A Heartless Elephant Denies Service to a Father and Son Just Because They’re Foxes! You Won’t BELIEVE What Happens Next…

It was just another day in Zootopia.  Where anyone can be anything, right?

Yeah, right.

Not for one poor fox and his son.  The two of them decided to celebrate the little guy’s birthday by getting a jumbo pop at Jumbeaux’s Cafe.

It may sound strange for a fox family to go to a place that sells elephant-sized popsicles, but Nick Wilde knew how much his son loved elephants (he even wore an adorable costume! Squee!) and just had to give him this one special treat.

Unfortunately, because we can’t have nice things, the elephant employee at the counter wasn’t having it.

He gave Nick and his son the whole sorry spiel about “the right to refuse service,” because, y’know, they were foxes and all.

BUT THEN…one police officer witnessed the incident and put her foot down.

WATCH THE AMAZING FOOTAGE BELOW:

DANG.  Look at that!  She really put that elephant in his place!  Gotta love health code violations, amirite?

The officer, later identified as Judy Hopps, aka the first bunny to ever become a police office (Woo!  Bunny power!) stepped up and oh-so-politely informed the employees that they could get arrested for serving ice cream that they used their BARE TRUNKS to scoop!

Ew.

THEN, because this story can’t get heartwarming enough, she paid for the jumbo pop herself when it turned out that the father lost his wallet!  Apparently, when Officer Hopps heard that “anyone can be anything,” she went with “incredible role model to everybody everywhere.”

Seriously, look at the happiness on this family’s face:

(Gif taken from GIPHY)

ALL THE FEELS.  I CAN’T EVEN.

“You know, it burns me up to see folks with such backwards attitudes towards foxes!”

Us too, Officer Hopps.  Us too.  Faith in animals = restored.

Now go forth and share this amazing story with your hundreds of Facebook friends and Twitter followers, or you are a heartless, predator-hating monster that is everything wrong with Zootopia.  You probably voted for Mayor Lionheart too.

Then again, I can’t be the only one who gets tired of clickbait articles once in a while, right?  (At least tell me that I wasn’t the only one who wondered if I was watching the plot of a Buzzfeed article unfold during this scene.)

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Zootopia vs. Moana: Who Deserves to Win Best Animated Feature?

In a perfect world, Zootopia and Moana would compete for Best Picture alongside Kubo and the Two Strings and FINDING DORY.  But alas, we do not live in a perfect world, do we?

Still, we Disney fans have found ourselves in an interesting predicament this year: two Disney Animated films have been nominated for Best Animated Feature.  I enjoyed both of them, but who deserves to win the award more?

In case you haven’t seen one or either of the films, here are the trailers so you can get a rough idea:

As you can see, both films demonstrate gorgeous animation.  My favorite scene in Zootopia happens when Judy first arrives in the city and we get to see overhead shots of the different parts of the city: a desert, a rainforest, the frozen arctic, etc., all based on the many ecosystems that animals need to survive.  Moana is an absolutely beautiful film as well with its South Pacific setting, the dark/neon realm of monsters, and an incredible transformation sequence at the climax of the movie.

There’s plenty to like about both movies’ characters.  Although Zootopia suffers from being the third film in a row to have a Plot Twist Villain (see this post for more discussion about that problem), it’s also got perfect chemistry between Judy and Nick.  They have one of the best-developed friendships that I’ve ever seen in fiction.  It starts out as the typical “snarky man clashes with earnest woman,” but it’s handled well.  Nick realizes that he and Judy have had similar struggles when he sees her getting bullied by her boss.  Consequently he stops acting like a jerk around her.  Judy also comes to realize that she’s got anti-fox prejudice inside her that hurts Nick.  They both challenge each other and grow.

Moana’s also a wonderful character.  It’s nice to watch a movie with a human female protagonist who doesn’t have a love interest, nor is it ever brought up.  Many of the other Disney princesses, i.e. Merida, had to deal with an unwanted suitor and declare themselves to be STRONG INDEPENDENT WOMEN WHO DON’T NEED A MAN SO THERE.  With Moana, the subject just doesn’t come up.  Her parents don’t seem to care whether she gets married or not.  I also felt that I could relate to her struggle: unlike other heroines, she is fine with where she is and what’s expected of her.  Yet she still really, really wishes that she could be a voyager.  Likewise, I’m happy with where I am in life and my current job.  I doubt I will ever get the chance to work for Disney and help them make their movies or TV shows. But oh God, if only…

Moana and Maui didn’t play off of each other quite as well as Judy and Nick did.  There’s also the issue of Maui’s portrayal, since he is a demigod from Polynesian cultures and they understandably don’t want to see him misrepresented.  If someone misrepresented Jesus or Catholicism in a movie, I would certainly have something to say about it.  Since I’m not Polynesian, I’m not qualified to give an opinion on that.  (Here are some articles on that, if you’re interested.)  I liked him fine, but I’m not the one who has something to lose from how he’s portrayed.  I will say that there’s an issue with his character from a storytelling perspective: he and Moana have a Plot-Mandated Friendship Failure in the third act…and then he just comes back with no explanation given.

