Saw Disney´s newest animated feature, “Moana” (2016) and loved it. Jemaine Clement voices the sort-of villain Tamatoa, which he discusses down below. Enjoy!
Saw Disney´s newest animated feature, “Moana” (2016) and loved it. Jemaine Clement voices the sort-of villain Tamatoa, which he discusses down below. Enjoy!
Today´s post will be a book tag, that was created by the booktuber A Clockwork reader. All the questions are based on characters from Nickelodian´s most popular cartoon, “Avatar: The last Airbender”, which is a fantasy-based world where different nations have unique people that can control certain elements. The summary of the shows three seasons arch is:
“Long ago, the four nations lived together in harmony. Then, everything changed when the Fire Nation attacked. Only the Avatar, master of all four elements, could stop them, but when the world needed him most, he vanished. A hundred years passed, until one day two teens Sokka and Katara discovered the new Avatar, an airbender named Aang. The Trio must then travel the world looking for teachers to help Aang control all four elements, so he can then save everyone from the ruthless Fire nations head lord.”
A Clockwork Reader divided her questions into the four nations, and the questions are regarding the central characters of each nation and how they relate to other structures of literary or narrative mythos. Let´s get started.
1. Sokka and Katara, or your favorite sibling relationship: (Sokka and Katara are the shows main leading heroes along with the Protagonist Aang, being a loyal and steadfast brother-sister team). Hansel and Gretel from the classic Grimm´s fairy tale. While it is a short fairy tale, it has always seemed remarkable to me how Hansel and Gretel are so fiercely loyal to each other. Despite being abandoned in the woods, and then being enslaved and breed for eating, Hansel and Gretel never double cross each other and never leave the other to their own faith. It´s even Gretel who in the end not only saves herself, but her brother, and together they bring back gold to their parents. While no doubt the parenting can seem more than lacking to modern audiences, the shere comradeship of these two is just awesome.
2. Yue, or your favorite cross-stared lovers: (Yue is a princess that Sokka falls in love with, but due to complications they are never able to get together).
This was the most difficult question, and it seems the best answer would be the German girl Regine and the polish boy Jan from the young adult historical novel ”His name was Jan” by Irina Korschunow. It´s the story of a German girl growing up during WWII who accidentally falls in love with a Polish boy, something that is forbidden. The two are tragically split up apart by the 2/3´s mark of the novel, and Regine is left speculating whether or not Jan has been killed. It´s a little known book written by a German writer who herself was a teen during WWII and the novel displays a hauntingly accurate portrayal of the propaganda of the Nazis, the rounding up of Jewish neighbors, disappearances of dissidents, and fear of death being common place in this sad novel.
3. Bloodbending, or a book with a disturbing concept: (“Bloodbending” is the knowledge of how to control a person through taking control of their blood; inside the show this was seen as the ultimate violation of a person).
”For a song and a thousand songs” by Liao Yiwu. This prison memoir is disturbing in not only it´s theme, an inside look into infamous Chinese prisons, but also in its execution of sparing no detail of the gruesome fates the prisoners meet; violence, rape and humiliation. While the book recounts many of the prisoners helping each other, it is especially Mr. Liao who comes to the assistance of the more bullied prisoners. There are several scenes that make the reader squirm at the recounting of the most horrible acts you will ever read in your life. But the author´s beautiful prose will help the reader through it all.
1. Toph, or a character who´s strength surprised you: (Toph was a blind, young girl who many underestimated due to her disability, but turned out being powerful enough to become a teacher to Aang).
Moomintroll, from ”The Moomins”-series. In the series, Moomintroll is, in the first of these series of novels, shown as a very kind creature, but very naive. A creature who often bumbles his way through life. However, in the fifth book, ”Moominland Midwinter” and in the seventh book, ”Moominpappa at sea”, we see that despite his naivety Moomintroll is a strong person in his own right, and that his kindness gives him an advantage. In ”Moominland Midwinter” he kindly and adeptly balances several spontaneous, unexpected, even slightly bad-timed guests imposing on him and his family, and in ”Moominpappa at sea” he is able to befriend and give comfort to Groke, the series’ most scary character, something that no other character does in the entire series. These actions illustrate that being nice makes Moomintroll able to overcome prejudices and to take a closer look at individuals that others simply reject. This kindly openness may not often or traditionally be considered a physical power, but nonetheless in the novel it is shown as a form of strength worthy of admiration.
2. Tales of Ba sing se, or your favorite short story or poetry collection: (this was an episode that was a collection of small stories of many characters, which was a one-time “bottle episode” in the continuity of the show)
”Dreams in Harrison Railroad Park” by Nellie Wong. Ms. Wong´s almost entirely unknown poetry collection has short, prose like poems that discuss racism towards Chinese-Americans, sexism, poverty and family. Her poems are as beautiful as they are powerful, talking about melancholy themes with a honest voice.
3. Kioshi Warriors, or your favorite warrior character: (Kioshi Warriors are respected all-female armies that appear in the show)
Mulan, from the Disney´s “Mulan”. This is cheating since this one is a cartoon character and not the original literary one. Anyhow, she is still very endearing and one of the best heroines in children´s cartoons ever. She´s been discussed on this blog before, so just shortly this: what makes her such a great warrior is not just strength, but also her use of intelligence to undermine her enemies (instead of just using brutal force) while her loyalty is strong and steadfast. She accepts no rest until she has successfully protected those she has sworn to defend. That is what makes her a great warrior.
1. Zuko, or your favorite redemption arch: (Zuko is a character who starts out as a villain, but as the series progressives changes his ways and befriends Aang)
Macon ´Milkman´ Dean III in ”Song of Solomon” by Toni Morrison. While Macon technically is never a villain, or necessarily evil in this novel, he does come to a realization regarding his male privilege and more unkind actions towards the women around him. This book is cool and epic and important, so there will be not much detail here, but Macon has a prideful and disregarding relationship to his sisters and mother, that changes after some maturing and life changing events. He realizes that he has not been the most understanding or empathic to this female relatives, and comes to regret his actions. This all takes place inside Macon´s mind, where he asks himself hard questions about himself, even cringeing when remembering what he´s said and done, and comes to realize that his sister’s critique of his behavior was correct all along. It´s a stunning, amazingly written scene, where the deep thoughts of a character create much more drama than many action scenes would.
