Character Spotlight: Princess Atta

Every now and then, I decided that I’d like to write a post about one specific character and what makes them stand out, either to me personally or to general audiences.  Let’s start with Princess Atta from Pixar’s second animated film, A Bug’s Life.

 

AttaCompared to other beloved Disney and Pixar characters, Princess Atta isn’t exactly a household name.  A Bug’s Life itself doesn’t get too much attention from Disney anymore.  Nonetheless, I think Atta’s pretty interesting when you compare her to some of Disney’s other princesses and love interests in talking animal movies.

Before Merida came on to the scene and reminded us that a princess has more responsibilities than dancing, singing, and looking pretty, Pixar gave us Princess Atta.  Her mother, the Queen, rules the colony on Ant Island.  During A Bug’s Life, Atta has to learn how to be a queen herself and she’s not very good at it.  Or is she?

Unlike other Strong Female Characters, Atta isn’t reluctant to lead because she’d rather go off and do something else.  She genuinely wants to be a good queen.  That’s her whole problem.  She’s so nervous about the possibility of failure that she doesn’t inspire much confidence in anybody but her mother and Flik.  I really like the scene where she opens up to Flik for the first time and tells him about what’s going on inside her head:

“I know what everyone really thinks. […] Everyone.  The whole colony.  Nobody really believes I can do this job.  It’s like…they’re all watching me.  Just…just…”

And Flik finishes with, “Waiting for you to screw up.”

A Bug’s Life never confirms or denies whether the ant colony feels that way about Atta.  The opening scene shows one Council member calming her down and two others commenting that the Queen has “enough on her plate already, training her daughter.”  However, they do credit her with the idea to send Flik off to the city and cheer the plan to build the bird when she encourages them to do it.  So it might be all inside her head.  We just don’t know if Atta’s assessment is accurate or not, any more than we know how real people view us.  So, nice touch by Pixar.

Going off of that, it’s neat how Atta gets to have her own character arc that’s related to Flik’s, but isn’t solely based around falling in love with him.  She has her own family and her own goals.  Though she does come to admire Flik and treat him better, and his actions incite her character development, it’s all about Atta gaining confidence in herself.  She comes to like Flik because of what he does for the colony.  She gets aggravated by his antics mostly when she thinks they’re hurting the colony (and when they reflect poorly on her).  More than anything else, she wants what’s best for her people.

Additionally, Atta is aware that her own insecurities cause problems and tries to fix them.  In the aforementioned scene where she talks to Flik and he finishes her sentence about screwing up, that’s when she realizes that he deals with her fears every day.  He knows that nobody likes him and he knows that no matter how hard he tries to make things better, he still makes mistakes.  So Atta apologizes for the way she’s treated him in the past and tries to make amends.

Think about it: when does that ever happen in Disney films, or any animated family films?  How often do we see a female character admitting that she’s flawed and apologizing for it, especially to her love interest?  It usually doesn’t happen even when they have flaws.  Mulan didn’t apologize to the army; they needed to apologize to her.  Tiana didn’t have to apologize to Naveen, nor did Pocahontas ever apologize to anybody, or Jasmine, or Belle, or Cinderella.  Most of the time, they’re victims in some way and others need to help them and/or learn to appreciate them better.

Oh, and Atta saves Flik twice in the third act, not the other way around.  She flies in front of Hopper to stop him from squishing Flik, then outflies all of his friends when Hopper grabs Flik and takes off.  Flik ultimately comes up with the plan to kill Hopper once and for all, but he couldn’t have done it without Atta.

As a kid, I didn’t think much of Atta and couldn’t understand why Flik fell in love with her, when, by her own admission, she wasn’t very nice to him.  But as an adult, I admire how Pixar tried to do something different with this type of character: the princess who isn’t good at being a princess and the love interest who needs to learn to appreciate the protagonist better.  The writers treat her like a person (well, an ant) with her own goals and struggles, and as a result, her decisions feel more natural and less like “we need her to do/say this thing because that’s what this type of character does.”