Nonetheless, their chemistry works and Moana’s got a beautiful relationship with her grandmother, Tala.  I love their final conversation before Moana works up the courage to go back and try to face the villain again.

As far as music goes, “Try Everything” from Zootopia is a great, catchy song.  But Moana had Lin-Manuel Miranda.  Case closed.  The End.  Moana wins.  (The songs really ARE amazing; it’s not just the “Hamilton” fan inside me that’s talking.)

The voice acting’s perfect in both movies.  Also, kudos to Disney for casting Polynesian actors and actresses to play the characters in Moana, with the exception of Jermaine Clement as a giant hermit crab, Tamatoa.  Auli’i Cravalho and Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson gave great performances as Moana and Maui.

So, that leaves the plots.

With Moana, there’s an issue that comes up in critics’ reviews: too much of the same thing.  It’s your standard hero’s journey combined with the usual snarky duo that we’ve seen in almost every animated Disney movie since The Princess and the Frog.  We’ve watched Tiana and Naveen, Rapunzel and Flynn, Anna and Kristoff, Nick and Judy, and now we have Moana and Maui going on an epic quest while learning to respect one another.

Why do Nick and Judy stand out anyway?  I think it’s because they deal with a heavier issue: prejudice.  With every other couple that I just listed, the conflict comes from clashing personalities and that’s it.  Naveen’s lazy and Tiana works hard.  Flynn and Kristoff have become jaded over time, while Rapunzel and Anna stay optimistic about life.  Maui’s egotistical and that gets on Moana’s nerves.

Zootopia digs deeper.  It’s not just about conflicting personalities; it’s about how Judy and Nick view their society, and how their society views them based on their species.  Nick acts jaded because he’s suffered some terrible experiences just because he’s a fox.  He’s lived in Zootopia his whole life, so he knows it’s not a perfect place “where anyone can be anything.”  Judy has dealt with prejudice for her whole life too, but not in Zootopia.  She genuinely believes it’s a perfect place compared to her small town.  She learns the truth fast, and also comes to realize that she’s just as capable of prejudice as anyone else.  But as she and Nick work on solving the case, they help each other out and support one another.

Moana’s character development is important to the story too, and it’s great.  She has to learn to become confident in herself and her capabilities.  The song where she discovers herself is powerful:

You could also argue that it’s related to Maui’s conflict because he turns out to be very insecure too.  But in the end, there’s a bit of a disconnect where we never find out what made Maui change his mind and come back to help Moana.  They don’t talk about it or anything; it just happens because that’s how these stories work.

To be fair, Han Solo did the same thing in the climax of Star Wars.  It kind of goes back to something that Doug Walker talks about in his review of Snow White. Maui’s return might not make sense, but that doesn’t matter- it’s what the audience wants to see.  The scene runs on emotional logic.  And for what it’s worth, I had a lot of fun watching Moana.  Even if it follow the same story beats as other Disney movies, it still follows them well, and it’s great to see some representation for other cultures.

Zootopia has its flaws as well.  Sometimes I think it’s a little too smart for its own good.  It’s advertised as a family movie, but it feels more appealing for adults.  Case in point: Judy first convinces Nick to work for her when she threatens to arrest him for felony tax evasion:

I can just hear my ten-year-old self saying, “Huh?!”

It’s funny, clever, and well-written, and I’m not saying a family movie should ever talk down to children.  Nor do I think that the themes of prejudice are beyond kids’ understanding.  But I don’t think I’m wrong in saying that “tax evasion” is not something that’s on most kids’ radars.  Heck, a lot of adults need help figuring out their annual tax forms!

There’s also the opening scene, where a young Judy tells everyone that she wants to become a police officer, a lamb says that she wants to be an astronaut, and a young cheetah says that he wants to be…an actuary.  What now?

But Zootopia does have other scenes that work for all audiences.  The best example would be the scene with the sloths.  Everyone laughs at the sloths’ slow reactions to everything, while adults get the additional joke about sloths running a DMV.  I prefer jokes like that, which work on several different levels.