2. Iroh, or the wisest character: (Iroh is Zukos uncle, who often is the shows source of elderly wisdom).
Dumbledore from the ”Harry Potter”-series. For better or for worse, Albus Dumbledore is the smartest person in the ”Harry Potter”-series, and one of the most famous wise characters in literature.
3. Azula, or best downfall: (Azula is a villain who falls from grace as the show progressives). Difficult question, but guess a good example would be the downfall of Thomas´ abusive father from ”The Book of everything” by Guus Kuijer. For more details, here´s my review.
1. Appa, or favorite pet/animal: (Appa is Aang´s pet flying bison).
Cheshire Cat from ”Alice in Wonderland”. While he´s mostly trouble in Disney´s animated classic, he´s more of a harmless trickster in Lewis Carroll´s novel. Alice, who is a definite cat person, even becomes somewhat friendly towards him. The Cheshire cat is just the right blend of befuddling kindness, and playful trouble. Of manifest weirdness, but grand sanity by Wonderland standards. As a highlight his levitating head successfully trolls the Queen of hearts, starting a serious debate about decapitations. Fun!
2. Aang, or the purest cinnamon roll: (Aang is often portrayed as the kindest, purest character inside of the show).
Josef K från ”The Trial” by Franz Kafka. While one of the driving questions in this novel is whether everyone by just mere existence is guilty of criminality, or if society continously, willfully, and wrongfully accuses everyone of crimes, Josef K is still a character who gives of impressions of being overly nice even in the face of empty madness. While Josef K could very well have done something to bring upon the notice of society (he is after all very quick to say he hasn´t) his actions throughout the novel are incessantly altruistic and exceptionally humble. He tries helping others, he is soft spoken and never causes any trouble (that we know of). His character is very lovable, with his awkward bumbling through a nightmare, and whether or not he is guilty of the unnamed crime he nonetheless always comes across as a sweet, nice man.
3. Avatar state, or a stubborn character/a character that has trouble letting go: (Aang, when triggered, goes into a state where he is mentally absent with a concurrent dark force taking control of him. This causes often much destruction, but can result in both good and bad effects).
Lila from ”My Brilliant Friend”. While I have only read about 40% of the first Neapolitan novel, which means that all the characters could very well change, so far Lila, the narrators friend, is by all accounts a very stubborn, competitive and prideful child. She is too stubborn to ever admit defeat or to being wrong. She´s determined to get to all her goals despite it often being hurtful, and she is very manipulative. She has trouble letting go in the face of being second place, and stubbornly claws her way through life. Quite the hellraiser.
Hope you all enjoyed, comment down below what some of your picks would be!.
Take Care/ Maaretta
“Father always spoke Finnish!” – Elina about her deceased father
This is a post to celebrate “The Day of the Finnish Swede”, a day for all Swedes of Finnish Descent and Finns who happen to live in Sweden.
Despite being a good 2-10 percent of Sweden´s population, Finns aren´t much represented in Swedish Media. Only a few Swedish movies feature a character of Finnish roots, and when it comes to the ever growing literature which is penned by immigrants or second-generation immigrants, people of Finnish descent are even less present. Susanna Alakoski and Eija Hetekivi Olsson, both Swedes of Finnish descent, have won awards and been best-sellers, but the fact that they write about Finns hasn´t really been acknowledge by the Swedish critics. Therefore it is a delight that the film “Elina – As If I Didn´t Exist” (2002) not only exists, but is a touching tale of courage and a enchanting, and completely underrated, cinematic gem. It is directed by Klaus Härö, who has also directed “The Best of Mothers”, another work of bright cinematic display.
“Elina” centers on a young 9-year old girl who lives in a rural area of Sweden in the year 1952. Both of Elina´s parents were Finnish immigrants, her mother being a single parent after the death of the father. After recovering from tuberculoses, Elina must return to school after a year of absence. Being a year academically behind her age peers Elina must reenter the school into the same class as her sister, Irma. The teacher of Irma´s class is the strict disciplinarian Tora Holm, who is both loved and feared in the small town Elina lives in. While at times generous, Tora is also frightening in her determination. Since it is strongly prohibited in the Swedish schools of the Era, Elinas mother warns her to never, ever speak Finnish outside of her home.
However when in school, Elina decides to help a fellow Finnish speaking classmate, Anton, since he, being of Finnish descent and newly arrived to Sweden and the school, doesn´t speak any Swedish. Elina speaks Finnish to help Anton come to grip with new the language. Unfortunately The teacher, Tora Holm, overhears them speak Finnish and without caring to know the context of the situation, decides this means Anton doesn´t get any lunch (a penalty for speaking Finnish). Elina tries to explain that Anton is at a disadvantage. Furthermore she points out that she also shouldn´t be allowed to have lunch since both of them spoke Finnish. These statements are dismissed by Tora. At lunch Elina, to protest the unfairness of the teachers actions, gives her entire meal to Anton. This starts a chain of verbal abuse Elina receives from her teacher. Elina becomes bullied, since she refuses to tolerate the discrimination she and Anton faces.
Despite “Elina” being a childrens film, it doesn´t shy away from showing how openly hostile people could be to Finns at the time, as well as to the poor. Since the death of her father, Elinas mother struggles to feed her three children and maintain a meager existence in a richer Swedish community in which they find themselves. The poverty Elinas family faces are constantly mocked by Tora. Tora also refers to the ability to speak Finnish as a sole reason to being poverty stricken, and even states that it´s “so hard to teach these finnsavages”. Today in Sweden Finnish is recognized under law as a minority language (as are the Sami language, Mäenkieli, Romani Chib, Yiddish, and Sign language). This status, as now conferred by Swedish law, means that every Swede of Finnish descent has a right to have access to their mother tongue, or a right to learn Finnish.
While it is of great importance that minority mother tongues, and the cultures which circulate around them, have found respect (at least in theory) in the Swedish State, it´s also crucial that films such as “Elina” show that discrimination and oppression have also been a part of the Finnish-Swede experience. On another note, the Sami in Sweden faced harsher discrimination and still continue today to be erased in Scandinavian society.
Elina as a protagonist is a fantastic, inspirational character. She is strong, fierce and believes in justice. She is brave enough to do this even when literally everyone else is against her, even her family. She feels pride in being Finnish and her sense of belonging and self-respect give her strength to avoid the shame in being different from the other Swedish children.
