m eaten. But it would be interesting to see one from a safe distance. They are the living dinosaurs, after all (I mean so are birds but we’re not ready as a culture to accept feathered dinosaurs yet so whatever).

I’m grateful for Princess and the Frog’s portrayal of alligators. Louis is genuinely lovable, and gators don’t get enough appreciation, which is a shame. I personally find it hard to appreciate them because they’re dangerous and they eat animals I like better than them, but despite all of that, when I found a lovely shop display of decapitated baby alligator heads in multiple souvenir shops in Florida, I was unimpressed. To say the least. When we allow ourselves to project evil onto an animal just because it’s deadly and doesn’t make cute facial expressions, we end up allowing the worst kinds of exploitation. From the footage I’ve seen, snakes and alligators in the skins industry and sharks in the fin industry are treated with excessive cruelty, and it’s almost as though the people doing it think they’re obligated to harm them with such spite because of how hated they are by random facets of human society.

Anyway that’s depressing, but the point is, I’m always up for a beautiful Disney movie creating a lovable character out of an animal that is hated and misunderstood in real life. Threatening sleazy real estate agents with death and all.

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Now play Dippermouth Blues.

… Pascal commits actual murder.

No Day But Today: I Made a Horrible Mistake

So I messed up and put Rent on. It’s Christmas Eve Eve (at least, while writing this it is) and Rent is Christmassy, and Netflix has nothing else. So.

Let’s see if I can articulate all of my thoughts about this silly musical/movie. First, the good stuff.

Diversity, sort of

Rent is pretty diverse. Three leads are white and the other four are POC. Three leads are straight (as far as we know – they could all be bi), and the other four are not. There’s a trans woman.

On the other hand, Mimi, the female romantic lead (K real quick there are three couples but Roger and Mimi are clearly the main couple, most unfortunately), is kind of a manic pixie dream girl. Some evidence for this claim:

  • reminds Roger of his girlfriend who killed herself. Has AIDS, is a drug addict, smiles the same, etc.
  • ^^ thus, she needs saving. Roger has to help her quit the heroin and it doesn’t work.
  • of course, despite being a drug addict getting steadily sicker, she’s vibrant and full of life and gives Roger the will to live again, *sigh*
  • almost dies but returns from the brink because Roger sings his stupid song at her

I think there’s some depth to her but because of how dull and blah Roger is, it’s hard to shake the need to label her as the manic pixie dream girl.

(on the other hand, the stage version of this relationship just kind of works. Watch.)

(as much as these two fictional people make me roll my eyes, this version of this song makes me smile) (it’s probably the actors)

More problematically, there’s Angel as the magical trans character. Angel is flawless (except that she’ll take money to commit dog murder, but that’s a later point and also the show seems to think that this is hilarious, and not in fact awful) and she “helped [them] [you know, the group of friends] believe in love.” She dies near the end from AIDS and everything falls apart with the group because she’s the love expert. When Mark hilariously quits his job it’s because he gets a message from Angel while he’s singing about consumerism in America. (-.-) Also, Angel is at the pearly gates and tells Mimi to go back when Mimi almost dies.

There isn’t much trans rep that doesn’t just use “trans” as a punchline, but the implication of how Angel is portrayed is that she’s just there, living and dying, in order to teach her cis friends some life lessons. Which is not cool.

OK something it actually does right:

The AIDS support group stuff

“No Day But Today” and “Will I Lose My Dignity” are probably the two most beautiful songs in the show. Also:

The music in general

Rent’s music is good. Just, sometimes we sing along and start laughing because it’s stupid.

Maureen? Maybe?

I just claimed that Mimi is a manic pixie dream girl, at least where Roger is concerned, but Maureen is actually the character that most fits that label. She’s outgoing to the point of being incredibly obnoxious, everyone stares at her, she’s artistic and bold, and she dates the two most grounded characters in the show who are in agony because they’re pretty sure she doesn’t belong to them entirely and can’t ever belong to them because of her enormous personality.