So, when all’s said and done, the award should probably go to Zootopia.  It’s got a better-told story.  I loved Moana, but I have to admit that it doesn’t do a whole lot that’s new.  If nothing else, that puts Zootopia over the top.  We’ll see what the Academy thinks.

What do you think?  Is Zootopia the stronger film, or Moana?  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

The Trials of Mary Sue: Part 1

Just in case you thought the criticism about Rey in The Force Awakens would die down soon, the team behind Honest Trailers added their two cents:

There has definitely been a lot of passionate discussions about Rey and whether or not she qualifies as a “Mary Sue.”  Just what is a Mary Sue?

“I know,” some of you will say, “You don’t need to define it for me.  I’m heavily involved in fandoms and I know exactly what a Mary Sue is, just like I know exactly what fan fiction means, and shipping, and OCs, and head canons, etc.”

But can you really define the Mary Sue?

I ask that because I’ve noticed, as many other people have before me, that nobody can agree on what qualities a Mary Sue has.  Generally, people believe that a Mary Sue is “perfect” and “unrealistic,” but in what ways?  Does she have any personality flaws?  Do characters ignore her personality flaws the way no normal person would?  Does she excel at everything?  Does she fail at things, but those failures don’t have any impact on the plot or other characters?  Is she always nice, or can villains qualify as Sues too?  Do the attractive characters have to fall in love with her, or can she still be a Sue without a love interest?  Do they only exist in fan works, or can professional writers create Sues too?  Can male characters be Sues?

There’s no one definition beyond “perfection.”  It’s all very subjective.

Unfortunately, the “Mary Sue” criticism has lost its relevance among many fans because it’s starting to sound less like a legitimate criticism and more like an excuse to explain why somebody doesn’t like a particular character.  Some people now consider it a sexist concept, because male characters rarely get accused of being Sues, while fans of female characters often have to fight hard to prove they aren’t Sues.  Tumblr user Lady Love and Justice wrote a particularly strong essay about this problem.

For example, there’s the aforementioned debate about Rey.  Her fans often remind the rest of the Star Wars fandom that Anakin and Luke Skywalker did some pretty unbelievable things in their movies too.  But we don’t see a whole lot of criticism about their Sue-like qualities.  With Rey, the reaction was almost instantaneous.

I’ve thrown this accusation around myself, and in my heart, I do believe it should still be a valid complaint.  But whether or not the character’s status as a Sue ruins the story or the character’s likability should be taken on a case-by-case basis.

So, whenever people move beyond simply shouting, “She’s a Mary Sue!” or rarely, “He’s a Gary Stu!” and expect the accusation to suffice, what’s the actual problem that people have with these characters?

The most common, valid complaint that I’ve seen about Sues is that they are boring.  Characters tend to be more interesting when they cause some of their own problems and/or struggle to overcome a personal flaw.  Case in point: the one who started it all, Mickey Mouse, became a difficult character for Disney artists to work with because he wasn’t allowed to have any character flaws. He reacted to situations created by other characters rather than creating the problems himself.

As described in The Disney That Never Was, by Charles Solomon:

“Ironically, Mickey was the victim of his own popularity. In an effort to please his many fans (and their parents), the artists gradually transformed the rowdy scamp of Steamboat Willie into a polite, well-behaved nice guy who acted as the straight man for the funnier and more flexible Donald, Goofy, and Pluto. […] As the character limitations on Mickey grew stricter, it became increasingly difficult to find ideas for him that were funny” (1995, p. 38).

He also quotes an unknown person working for the studio at the time, who compared Mickey to Donald:

“Mickey is limited today because public idealization has turned him into a Boy Scout. […] That’s why Donald Duck was so easy. He was our outlet. We could use all the ideas for him that we couldn’t use on Mickey. Donald became our ham, a mean, irascible little buzzard. […] So we can whip out three Donald Duck stories in the time it takes us to work one for the Mouse” (p. 43).

Once upon a time, heroes like Superman could get away with being invincible and perfect at everything.  Nowadays, audiences expect characters to struggle and really earn their happy endings.  It makes for a more interesting story.  Wish fulfillment is great, but too much of it risks taking all of the tension out of the story and makes it difficult for audiences to relate to the characters.  As we all struggle through life, we can find inspiration in the tales of characters who succeed in spite of their own flaws.

On the other hand, characters like Sora or Snow White, who remain consistently cheerful and good-natured despite all of the horrible things that happen to them, can be inspirational in their own way too.  They inspire us to be better people.

As far as feminism goes, I don’t doubt that sexism plays a big part in the Mary Sue Problem.  When the lead character of Rogue One gets accused of being a Sue before her movie even arrives in theaters, you know there’s a problem.