Also, Elina is also shown as having a substantial and binding connection with her father, which the movie implies to have been the person who has nurtured, and inspired, her sense of justice and concern for rights. The Finnish father, in “Elina”, gets to be portrayed as a kind, loving parent, which may not seem to be an important detail, however a commonplace, as well as unfortunate, stereotype of Finnish men in Swedish society, is that they are often drunken and violent hooligans who are commonly brutish and unremittedly uncivilized. In Contrast to this simplistic and one-sided stereotype, Elina´s father is a positive, nuanced portrayal of Finnish men. Granting a space for Finnish men to be allowed more three-dimensional roles in Swedish media without recourse to this overly represented stereotype is important to not only recognize the value of minorities in a society, but also to recognize the importance of the Finn to the history and development of Sweden.
“Elina – As if I didn´t exist” is a powerful film about discrimination and bullying. It´s a film that speaks of a personal history of the Finnish immigrants, but also speaks of the universal will to fight for what’s right.
So for The Day of the Finnish-Swedes, go have a sauna, munch on some Karelian pies and watch “Elina – As if I Didn´t exist”!
(Spoilers for both “Frankenweenie” and “Alice in Wonderland” (2010)!)
As a director and visually insightful storyteller, Tim Burton has been a critical darling as well as an icon and initiator of Popular Goth Culture. Successful as a director, writer and producer, Burton has done some truly fantastic films, such as “Beetlejuice” (1988), “Batman” (1989) and “Edward Scissorshand” (1990), with the latter film being a film classic and arguably still his best work to date. After 2005, Burton has had a bit of a creative decline which can, perhaps, be pinpointed in his being too overly productive (Looking at his resume at IMDB, it’s stated that Mr. Burton made two films in both 2005 and 2012) and stuck in the trap of his own brilliant style and quirky narrative deployments. His current work has also grown towards the habit of filming adaption’s of previous existing films, novels and plays, and many of his critics have claimed this to be an ongoing error and a major cause of his fall from his high style.
However Burton is, and has always been, good in plying at the fresh fields implied in the adaption’s he has tackled. His darkly comical version of “Sweeney Todd” was extremely engaging and fascinating, as was his vision of the comic book hero Batman. Making his own personal interpretation of already existing ideals is not necessarily a bad move. The problem lies more in that Mr. Burton doesn’t seem to always think through the interesting aspects of the stories he re-creates.
Adding to the faults which have motivated criticism of Burton’s work since the new millennium, and which can be seen in his latest work “Alice in Wonderland” and “Frankenweenie”, Burton has begun to rely more on demonizing marginalized groups in the guise of shaping his villains and uses the soft narrative contrivance that conflates the normal attractive, or beautiful, guise with that of the good person of the narrative.
“Frankenweenie” is a re-make of a short film Tim Burton made when he was just starting out as a film maker. The story centers a young boy, Victor, who through a logic-free science brings his dog back to life. The story begins with showing Victor being a loner who instead of wanting to have friends prefers the company of his dog Sparky while making inventions and homemade films, starring of course Sparky. After introducing their protagonist, who at this point should be mentioned is white, cis-gendered, male and non-disabled (his character modeling is made personify the cute, i.e. fits our society ideas of what is a decent looking person would entail), the viewer gets a glimpse of his schools class: they consist of a heavily over-weight boy named Bob, a Japanese-American boy named Toshiaki, a girl with pale hair and giant black circles around her eyes, a boy who is most certainly a person of color (possibly having roots in the Middle east) named Nassor and a hunchbacked boy named Edgar. At first it’s a refreshing scene, seeing so many different types of children; especially seeing children of color and disabled children, since these groups are often ignored in mainstream films and media. But very quickly it turns out the roles for all these children are the roles of antagonist. Everyone is a bully. Victor is the victim.
The Weird girl, the one with pale hair and the sullen eyes, warns Victor that something will happen to him in the near future since her pet cat has had a vision. The vision being that one of its feces is shaped like a “V”; apparently the cat Mr. Whiskers has had feces in the shape of a letter that each student’s name begins with and shortly after something big has in fact happened to the kid in question. Victor blows this warning off since he doesn’t believe in this odd take on a superstition. Fair enough, however Victor is rather dismissive of the Weird Girl (who doesn’t even get a name) and openly shows her with his hostile body language that he doesn’t want to talk to her. He just says curtly “sure” and quickly leaves. I myself am a hard-core atheist and find superstition illogical, but for the sake of goodness, when someone is just trying to be nice and warn you without being offensive, you should at least be polite back.
After this exchange with the Weird Girl we see Edgar, another of Victor’s classmates approaching to ask of Victor a favor. Edgar, in this scene, is shown having trouble understanding personal space, so Victor being uncomfortable with how close Edgar gets to him appears reasonable to the viewer. Nevertheless, Edgar has approached Victor to simply suggest that they work together on a science project since neither of them have any friends. Victor responds simply that he wants to work alone, while crawling away from Edgar. Why? This revulsion is never explained. Edgar is not being mean. He is simply stating that they could work together since both are friendless. Victor denies the request but no reason is forthcoming, though Edgars socially “odd looks and behavior” seem swimmingly obvious.
The pivot point of the narrative of “Frankenweenie” comes when Sparky the dog is run over by a car and killed and we follow the trajectory of grief this brings to Victor. Victor’s obsession with Sparky’s death is transfigured when, during a science lesson, he is enlightened by how the muscles of even the dead respond to electricity. This inspires Victor with the plan to attempt the same technique to bring his dog back to life (as even Mary Shelly was inspired by the like experiments in her day to incorporate them into her “Frankenstein”). Victor succeeds in reanimating his pet, but wisely decides to keep the fact that he has awoken his dead dog a secret. This attempt at concealing the reanimated falls apart when Edgar spots Sparky chasing a cat. Edgar then proceeds to blackmail Victor into showing him how he brought the dog back to life. If Victor doesn’t show Edgar how he was able to bring his pet back to life, he will tell everyone about Sparky. Victor then reluctantly demonstrates the technique with a gold fish.