So, kudos to you, Pixar.  Thank you for not taking us down Road of the “Strong Female Character” and giving us interesting, more layered female characters instead.

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Musical Monday #32: “Upular”

I’m trying something new with Musical Monday.  Instead of showing and discussing the original songs, I’d like to continue with what I started in my Project Destati post and draw attention to amazing fan remixes.

Here’s “Upular,” by Pogo:

“Wow” is right, Russell.  “Wow” is right.

Pogo has created several other remixes with sound clips from Disney movies, including “Wishery” for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, “Toyz Noize” for Toy Story, and “Expialidocious” for Mary Poppins.

“Upular” is my favorite, although that’s probably because it’s the first one I heard.  It’s so cheerful (or should I say UPbeat?) and warm.  The video is a perfect mashup of clips from Carl and Russell’s adventure.  With two exceptions, you can’t really hear any lines from the movie, but Pogo didn’t need to include full snippets of dialogue to invoke nostalgia.  His combination of the clips and the music was enough to remind me of how much I loved Up.

If you like this kind of music and/or you love a good Disney montage, definitely check out more of Pogo’s channel.  He’s created some beautiful mixes that leave me wanting to watch the movies all over again!

 

Night at the Oscars: Wreck-It Ralph vs. Brave

It’s time for another Academy Awards ceremony!  This year, I’ve only seen three of the films nominated for Best Picture: Lincoln, Les Miserables, and Zero Dark Thirty.  They were all good films, but as much as I love Les Mis, none of them are what I would consider the best film of the year.  (Honestly, my favorite film of 2012 was The Avengers– clearly, the Academy and I don’t have the same tastes.  And no, I wouldn’t say it has the makings of a “classic” film, but it’s very, very good and a lot of fun to watch.  Given just how much Joss Whedon had to pull together from Marvel comic books and five previous movies, and somehow made it work, it should’ve at least been nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay or Best Director.)

Anyways, Disney did achieve some nominations this year.  Both Wreck-it Ralph and Brave received nominations for Best Animated Feature, Paperman was nominated for Best Short Film- Animation, and The Avengers received a nomination for Best Visual Effects.  Well done, Disney!  So, everyone, who do you think deserves to win Best Animated Feature: Wreck-It Ralph or Brave?

I did enjoy Brave and I appreciate how its original director, Brenda Chapman, wanted to tell a story about a mother-daughter relationship and a princess who doesn’t get married by the end of the movie.  But I’m rooting for Wreck-It Ralph.  Both films look beautiful, but Ralph is a stronger film because it has a better constructed story and character development.  Brave had good character development too, but it felt rushed to me, and I guess after seeing the trailers and reading the synopsis about a “beastly” curse that Merida accidentally unleashes on the kingdom, I expected more of a big, epic adventure.  It’s not Pixar’s fault that they didn’t match my expectations, but I still don’t think it’s the best they’ve ever done.

For example, let’s look at Finding Nemo, a Pixar film about a father-son relationship.  When I watch Finding Nemo, I understand why Marlin and Nemo change throughout the course of the film and eventually form a closer bond.  Through his friendship with scatter-brained Dory and being forced to confront dangers he would normally hide from, Marlin gradually realizes that sometimes it’s better and more satisfying to confront and overcome challenges rather than run away from them.  He also realizes, particularly in the whale scene, that he needs to put his faith in other fish sometimes, even if Nemo and Dory don’t seem capable of taking care of themselves.  Meanwhile, when Nigel tells Nemo and the tank gang about Marlin’s adventures, Nemo regains respect for his dad and learns that when something important’s on the line, his dad will be there for him.