But I also think it’s a case of bad timing.  As I mentioned above, we’ve gotten less tolerant of perfect characters like Superman.  Look at the modern Superman movies: they’re all about deconstructing this perfect hero.  And back then, as well as today, fictional heroes were predominately male.  So more and more female heroines are being created at a time when fictional characters are falling under more and more scrutiny.

That, and one could argue that sexism has affected Mary Sue characterizations in more ways than one.  If authors create Mary Sues as a way of inserting themselves into the story, could they simply be reacting to a lack of female characters in general?  Could it be that young women, like me, want to see more characters who remind them of themselves, so they try and do it themselves through fan fiction or their own original stories?  Is that really such a terrible thing?

It’s a very complicated issue, especially when you take into consideration how every single fan who comments on a character, myself included, approaches the situation from a different point of view.  From the little time that I’ve spent interacting in fandoms, I’ve found that it’s so easy to categorize people based on who they like and/or what they ship, but in reality, even when people share similar opinions, that doesn’t mean you can fit them in one neat little box.  They’re not all going to love or hate a character for the same reasons.

So…how does Disney fit into this debate?  How do they do with their characters?  Several characters come to mind when I think of the name, “Mary Sue,” some of whom are male.  So I’m creating a series of posts which will be all about these characters.  I’m putting them on trial, and we can ask ourselves: do these characters qualify as Sues?  Do they have any relatable flaws?  Do they fit within the story?

Most importantly, if they are guilty of being Sues, does that also make them guilty of being unlikeable characters?  Because I actually like a lot of the characters I’m about to discuss.

If you can think of any Disney characters that feel like Mary Sues to you, please leave a comment with his/her name and the reasons why you think this character qualifies.  I will be happy to write a discussion post about him or her in addition to the other Sues that I plan to examine.

COURT IS NOW IN SESSION!

***

Solomon, Charles. (1995) The Disney That Never Was: The Stories and Art from Five Decades of Unproduced Animation. New York: Hyperion.

The Plot Twist Villain: Too Much of a Good Thing?

From the moment that the storybook opened in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, we knew that Snow White’s stepmother, the Wicked Queen, would live up to her name.

That’s been the case with almost every film in the Walt Disney Animated Canon.  Whether it was the handsome Gaston, the “scary beyond all reason” Yzma, or a collection of characters creating obstacles for the heroes in Pinocchio, we didn’t have to guess the identity of the villains.  They were bad news from the get-go.

But that’s not the case anymore.  For their past three animated features, Disney’s been giving us “the plot twist villain.”

It should go without saying that this will be a very spoiler-heavy post.

For those who care, I will mention details from the plots of the following movies: Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Monsters Inc., Toy Story 2 & 3, Up, Wreck-It Ralph, Frozen, Big Hero 6, and Zootopia.  If you want to remain completely unspoiled for any one of these films, back out now.

What’s a plot twist villain? That’s what I’m calling the bad guys featured in the latest animated Disney movies. They act like friends, mentors, or even love interests to the protagonists throughout the film. Then, in the third act, the protagonists make a horrifying discovery: that friend, mentor, or love interest was the REAL bad guy all along! Also, there’s usually a character that serves as a red herring, acting like the typical Disney villain so that everybody will feel even more shocked when the twist happens.

However, it’s not so easy to fool your audience when you try to pull off this trick three times in a row.  That’s how the stories unfolded in Frozen, Big Hero 6, and Zootopia.  As much as I love these movies as a whole, I’m tired of seeing this trick.

Although I wonder, is that fair?  We’ve had at least fifty films in the Disney Animated Canon where the villain was very obvious from the beginning.  So shouldn’t Disney be allowed to make a series of films with plot twist villains for a while?

Maybe, but it’s different when we’re discussing a plot twist because plot twists are meant to be surprising.  When we know to expect a plot twist villain, it takes some of that expected emotional response away.  We automatically ask ourselves, “Okay, who’s the last person we’d expect to see as the villain who isn’t the Hero, Goofy Sidekick, or Love Interest?”  Chances are, you’ll get it right on the first try.  With obvious villains like Maleficent, it doesn’t matter if we get decades and decades of them because we were never meant to be surprised by them.

Then, once the initial shock’s over, what’s left to these plot twist characters?

Individually, I like their motivations and I think if you look at each of the three films on their own, with no additional context, they work very well.  I like how Frozen actually demonstrates why marrying a man you’ve only just met would be a terrible idea instead of simply making fun of the concept like Enchanted did.  I like how Professor Callaghan serves as a foil to Hiro in the ways they handled their grief and anger.  I like how Bellwether starts off as another example of a member of the “prey” class who gets mistreated, and then the movie shows what that can do to a person.