Before this point, the film was a typical Burton kid film: comfortable macabre with a light heart. A boy brings his dog back to life because he loves his dog so much. But then Edgar starts blackmailing Victor, bullying him into bringing a gold fish back to life. Edgar happily goes to school with the re-animated gold fish. It is then reveled that all of the other students are bullies: after Edgar blackmails Victor, he is cornered at school by Nassor who threatens him. Nassor makes it clear that if Edgar doesn’t tell him what he’s hiding, he’s in trouble. Simultaneously, Toshiaki and Bob are shown bickering about the upcoming science fair. Bob claims Toshiaki is the “smart one” out of the two, stereotyping the over-weight Bob as naturally stupid and Toshiaki as the naturally smart and science-obsessed one. Toshiaki is also shown being sinister and malevolent, as illustrated when he decides that a proper way to win the science fair is by forcefully strapping Bob to a small rocket and launching it off the roof, all while speaking in poor English. Toshiaki in short embodies every negative stereotype against Asians imaginable.
While it is refreshing to see a children’s film with a diverse cast, it is unfortunate that the entire diverse cast is in fact demonized. The only character that belongs slightly to a marginalized group and is not demonized is Victor’s science teacher, Mr. Rzykruski, who is an immigrant (but, he is not a Person of Color like Nassor and Toshiaki. Make of that what one will). Mr. Rzykruski is shown being an energetic and supportive teacher who is falsely accused of inspiring children to do deadly experiments. This results into an awesomely funny speech while he tries to defend himself, which will be linked below. (The science teacher’s design is strongly modeled after the deceased legendary actor Vincent Price, who worked with and strongly influenced Mr. Burton. Mr. Price was a major inspiration for Tim Burton’s first short animation, “Vincent” (1982)).
Mr. Rzykruski is the one to tell Victor he should become a scientist, which brings up another major problem with the film.
Whether it was intentional or not, the film sends the message that only white, “decent looking” men should be involved with science. The science replacement teacher the class gets is a woman, who formally taught PE. One of the students proclaims she knows nothing about science, to which she then snaps that she knows enough. The problem here is that there is an extreme lack of women in science as well as their being many harmful prejudices against women that make it difficult for them to take place in science. By having the female teacher being mean and ignorant of science is not progressive. It is also an outdated stereotype that strong women are mean.
In the films climax all of the kids Victor has interacted with decide to bring an animal back to life. After Victor’s secret is reviled Toshiaki, Nassor, Weird girl, Edgar and Bob all try to bring an animal back from the dead. After blackmailing and threatening, the kids enter Victor’s room, looking for the device that brought Sparky alive. The children all decide to experiment and to try to bring an animal back to life. Edgar brings a rat back to life, Toshiaki his pet turtle, Nassor his hamster and Bob sea creatures. Weird Girl tries the technique on a dead bat, but accidently mixes the creature with her cat. As one can predict, all of the creatures become uncontrollable monsters that start wrecking and terrorizing the city. The only explanation that is given for the significant different results of bringing the animals alive are that one must “love” the science or experiment. The explanation does not hold up, for Toshiaki and Nassor brought back their pets; sounds like there was a hint of love in that experimentation. True, they are more concerned with winning the science fair, but they actively chose their own pets instead of random dead animals. Weird Girl most definitely loved her cat. And lots of great science has been driven and performed by curiosity and ambition, which Edgar and Weird Girl probably were embodying in their own experiments. So the message of the film is that only white, non-disabled, thin males should do science. Everyone else – People of Color, women, the disabled – will only cause trouble. The film hammers home the message by even having Victor figure out how to destroy all the monsters and save the town. The person who no doubt has most of the privilege saves the day, proving that only white men can do science and fulfill its consequences. The statement about “loving science” becomes only an excuse for prejudice.
As a side note, it’s also worth mentioning that the meanest adult in the film is a bald man. He bullies his “pretty” niece and yells constantly at Victor. So people who fit our society’s ideals of “unattractive” are also bad since beauty and looks is what marks out the parameters of a good person.
Another case in point is the work of “Alice” by Tim Burton which moves along the same direction in the demonization of marginalized groups. In “Alice In Wonderland”, the villainous Red Queen is given an abnormally large head. The Mad Hatter in the film revels that residents fighting against the Red Queen use a slogan that goes: “Down with the Bloody Big head”. Even worse, the White Queen is hinted at being a bit dangerous (has served human fingers in a jar), yet she’s the one the audience is suppose to root for and the happy ending is encapsulated in the storyline with her being crowned Queen in the instead of her repugnant sister the Red Queen. The film implies that the White Queen should be the ruler, since she’s “prettier” and the lack of attractiveness on the surface pierces deep into the soul (causes or is caused by is never fully explored). Using the Red Queens looks (which may be a form of disability) as a way to critique her is placed on the viewer as a “given” and hints if not commits ableism. It also hammers home the message that only the attractive should be in positions of power and visibility.
This rejection of the outliers of accepted “looks” in Alice (the Red Queen has a “misshapen” head) along with placing the hunchbacked Edgar in “Frankenweenie” as a villain and mostly to blame for the problems in the film (he’s the one to push Victor to show him the device and then tell about it to others) makes a disturbing new pattern in Burton’s film. Indeed, the man who once defended people’s rights to not fit into our society’s norms now appears to be demonizing the very same.
The menagerie of children in “Frankenweenie” are supposedly a reference to different horror films, with each character being a reference to classical horror genres and it is no surprise that Burton wants to express an ode to these influential and important classic horror films. The problem lies with the ill conceived and notable disregard of the historical context of these films. The majority of these films were made in times when a lot of marginalized groups were completely deprived of rights, dismissed by the society at large, seen as problematic to majority culture, marginalized by negative imagery, and were nearly always portrayed negatively in cinema. So casting these old stereotypes into his film does not work without insight to the historical ethnicity and becomes double edge sword cutting towards the highly offensive. You simply cannot have a privileged person being the victim and all the marginalized groups being villains. Yes, even the privileged can have difficult lives, but that does not take away the fact that we still live in a highly hierarchical world where those of marginalized groups struggle to be engaged equally in the social, cultural and political. When Victor is the hero and is shown as the only one we should like and the only one who should be allowed to do science that hierarchy is strengthened. And that is fairly harmful, if not irresponsible.
Tim Burton has been and remains an important filmmaker. There is no other director quite like him. In his earlier works, Tim Burton has even strongly defended outsiders and probably doesn’t mean to be offensive. It is crucial that he should start thinking more about what roles he gives to marginalized characters; then he will once again be on top of his game.