In regards to Brave, I understand why Merida changed over the course of the movie.  She gradually accepts that the old witch isn’t to blame for what happened to Queen Elinor- it’s her fault.  Seeing what happened to Mor’du also helps her understand how selfish actions can have terrible consequences and cause other innocent people to suffer.  But I don’t understand why Elinor suddenly changed her mind about forcing Merida to marry one of the lords’ sons.  We see her bonding with her daughter as they try to figure out how to change her back into a human, but nothing in particular happened that should’ve changed her mind about that tradition- unless we’re supposed to draw the conclusion that being a bear helped her to loosen up?  That would make sense, but they weren’t just disagreeing over the way a princess should behave.  Those three tribes were ready to go to war against each other if Merida didn’t pick a husband.  I like the idea that none of her suitors were that interested in marrying her either, which helps smooth the whole thing over.  But I still think that conflict was resolved a bit too neatly, with the Queen suddenly signaling to Meirda that she had changed her mind.

The development of Ralph and Vanellope’s relationship in Wreck-It Ralph does not feel rushed.  It makes sense that they would eventually bond with each other because they’re both outcasts who dream of being accepted as good characters in their respective games, but they’re both constantly rejected by the other characters.  Also…

SPOILER ALERT!!!

…I like how Ralph and Vanellope’s heartwrenching fight played out.  When King Candy showed up with Ralph’s medal, I was afraid that he really would take it and leave poor Vanellope, but he didn’t, because he wanted her to succeed too.  Speaking of King Candy, the way he ended up convincing Ralph to keep Vanellope out of the race was brilliant, complete with that horrifying imaginary scene of the Sugar Rush characters fleeing from their game and leaving Vanellope trapped inside.  It was a perfect way to get Ralph to change his mind and made his falling-out with Vanellope more painful to watch.  It was obvious that he didn’t want to stop her from racing, but he didn’t want her to get destroyed either.

END OF SPOILERS

It all comes down to personal taste, but for me, Wreck-It Ralph was a stronger, more enjoyable film.  Best of all, it’s a strong enjoyable film about video games!  If Ralph wins an Academy Award, might that send a message to Hollywood that creating good movies about video games are possible, as long as they hire good storytellers to make those films?  As Captain Jack would put it, “One can only hope!”

Good luck to the crews behind all of the nominated films tonight, especially the makers of Wreck-It Ralph!  May the best (nominated) movies win!

Let’s Discuss: Pixar Movies!

Last week, I got a request to do a discussion about Pixar movies.  So, here we go: what’s your favorite Pixar movie, and why?

Here’s mine:

Picture found on Pixar Wiki

Why?  It has everything I could possibly want in a movie and then some.  It’s got great action sequences.  It has excellent humor that especially appeals to my inner geek.  (“You sly dog!  You got me monologing!”)  It tells an interesting story with great characters and it has a husband-and-wife conflict done so well, that I’m surprised the movie made it out of Hollywood!  Everything about this movie works really well!  The only reason it comes close to getting knocked down from my “favorite movie” slot is because I’ve watched it WAY too many times.

But every Pixar movie has adventure and humor and good character interaction.  For me, what sets The Incredibles apart from the others is just how much it appeals to my inner geek with the superhero genre.  Most importantly, it takes everything I love about the genre and takes it to the next level.  There are people who refuse to take a comic book or a movie about superheroes seriously because they can’t get over the fact that people with special powers and abilities don’t exist.  Some movies ignore that crowd, some address it by inserting lots of cheeky humor, but the best kind, like The Incredibles, The Dark Knight, Spiderman, X-Men: First Class, and most recently, The Avengers, take these fantastical situations and fill them with characters that feel like people we know, or at least people we would expect to encounter in our world.

The Parrs feel like a real family; they deal with daily little conflicts like bad traffic, Dash getting in trouble at school, and Violet struggling with self-confidence issues.  Bob and Helen love each other, but they often disagree on how best to raise their family.  All of these little conflicts are then magnified to reflect a more fantastical, unrealistic problem: hiding their superpowers from the rest of the world.  Bob thinks they should embrace who they are and resents having to live in hiding under government protection.  Helen doesn’t like it either but she decides to adapt in order to keep her family safe.  The kids have never even had the chance to really use their powers without restriction, leaving Violet feeling even more insecure about herself and wishing she didn’t have them at all.  Dash, like his dad, badly wants to embrace his powers and it’s his inability to do so that causes him to misbehave at school.