What I like is that I don’t think the show lets her get away with it. In “Take Me or Leave Me” Maureen brags about how everyone wants her and Joanne should just learn to not be jealous, but Joanne tells her not to take her for granted because she’s also pretty great. Mark couldn’t have pulled those bold statements off but Joanne obviously can.

When Benny says that Maureen’s protest is more about her losing her performance space than it is about kicking homeless people out of their tent city, I’m pretty sure he’s right, and I’m pretty sure the show also knows this. This makes her the most three-dimensional character here, and in a different movie she’d definitely be just another inexplicable dream girl.

In spite of everything, it probably made me a better person

I was young and impressionable when I watched Rent for the first time, and though I now look back and shake my head at younger me, I also suspect that in spite of it’s major flaws, it made me a more tolerant person. And I don’t think I’m alone. You could call it “Baby’s first SJW movie musical” I guess.

The friendship between Mark and Joanne

It’s beautiful. And there isn’t enough of it.

The best moment in the show

12 seconds in up until 1:14; 1:23 if you want to include Angel fixing everything (which is also great).

I could probably go on about this moment, but let’s just leave it at: this is the show’s moment of clarity. Supposedly we’re here because the tent city is jeopardized, but really we’re here to watch a bunch of spoiled brats refuse to get jobs while they work on their art. Or at least, that’s how I see it. Because now it’s time to talk about the bad.

Parents

Mark sings in “La Vie Boheme:” “Not to mention, of course, hating dear old mom and dad.” And early in the show he jokes that when he’s freezing and hungry he sometimes wonders what he’s still doing in alphabet city and then his parents call, and he remembers.

For the record, his parents call to say “Merry Christmas” and to send their love; Mark’s mom hopes he likes his hotplate, and Mark’s dad is sorry to hear that Maureen broke up with him.

Terrible.

Sure, Mark’s dad says “Let her be a lesbian” of Maureen but there’s much worse he could have said. He doesn’t try to go all “toxic masculinity” on him or anything over the fact that he’s been dumped for a woman (although the show gets a couple of laughs out if it), and he doesn’t use any slurs.

In the stage version, Mark’s mom is a bit more grating, but there’s also an entire mini song in which the parents of all of our wayward young Bohemians are calling over and over again to try to reach their kids. Mimi is at this point dying on the street. So. Yeah.

I understand that parents are not universally good and supportive but there really isn’t evidence that these parents are the other sort, so I’m left feeling like these people are all just awful. It must be nice to have supportive parents who would help you if you need it (… it is, I have some, so I know) and isn’t it brave of you to choose to ignore them when they reach out. So edgy, so artistic.

Muffy

To that point. Benny is a former friend of the group’s, and a former lover of Mimi’s, but he’s living the rich life now because he married an heiress who we never see. At one point Roger calls her “Muffy” and everyone chuckles. Hilarious.

All we know about her is that she’s married to Benny, her father wants to build stuff on a tent city, she’s rich, and she’s grieving her dog that Angel murdered. Those four things don’t automatically make me hate her enough to chuckle along with these silly, silly people, so once again I end up assuming that they’re being callous for no reason.

The Cat Scratch Club

This is only in the movie version, but there’s a scene of Mimi dancing at her S&M club and it’s kind of embarrassingly tame. None of this is at all my thing, but even I know that what they came up with for the club is boring. Partially, it’s because Columbus wanted the movie to be PG-13 so that kids could see it (which is smart), but partly too I think is that it’s a scene designed by some heterosexual guy. A boring one, too. Michelle Pfeiffer in Batman Returns is still PG-13, dude, come on. The dancers aren’t even wearing fetish wear!

OK I’ll stop because this is definitely not my lane. It’s just that when they’re singing later about how they’re into “anything taboo” it doesn’t ring true, because the Cat Scratch Club will disappoint basically everyone everywhere.