“Valentine’s Day is a holiday invented by greeting card companies to make people feel like crap” – Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Ah, the 14th of February! The day is slowly, but surely, coming upon us with all that it entails with its meanderings and commercially tinted vocabulary of love. Usually we are fed the most mundane and conservative of loves: predominately focused on the heterosexual, circulating around the material gift as its expression, and, usually, one sex seen as passively accepting the honors of the day. Not to mention the holiday’s neglect of love that isn’t “successful”; i.e. the holiday’s depiction of romance that is blissfully ignorant of the times when love falls far short of happy endings. Valentine’s Day uplifts the beautiful, harmonic side of love, which no doubt is important. On the other hand, the sad and dark parts of love are a major part of romance and relationships. Therefore, it is my pleasure to contemplate those most unhappy of love tales which I invite the curious reader of this post to watch, read, or listen to on Valentine’s Day.
(Note: I will talk about the tragic parts of the tales and stories of love and betrayal, so this post will harbor the most conclusive of spoilers).
The series “Powerpuff Girls” was a children’s cartoon about three kinder garden aged girls with superpowers which ran for six seasons from the years 1998 to 2004. The episodes were filled with irony and amusing reconstructions on the superhero and the story-telling around them. The series was also a delightful blending of action and cuteness, featuring very bold and strong heroines who never drifted far from their adventurous and comical personalities: Blossom-the intelligent, but slightly vain leader, Bubbles-who’s naïve and passive-aggressive, and Buttercup-the rough and tumble tomboy (who despite being a tomboy always wears a dress). Most of the episodes concentrated on the girls solving the mysteries, and actively fighting crime and the criminal. Still the episode “Buttercrush” which aired on season one as its fourth episode, found the tough and unsentimental Buttercup embroiled in her first crush. She falls for Ace, a bully and mean leader of a criminal gang, who manipulates Buttercup by sweet-talking himself and his gang out of trouble. After successfully getting Buttercup to believe he returns her affections, Ace sets out a plan to use the situation as a chance to kill off Blossom and Bubbles. However, Buttercup finds out about Ace’s plan and doesn’t take to the attempted murder of her sisters kindly.
“Buttercrush” portrays two different types of love. Firstly we are presented with Buttercup’s blind infatuation with the bad guy Ace, which is exploitive and manipulative. This theme is extremely universal, for haven’t we all sometimes been taken advantaged of due to our emotions blinding us? The second form of love is that which we find between siblings. This love is demonstrated by Buttercups ultimate loyalty to her sisters and her sisters understanding and forgiveness to their sister’s misguided crush. The girls share an unconditional love to each other, which strength saves Buttercup from the deceitful Ace. Even if it is sad to see Buttercup get her heart shattered, it is still extremely touching to see how important the bond with her sisters is to Buttercup. Bad love and good love, both demonstrated in this fine episode!
Greek Mythology is known and regarded for its near soap-opera like tales of the gods and god-like creatures. When I was young, I read all the myths I could come across, and at the age of ten I read the myth of “Apollo and Daphne”, which details Apollo’s first love. Humorously, it was the first love story I enjoyed (and the only one I would enjoy till recent years), so much that I read it out loud to the grownups around me. In the legend, Apollo enrages Eros by claiming he’s too much of a boy to handle his arrows. Eros decides to prove Apollo wrong, so he shoots one golden arrow into Apollo and one blunt dart into the nymph Daphne. Thus Apollo falls violently in love with Daphne despite Daphne not wanting anything to do with Apollo. This leads to Apollo obsessively chasing Daphne, begging her to marry him. While Daphne sees Apollo as an ultimate terror, Apollo can’t stop thinking about how wonderful Daphne is, even when she runs from him. The nymph tries to escape Apollo multiple times, and in her most desperate hour pleads the earth goddess Gaea to destroy her beauty. She is then transformed into a tree. However, Apollo loves Daphne even in this form, and concludes: “Since you cannot be my wife, you shall become my tree”. The love sick god takes the tree to his heavenly garden where he intends to keep it eternally. After his last soliloquy of love he embraces the plant.
This legend is an intense take on obsession, unrequited love and despair. Daphne is a woman who can’t escape her stalker and not even as a tree finds freedom. Apollo is a lost, immature man struck with feelings he can’t handle. The ending is bittersweet in the realization that Apollo didn’t love Daphne for her looks, but for who she was and how she expressed her being. Daphne having her beauty destroyed couldn’t alter the feelings which Apollo felt for her. Even though we find the stalker Apollo as unsettling in the extreme in this story, we still find ourselves oddly moved by the tragedy which unfolds. Apollo, as immature in his emotions, doesn’t have the means to handle unrequited love and reacts to it as a child would, making his actions sympathetically tragic in hindsight, while still overdone and horrific in his refusal to accept her wishes (no means no). In short this could also be a cautionary tale of what happens when you refuse to take no for an answer. If you can get your hands on a collection of Ancient Greek legends, make sure to read this tale of woe.
“Futurama” is an animated series created by Matt Groening. The series centers on Philip J. Fry, a delivery boy who is accidently frozen in 1999 and thawed out in the year 2999. There he befriends a scoundrel robot named Bender, a warrior-spirited Cyclops named Leela and starts working for an absent minded professor Farnsworth, who is Fry’s last living relative. Due to Fry’s situation, many episodes explored the things Fry had left behind back in his 1999. The most famous, or infamous as some would say, was “Jurassic Bark” (season four, episode seven). Fry uncovers the remains of his late dog and learns that 29th century science will be able to resurrect his beloved pet, Seymour. Fry is thrilled, but his best friend Bender grows painfully jealous, disliking the fact that Fry is paying more attention to Seymour’s remains then he is to their mutual friendship. The plot portrays Bender’s jealousy leading to near disaster, but Bender redeems himself in the end, learning to sympathize with Fry’s wishes. The episode at that point seems upbeat and will end happily, until Fry learns that his dog died at the age of fifteen. He then decides not to resurrect Seymour. The last scene takes the viewers back to the 21th century. Seymour is shown patiently waiting for Fry, year after year, in summer sun and in pouring rain. He dies of old age while still contemplating the return of his human friend Fry. Fry’s decision to leave the past as it is and not resurrect the long dead friend makes the episode a complete downer, since Seymour will now never get to be with Fry again.