Again, it’s when these movies get released one right after the other, using the exact same type of plot twist three times in a row, that the concept loses its emotional value.

Now, Prince Hans wasn’t necessarily the first “twist” villain in Disney history.  Pixar started it with Stinky Pete in Toy Story 2, the forgotten, unpopular toy who comes across as a voice of reason when Woody’s trying to decide between going to a museum or going back to Andy.  Towards the end of the movie, when Woody chose Andy, he showed his true colors by trying to force Woody to go to Japan instead.

Then, Pixar did it again in Monsters Inc.  Randall’s the main villain throughout the film, but again, in the third act, the heroes learn that he’s been getting help from their boss, Mr. Waternoose.  Previously, Mr. Waternoose acted like a father figure to Sulley.

But after that, they didn’t do it again until Up, with Charles Muntz, and Toy Story 3 with Lotso.

Also, unlike the Hans/Callaghan/Bellwether Trio, these Pixar examples weren’t always the main antagonists.  Compare Big Hero 6, where Krei was an insensitive jerk at worst, to Monsters Inc., where Randall orchestrated the whole evil plan to steal Boo’s screams and convinced Mr. Waternoose to go along with it. In Up, there’s no real villain at all until Muntz shows up, if you don’t count his dogs.

Back in the land of Disney Feature Animation, they also technically have an example before Hans: Commander Rourke in Atlantis: The Lost Empire.  He’s part of the crew helping Milo get to Atlantis, and by the third act, Milo learns that he’s a mercenary who wants to steal the Atlanteans’ crystal.  But for some reason, I distinctly remember watching this movie as a kid and thinking, “Okay, that’s the bad guy,” long before his motive was revealed.  I can’t remember if Disney promoted him as the bad guy or not.  Does anybody else?  In any case, he never shared a close relationship with Milo, real or pretend, so his betrayal didn’t hit hard in the way Hans’ betrayal did.

There’s also King Candy from Wreck-It Ralph.  Still, the Disney writers executed the twist to King Candy differently than they did with the twists to the villains in Frozen, Big Hero 6, and Zootopia.  With the exception of one very well done scene, King Candy never comes across as a good person. He encourages everyone to bully and ostracize Vanellope Von Schweetz. When he gives Ralph his sympathetic reason for doing so, it doesn’t take long for Ralph to realize that he’s lying. His motivation for attacking Vanellope and his real identity are the twists. In the other three films, the twist is simply that these seemingly friendly characters are the real bad guys. That’s pretty much it.

I’m really curious to know whether Disney’s next film, Moana, will have a plot twist villain or not. Based on the synopsis that Disney released, the story doesn’t look like one that would lend itself to a plot twist villain. It doesn’t even look like the kind of movie that would have a real villain. But then again, neither did Up, and Pixar still gave us Charles Muntz.

It’s not easy to write a story. I think most writers try to create scenes and characters that they believe will have the most emotional impact on audiences. So plot twists are particularly fun to write because it’s so satisfying to watch people’s shocked reactions. But I sincerely hope that Disney takes a step back and avoids more plot twist villains for now. When we come into the theater expecting the villain to be a “surprise,” it stops working as an effective plot twist.

I have faith that they’ll figure things out though.  There are no storytellers quite like the Disney artists.  They’ve made a name for themselves for a reason.

UNLESS“Disney” isn’t even a real company anymore…and all those people claiming to be “Disney artists” are actually DREAMWORK EMPLOYEES IN DISGUISE!!!  And they’re trying to monopolize the animation industry by pretending to be different companies!  AHHHHHH, WHAT A SHOCKING TWIST!  We’d better get the Queen of Arendelle, Big Hero 6, and the Zootopian police department on this case immediately.

More Blog Updates

WELCOME, FOOLISH MORTALS.  Kindly step through, please, and make room for everyone!

As you can see, I changed the layout of “Of Mice and Magic,” because…well, just because I felt like it.  Later today, I’ll finish my list of worlds that I’d like to see in a future Kingdom Hearts game, and then I’ll be working on some Halloween-themed posts for October!  Most of them will be about spooky things like the lovely Haunted Mansion ride, and for the last thirteen days of the month, I’m going to make a list of my 13 favorite voice actors/actresses of Disney villains.  As much as I love the heroes, I think we can all agree that the villains tend to bring about the most memorable performances in Disney movies.

And…that’s it for now.  Thank you to everyone who does read this blog!  If you’re out there, feel free to leave a comment! 😀