And then there’s the villain, Syndrome, who represents the frustrated geek in all of us fanboys and fangirls, albeit taken to the extreme.  In this sense, he represents a sizeable portion of The Incredibles‘s audience: who wouldn’t want to fight alongside his/her favorite heroes?  But his sympathetic backstory does not excuse his vicious actions, making him a very formidable villain for the Incredibles to face.  I also love how his dilemma is the polar opposite of the Parr family’s: their society doesn’t want to accept them as superhumans, but Syndrome’s problem is that he cannot accept himself.  In a way, they’re all struggling to suppress their true selves: the Parrs by pretending to be normal citizens, and Syndrome by pretending to be a superhero.

So yeah, this movie rocks.  Every second of every conversation, Omnidroid fight, and gorgeous visuals of Nomanisan Island just rocks.  And it teaches us the importance of always remembering where you put your supersuit:

So, what’s your favorite Pixar movie, and why?  Let’s discuss!

Musical Monday #12: “Real Gone”

Yes, I realize that this isn’t a “Disney song” in the traditional sense.  The reason why I picked it is because I think it’s presence in a certain Disney-Pixar film was so memorable, it deserves its own post.

“Real Gone,” sung by Sheryl Crow, can be heard during the opening scene of Cars, and for lack of a better description, it really kicked the movie into high gear.  It is, hands-down, one of my favorite opening sequences in a Pixar movie.

And yes, I’m aware that I’m slathering on the Cars love right now, but in light of what’s happened recently, I guess I just can’t help it.  Have you ever been in a situation where something you genuinely like starts getting bashed, and the more you hear the criticisms, the more you find yourself loving what’s getting trampled on?  It’s happened to me before, and it’s happening again with Cars.  I don’t have a problem with people disliking the movie, so I apologize to anyone who’s getting annoyed by this current devotion.  Just hang in there, and I promise I’ll move on to another topic soon.  😀  I still need to write my posts about the Disney pirates anyway.

So, continuing with “Real Gone,” here’s the opening scene from Cars, if you haven’t seen it or watched it recently:

As I mentioned in “Preliminary Thoughts on “Cars 2,” this scene really shows us how much John Lasseter and the Pixar animators love the world of racing.  With alternating shots of the race, the pit crews, the various cars fighting to pass each other, the screaming fans, the overhead of the glittering stadium, and the voiceover by the announcers highlighting the stats of each main competitor…it’s pure exhilaration and you can practically hear Team Pixar shouting, “This. World. Rocks.

But the jaw-dropping visuals are only half of what makes this scene great, in my opinion.  It wouldn’t send shivers down my spine if it wasn’t accompanied by “Real Gone”; even when the characters are talking about the race, you can still hear an instrumental portion playing in the background, and the effect is fantastic.  It’s one of those songs that makes you want to turn up the volume, roll down the windows, hit the gas pedal, and go speeding down the highway with the wind whipping your hair back- perfect for a movie that features racing.  It also fits Lightning’s overconfident personality at the beginning of Cars, with lyrics like, “We’ve been driving this road for a long, long time/Paying no mind to the signs,” and “Well here I come, and I’m so not scared/Got my pedal to the metal/Got my hands in the air!”  He too, is fearless and shows a lot of spirit on the racetrack, but as we all know, this quickly leads to trouble and becomes his undoing.  He really should’ve learned to “look out, take your blinders off, everybody’s looking for a way to get real gone!”

But that’s an added bonus.  For me, the true appeal of this song is how well it fits with Pixar’s opening visuals, creating feelings of excitement and exhilaration!  The same could be said for a lot of the songs on the Cars soundtrack, like “Life is a Highway,” and of course, “Our Town,” in that Pixar’s really good at matching songs with montages.  But I think Real Gone will always be my favorite of the scenes in Cars, because it did such a good job of getting me pumped for the rest of the movie.  And creating a good first impression with the opening of a movie is always a good thing.