“Jurassic Bark” is perhaps the saddest episode from “Futurama”, and as one of the most powerful and touching one we find in the series. Bender learns to become a better friend to Fry, which is an uplifting plot point. However Seymour’s love for Fry is devastating, and he uncompromisingly waits for his owner to return to him in a past without mercy. Fry will never return, and love and loyalty is depicted in a dark, bitter light. This episode is a must see. However, a fair warning is that you should have many boxes of tissues beside you while watching this utterly depressing, striking episode.
“Pokémon” is a Japanese children’s Anime show which takes place in a world filled with so-called pocket monsters. People in this world collect these creatures by “catching them”, maintaining them in small magical globes and then training them to fight each other (i.e. this world is a member’s of PETA worst nightmare). Ash, the show’s star, is a young boy who travels this world finding and pursuing a multitude of adventures with his favorite Pokémon, Pikachu, and his two friends, the feisty Misty and the caring Brock. The team of friends is constantly chased by Team Rocket, a criminal trio who steal Pokémon’s from others. The members are Jesse and James, and the talking Pokémon Meowth. Meowth is a cat-like creature, who is the only one of his species who can speak and walks on two feet. This is a mystery many characters in the show ponder about aloud, but it’s not until the seventy-second episode, “Go West, Young Meowth!” that an explanation for this phenomena is given. Team Rocket decides to go to Hollywood, which awakens painful memories in Meowth, causing him to reveal his past to the viewers. Turns out Meowth started out as a hungry homeless Pokémon, who couldn’t talk and walked on four paws. After seeing a block-buster film, Meowth decides to traveled to Hollywood in search of glamorous food, ending up in a thieving league of other Meowths and a Persian (another cat-like Pokémon). Finally having and abundance and grand access to food, he comes to longed for love as well. His craving for love is fulfilled in his becoming smitten with Meowsie, a female version of a Meowth. His love will never be returned since, as she is more than boldly willing to tell him, she is rich and he is not, and she values beyond measure her rich owner who will give her constant love in the guise of expensive gifts. Meowth becomes determined to win the love of his heart through making himself as human-like as possible to emulate the owner and master of Meowsie. Throughout a torturous process, Meowth learns to talk and walk like a human. Yet, Despite this massive effort, Meowsie still turns him down, telling him, in no uncertain terms, that though he has achieved these behaviors, he is a street-cat. Meowth leaves the pain of unreturned love to seek out riches, hoping he then would finally win Meowsies heart. After this past is revealed in the story, Meowth finds himself returning to Hollywood with Team Rocket, where he meets his lost love Meowsie again, only to find that his ex-love has been abandoned by her owner and need to be with Meowht’s old criminal gang to survive. Meowht promises Meowsie to help her leave the gang and he fights in order to gain her freedom from the gang, only to have Meowsie reject him again and stay with Persian. Meowth, at last, realizes he’ll never win Meowsie’s heart and is shown at the end of the episode devastated.
This episode is the only Pokémon episode I’ve re-watched since my early childhood, and it made a bigger impact on me now than when I was seven. The episode brings up a painful, yet solid truth about love: sometimes you will make great sacrifices and deeds for the one you love; only to find rejection and denial. All the pain and forfeit will be for nothing. This happens to everyone at least once in their lifetime. It’s nearly shocking how honestly Pokémon is able to portray this fact, considering the love martyr being a talking cat-like creature. The issue of class is also brought up nicely. A strong recommendation for anyone who has sometimes felt used!
Ang Lee is a Taiwanese-born director who has made a number of great films, many which have love as a major theme. He’s two most famous films are “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” (2000) and “Brokeback Mountain” (2005). The Latter is an adaption of the short story written by Annie Proulx, and follows the literary works plot to the letter. The film stars Health Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, who do stunning portrayals of star-crossed lovers in the 60’s Wyoming, capturing all the heartfelt wonder of two guys who, despite loving each other, never really get to be together. The film is beautifully shot, the characters are complex and the ending brutal. Few romantic films are this well done. Proulx’s short story is also a great read for those who haven’t examined it yet, too.
Nancy Sinatra’s song “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)” is a beautiful song about falling for your friend in early childhood, only to be horribly abused and abandoned by that friend once you’ve grown up. Listen to the song below. (The Clip features the lyrics!).
Kraftwerk’s song “Sexobject” deals with feeling emotionally neglected and used. View video below.
Jack Off Jill’s song “Vivica” depicts friendship, abuse and repressed feelings. Lyrics and song exist below.
These sagas of woe and misfortune all depict harsh realities that come with loving another person, despite the stories varying from cartoons to mythology to grittier down-to earth films and songs. All of these tales are exquisitely interesting takes on love, friendship and devotion, and all are handled with care and marvel.
Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!
Take Care/ Maaretta
I recently, and finally, saw one of DreamWorks’ newest blockbusters, “Kung Fu Panda 2”, which according to Imdb is, since September this year, the biggest box office success for a film with a female director, that director being Jennifer Yuh. Ms. Yuh is one of the few women who have directed major animated blockbusters films, which I have mentioned in my older post “Rise of the Damsel”. I didn’t like the first “Kung Fu Panda” film, as a mentioned as well in my previous post. However I didn’t really explain why. I will do so here before reviewing the sequel: I strongly disliked that the panda Po was cast as the quintessential and main hero in the narrative arc of the story. His attitude in the story seemed to be that everything should just be handed to him, without working for it (as the other characters have done exclusively). He dreams of becoming a master of Kung Fu, but when he is given the chance to learn martial arts he doesn’t show up to classes or at least try to do anything (Spoiler!: until his teacher withholds food from him). I also disliked how Tigress, a fierce warrior who had devoted her whole life to Kung Fu, was pushed aside and replaced by the distracted Po merely because the storyline posits him as “destined to be the great heroic warrior”. It felt like the writers of the screenplay were stating that even if women (or anybody else for that matter) can be great fighters, men (as the chosen of society) are just automatically better (even if all common sense would say otherwise) because, hey, they are males after all. Luckily, the sequel gives a much better treatment of Tigress’ character and even Po’s character development handled in a much better fashion this time around. The villain is deliciously enjoyable and the animation is ten times better, as well as the themes brought up being a lot more interesting.