The second half of the show for Roger and Mimi

Mimi dates Benny again? (He’s still married, of course, so now we know a fifth thing about Muffy: she’s being cheated on. God I hate her so much.) This is because Roger is jealous that she dated him before and he doesn’t trust her not to cheat on him. K.

Then he leaves, Mimi almost dies, but she survives because of song, yay. In the movie version it’s fine because the beginning part of their relationship was so boring as well, but in the stage version they filmed it’s a shame because those two actually have chemistry, and even that doesn’t make me care about them in the show’s more contrived moments later on.

Another Day

Mimi barges in on Roger (who is moping alone in the dark, of course), thrusts some heroin in his face and kisses him. Then he yell-sings at her to leave her alone. Partly it’s because he has AIDS and doesn’t want to tell her/try at life anymore, and this is all fine. But the show seems to think he’s in the wrong.

Listen.

Roger can say no. He can say no to the girl (and it doesn’t matter that he likes her, he’s not obligated to have sex with her whenever she climbs through the window) and he can definitely say no to the drugs. He’s a recovering addict. He pretty much told Mimi that when they met.

If he oversteps, and is a bit angrier than he needs to be, fine, as far as I’m concerned. But the show is under the impression that he’s way over the line. I know this because when they see each other again he apologizes to her, and she does not apologize for breaking and entering and for throwing drugs in his face and for trying to coerce him into sex. Also, Mimi’s argument against Roger’s “this would be different in a different context” (which is a FAIR THING FOR HIM TO FEEL) is the life affirmation from the AIDS support group. “There’s only us, there’s only this, forget regret or life is yours to miss. No other road, no other way, no day but today.”

Now I don’t know enough about support groups to have an educated opinion on whether it’s better for Roger to be a part of the support group and to accept its life affirmation as his dogma than it is for him to try to deal with it on his own, but I do think Mimi is… incorrect… to suggest that doing heroin and the sex immediately is the only way to live. The show sort of disagrees. I don’t think it’s pushing the drugs on Roger but it is pushing Mimi on him. That may be the fundamental flaw of their relationship: she’s just here to make Roger care about something so that he can write songs again. It’s a shame, as I said.

Jobs

It’s hard out there. But this show has a weird outlook on income and job-doing that I don’t think anyone politically to the left could possibly agree with. At all.

Five of our leads have/get/had jobs. Joanne is the steadiest of all, being a practicing lawyer. She isn’t mocked for this, which is nice, and kind of surprising.

Collins was a philosophy professor at MIT but they expelled him for his SJW writings about AIDS awareness. Then he gets money by rewiring a bank machine. K.

Mimi is a dancer at an S&M club. She gets a decent amount of flack for this, which is stupid.

Angel takes a lot of money from a wealthy woman to murder Muffy’s dog because it barks too much. This happens off screen, which I assume is the only reason people laugh at it.

Mark gets a job at a tabloid news thing and quits to make a movie that is nothing because Angel told him to from beyond the grave. And apparently he couldn’t make his movie in his spare time.

Also they always go to their favourite cafe, don’t order anything, or if they do order things, they don’t pay. And it’s funny how much they hassle the actual working people at this cafe. Also it’s funnier because on the one night that they go and scream about how great the Bohemian life is, they’re paying with the dog murder money. Ha. Ha.

The movie’s thesis seems to be that earning a living is bad. Mimi is aimless, after all, and uses her earnings to buy drugs. Mark’s job somehow incapacitates him from doing anything during the other 16 hours in his day. We’re cool robbing banks and killing dogs, though, and what Joanne does is fine (probably because a lawyer is a “real job” and she’s being paid well).

I actually think that if our leads had minimum wage jobs the whole show would be a lot better. Get rid of the parent-hate and add in hating bosses, customers, or the mundaneness of the retail industry. There. It’s instantly at least 10% a better show now.

Continue reading “No Day But Today: I Made a Horrible Mistake”