The film starts with giving us a brief back-story to the villain Lord Shen, a peacock and son to two powerful monarchs who ruled over Gongmen City. After the invention of Fireworks, Lord Shen sees the potential in the explosives for powerful weapons and uses this in his attempt to take over the whole of China and subjugate it to his will. However, Lord Shen learns from a prophecy that he will be defeated by a warrior of “black-and-white”, which leads to him nearly exterminating all Pandas. His parents, horrified by this act, banish him from the kingdom. Lord Shen leaves, swearing revenge. The film then focuses on Po, who is now a celebrity hero in his hometown and good friends with his fellow Kung Fu masters. However, his relationship with his father becomes troublesome when he finds out he’s adopted – which is no surprise to anyone else, considering he’s father is a goose and he’s a panda (a reoccurring joke which is peppered throughout the film). Po is struck with identity crises, but gets little time to resolve it as Po and his warrior friends must travel to Gongmen City to stop Lord Shen, who threatens Kung Fu with his new weapon.
The film addresses adoption and parent-child relationships well. Po’s father is loving and supportive and proud of his son, while Po on the other hand is confused about his emotions, constantly seeking out answers to his past. This makes Po act quite cold and diffident towards his affectionate father. Usually, in children’s films, the parents are portrayed as unreasonable and/or unable to understand their children, however in this film it is the child, Po, who is in the wrong here, not being able to appreciate the love he has gotten and still receives. Naturally, Po wants to know where he comes from and what his roots are and he is constantly bedeviled with worries that he might not have been loved by his “natural” parents prompting them to abandon him in his infancy. Po’s identity crisis is pretty well portrayed; the viewer can sympathize with his situation, but he’s unable to express his problems to others, which causes major problems during his and his friend’s mission to stop Lord Shen. My only complaint of the portrayal of this conflict is that the way Po resolves his problem is a little simple, and he never seems to realize how his attitude towards his adoptive father did, well… kind of sucked. But kudos to James Hong who voiced Mr. Ping the goose father, he did an excellent job capturing a loving and kind parent’s voice. Especially the scene where Mr. Ping tells Po how he ended up raising him as a son, which no doubt was one of the most heart-warming scenes in the film.
One of the overriding and major themes played with in “Kung Fu Panda 2” is usage of advanced weapons. The film is highly critical of the usage of these weapons of “mass destruction”. The message of the film seems to be against using gunpowder, which holds the position of a trope of the indiscriminate killing device, as a form of fighting, which is good admittedly in regard to our age of drones and cluster-bombs. However, the main critique seems to come from the idea that usage of weaponry eliminates martial arts. And here’s where I’m a little conflicted; I don’t believe in fire arms or other advanced weaponry which distance ourselves from our killings and destroy without consequence, and think it’s nice to see a film with a anti-weapon message with this in mind. But is it truly better to say martial arts are much better? The “karate” technique (which is staple action used in the movie) is still positioned as a battle technique and a way to, frankly, beat the crap out of each other? I am not sure saying that technological weapons are bad , but combat in the sense of “hand to hand” resolves the question of violence which is meant to be raised here. Then again, perhaps the film just wants to highlight the fact that weapons of mass scale and indeterminate distance cause a lot more meaningless damage and therefore are used in more “dirty”, unfair and brutal ways in battles, while martial arts are more about clean fights where one has to experience the person on who the violent act is done to. I don’t necessarily agree, since I often hope people could come to agreements by discussions and compromise, but I guess there are situations where that is not perhaps possible. (Interestingly, this is almost always the case in children’s films. Huh…)
Lord Shen, the evil power-hungry pale white peacock villain, is an excellent bad guy. Gary Oldman provides the voice for the mad bird and I have to say he has a real talent in voice acting. Lord Shen is sinister, arrogant and commits crimes pretty vicious for a children’s film. He’s unsettling and a master of manipulation, but also pretty funny at times. Mr. Oldman’s way of delivering his character is perfect and was a perfect casting. Also the design for Lord Shen was brilliant: a pale white peacock with grim red eyes that uses his feathers like sharp knives. According to Ms. Yuh, the character of Shen was extraordinarily difficult to animate and became like animating six characters all at once. Great work was beyond a doubt, and with good effect, put into Lord Shen’s design, for he was by far also the most beautifully animated character and it was a wondrous thrill to see the character in his fight sequences.
Fun fact: there do indeed exist white peacocks, whose colors apparently make them look quite elegant. White, however, is the color of death in Chinese culture; this is why having white feathers marked Lord Shen as the antagonist.
Gary Oldman wasn’t the only one doing impressive voice acting. Michelle Yeoh, who was brilliant as a strong warrior in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” (2000) and as one of the determined scientist in “Sunshine” (2007), did a great job on voicing Shen’s former nanny, Soothsayer, combining wise with comically caring. Angelina Jolie was, once again and much better utilized in this sequel, also an outstanding voice for Master Tigress, getting her character to seem both compassionate as well as in charge and sturdy. Kudos to both of these fine actors!
I will quickly give a thought to the films prevailing message regarding the quest and attainment of “Inner Peace”. I am usually quit skeptical of such philosophies, yet I found myself actually liking how inner peace was interpreted in this movie. Basically, what the writers seem to be elaborating in this concept was that a person should attempt to let go of anger and hostility and struggle and see things from a more positive angle in life. Without this one will end, on the perplexing road of existence, by being engulfed in a shallow and dysfunctional bitterness which wreaks havoc on oneself and others. This is what happens to Lord Shen, which ultimately results in a predetermined spiral to self-destruction. Po on the other hand is able to see that things from outside of resentment and, as a consequence, achieves inner peace making him able to function better as a person (meaning warrior in this case) and becoming more “human” in the journey.
Of course, it is sometimes good to be angry. But, who can argue, it is best not to let bitterness and anger control one’s person and life.
“Kung Fu Panda 2” was a pleasing movie experience. Worth a watch definitely.
“Babe” is an Australian family film made from 1995. The hero of the film is a young, sweet pig named Babe, who after losing his mother to the slaughter house, is himself packed off to a local country fair and there put into a competition to be won by the odd and gentle farmer Mr. Hoggett. During the daily routines of the farm Hoggett discovers that Babe has a talent for working with his flock of sheep. Babe slowly but surely earns respect as a “Sheep Pig” and becomes, eventually in the course of the narrative, a bit of a hero and celebrity to the community and the farm where he resides.
“Babe” as a family film is simultaneously cheerful and colorful, but also has a myriad of dark undercurrents which deals with a number of fairly adult issues. The film constantly critiques humanities disregard and mistreatment of animals, making strong claims against eating meat. One could also see Mr. Hoggetts vision and belief in making his pig a great “sheep dog” as a metaphor for an artist’s passion and personal oddities which go into the act of art-making.
One of the most interesting parts of the movie is the representation of the Sheep Dog Rex; who´s character is first presented with all the typical negative traits usually associated in our society with overly macho masculinity. “Babe”, as a filmic morality play, depicts these characteristics as horrible, yet even if it is interesting to see such a clear critic of macho behavior, what is most interesting in the film is that Rex is given a back-story to explain his behavior and personality and also allowed to grow and develop in a tender, yet subtle way.
Rex (voiced by Hugo Weaving) is introduced into the film as a frightening patriarch. He dislikes that his mate, Fly (voiced by Miriam Margolyes), comforts the newly arrived Babe. He makes it clear to Fly that he wants Fly’s kindness towards Babe to be temporary. Rex spends little to no time with the cubs he has sired with his mate Fly, and wishes to spend no time in communicating with the newly arrived Babe. Fly on the other hand is a devoted mother and at once feels sympathy for the new pig. Fly is portrayed as caring, as females often stereotypically are depicted, while Rex is shown as cold and threatening. He never is seen around the kids or shows little care or concern for them. Rex is also overly proud and wants to be able to be the most dominate animal at the farm.
The first time Babe gets into trouble at the farm, Rex holds a meeting to make new rules to constrain a unruliness and subversion to the “law of the Farm”, demanding all the animals to be present to hear the new regulations. Later on, obviously feeling helpless in his the lack of control to the events occurring around him, he snaps at his wife Fly for letting Babe participate in herding sheep. As Babe becomes an expert on the matter of sheep herding and control, and Mr. Hoggett’s new favorite, Rex becomes jealous and angrier. Fly tries to go and comfort Rex. She explains that she knows it’s hard for him to swallow the fact that Babe is the farmers “Sheep Pig”, however she wishes he wouldn’t be so mad on “such a beautiful night”. Her loving remarks are met by rage, and violence, as Rex assaults Fly. The scene is gritty, showing a pretty graphic (for a family film) scene where Rex basically abuses his partner. He is luckily stopped by the farmer.
Domestic violence is a major, global problem. Men’s violence to women has been dealt with in movies, television shows and literature, but is rarely mentioned in children’s/family films. That Rex’s attack is not sugar-coated despite the scene being in a family film is very brave and important, and is a means to discuss one of the more unfortunate sides of world with this age group (though this should be limited and done delicately, and using the animal of “Rex” is a good distancing mechanism).
After the audience sees Rex as the typical male bully, Fly tells Babe the story of why Rex became who he became. Actually he used to be highly skilled at herding sheep. The tale of Rex’s tragic past tells of a horrible event which occurred directly before an important Sheep Dog event. Rex and Mr. Hoggett were going to participate in a major Sheep Dog trial, a sporting event where farmers and their dogs compete against one another by herding sheep through different obstacles. And Rex was no doubt going to be a great champion, but for the calamity which befell him before the event he did terribly at the sheep trials.
Rex and the farmer had tried to herd some sheep to safety during a storm, but lost a large amount of the sheep during the process. Rex had bravely returned for the lost sheep, located them in the torrential weather and attempted to save them from rising and deadly waters. Rex fails to save the confused and lost sheep and he himself nearly dies in the attempt becoming almost deaf through exposure. Rex has ever since had to deal with the bitterness of failing to save the sheep, of not being able to become the champion he so strongly wanted to be, and of having to accept he no longer is as “strong” as he used to be. He bottles up all these emotions, making him aggressive and overly controlling of others. He uses his anger as a way to deal with his disappointments, and to still prove to himself he is a strong and powerful animal.
Shortly after this reveal of Rex’s almost deafness, Babe also makes the discovery that pigs have no other function on farms than to be eaten. Babe, in utter disgust and shock, runs away from home. When Fly discovers that Babe has run away, she fears that something bad will happen to him and asks Rex for help. Rex realizes then that since Babe is so important to the farmer, Rex decides to help since he himself deeply cares for the farmer and wants his “boss” to be happy. When Babe is brought back to the farm, Rex tells Babe to pull himself together as Mr. Hoggett needs him, since Mr. Hoggett has just recently signed himself and Babe up for the upcoming sheep trials. Unlike his previous speeches to Babe, where he is demanding Babe to “stay in his place”, this speech is encouraging, informing Babe of his importance. Rex for the first time isn’t trying to just be in control. He is showing concern.
Rex goes from being the stereotypical “alpha” male who that has little empathic feelings to an emotional creature trying to connect with the community of the farm and its inhabitants. We see, before change is foisted on Rex, that his attempt to contain and control his own feelings and personality has lead to a seething and uncontrollable anger becoming a pool of oppressive emotion and frustration. As the film nears its climax, Rex’s character transforms from the bully he once was into a honest and kinder animal.
Lastly in the narrative of growth, communication, and compassion in the tale, Rex, in order to assist Babe during a sheep trial, turns to the Farm’s sheep for advice. Since they speak so softly, he says: “You have to speak up. I’m a hard of hearing”. Rex finally, as a final growth in his character, confesses his disablement. The Sheep do not ridicule him for his hearing difficulty. Rex learns here there is no shame in admitting weakness. He also comes to terms with his past, but decides that the most important thing is to not focus on the tragedies that took place long ago. He decides to try and help Babe, since once again he can’t deny how important Mr. Hoggett is to him.
The representation of Rex is interesting in the way the film allows Rex, as a macho and dominate male, to develop and transform into a more understanding and honest character. To grow he must alter his relationship, and thoughts on Babe and finally, in this changed attitude to the gentle pig, come to admit his weakness and let go of the past. Rex is freed from his stereotypical role as the dominant male by first explaining his actions through past traumas and letting Rex himself realize he should change his views and relations to the world. Rex goes from a potential antagonist to an important protagonist, giving an interesting idea of masculinity which can grow into a strong empathy and communication.
Rex becomes truly a powerful male when he decides to admit weakness and has concern and love for others around him.