Category Archives: Shannon’s Posts

The Problem with Tarzan, or Character Motivations

So, Tarzan is streaming on Netflix, and my FB feed has been running amok. I do not have fond memories of this movie as a child because I was just too old for Disney movies by the time this one rolled around. I think at some point I watched it, though, I honestly couldn’t remember anything at all about the film.

Of course, this means that the best way to procrastinate on Secrets is by rewatching this Disney classic.

I could waste my time with a critical analysis of Tarzan, but I won’t. It’s a rather lackluster movie with loads of pacing problems, and generally a bad model for any movie analysis. But, I will talk about biggest problem with the movie, and that’s character motivation.

Characters drive stories. Characters want or need things, and to get those things, they must overcome a series of obstacles. This is the basis of any story. Except, it seems Tarzan.

Tarzan himself has a clear motivation. He wants to belong. He is conflicted because where he wants to be, needs to be, and is are all different. His level of acceptance between gorillas and humans fluctuates driving the main conflicts throughout the movie. This doesn’t sound too bad, right?

Nope

Wrong.

Tarzan may motivate the film, but just barely. His first conflict, he wants to prove himself to the gorillas, is resolved at the end of act 1 when he slays the jaguar, Sabor (huh, that thing had a name). So… no more conflict. Well, let’s introduce Jane, her father, and Clayton. New characters! But, not really any new conflict.

Tarzan longs for Jane, and in a slowly meandering way, realizes he wants to be with his own kind. Act 2 ends with Tarzan choosing Jane and company over his gorilla family. Kala, gorilla mom, makes him choose, but that is a particularly foggy scene and we’ll just leave it at that.

So! Where does that leave the last 30 minutes of movie? Floundering for a resolution. While Tarzan’s motivation drives the story, it’s often quickly resolved and therefore doesn’t actually drive enough conflict.

Why is that? Because conflict is compounded because two people have conflicting motivations. This is why we have villains/antagonists. One character wants one thing, and another character wants something else. Look at Aladdin. Aladdin wants Jasmine because he loves her. Jarfar wants to rule the kingdom. How do their paths meet? Jafar can only become ruler by marrying Jasmine or using the magic lamp. Now, the two characters are in direct conflict, and it becomes the driving force of the film.

Tarzan’s motivation conflicts with, well, no one. There is nothing keeping Tarzan back. In fact, it’s so lacking conflict, the 3rd act is nothing but adding a new conflict so that the film can drag out and reach the conclusion it wanted to make. And not only is no one’s motivation is in conflict with Tarzan, fuck it if I know what the entire supporting cast’s motivation is.

The only characters given any hint at motivation are the Porters and Kala. Jane and her father have a one liner about being there to study the gorillas. Why? No clue. It’s not even implied in the movie. Is there work important? Dunno. Is it just for fun? Probably. Is it Mr. Porter’s dream to be the leading expert on Gorillas? No fucking clue. Why did Jane come along? Your guess is as good as mine.

Kala, at least, has some legitimate motive. The brutal murder of her baby leads her to adopting Tarzan. She wants to be a mother. She wants to replace her murdered son, so she adopts a human baby, because that’s healthy. And after the first fifteen minutes, her motives and character are irrelevant.

The rest of the cast? Who the fucks knows what they want. Turk? Uh, yeah, what the hell does Turk want or do besides help/hinder Tarzan? She’s a plot device, not a character. I’m not even going to mention the elephant.

Kerchak! He’s doing something right? He wants… give me a moment here… to protect the gorillas? Uh…maybe? From what I’m not entirely sure…

Why such a gruesome death?

Then there’s my favorite void of motivation: our villain. Clayton is clearly up to no good the minute we meet him. He is the only asshole carrying a gun and shooting randomly. (He also evilly drinks wine! Tarzan sets his down without a sip.) A big surprise reveals that he’s after the gorillas? To capture them I think? (This is all implied because he doesn’t say want he wants, nor does anyone else say what he wants.) Why is he after the gorillas? Fuck if I know. I can’t tell if it’s greed, or pride, or because he’s a vicious sociopath with enough money to hire a army of poachers. He’s clever enough to deceive the heroes (but not the audience) the whole damn movie, but, we never know why. What a waste of a villain.

But someone does develop some motive throughout the film – our lovely lady hero, Jane. Her initial motivation is tacked on with her father’s one liner to “see the gorillas.” She kinda sees them when Tarzan brings her back to camp and they trash the place, so, why the hell does she stay? She should be fulfilled. As far as I can tell, it’s because she seriously wants to bang Tarzan.

Yup...Jane's Motive is Horniness

Yup. Sex. Additionally, her lack of non-hormonal motive actually undermines the entire film. At the end, she chooses to stay with Tarzan. But, the whole point of the movie was something like, you can take the man out of the jungle but you can’t take the jungle out of the man? Tarzan can’t return to civilzation because, well, he’s a weird ape man. However, it seems that Jane and her father can just toss everything away and stay in the jungle. (Why did they need to return to England in the first place if they can just flippantly cast aside their lives and live in the jungle? Then the whole, shady third act could have been avoid.)

The unclear motivations of practically every other character in the story certainly hinders the plot. A complexity that makes a lasting story is lost. We don’t know why anyone does anything. Nor do we care. What brought these strangers to the jungle? The movie tries to play if off as unimportant, but it is important. How can Clayton’s betrayal resound if we never knew what he wanted in the first place? How are we suppose to care about Jane if we know nothing about her, other than she clearly wants to bang Tarzan? Or even the importance of giving up her life in England to stay with him? How are we, like Tarzan, suppose to come to love her? To be tempted by the human ways or gorilla ways?

I don’t know. But I do know, that I don’t want the audience of Secrets asking the same questions. Guess that means I need to get back to work.

The Rewatch 3: A Critical Anaylsis of Hercules

So, Disney’s Hercules is a bit of a weird movie. Even weirder for a Disney animated feature. I mostly added it to our watch list because it’s streaming on Netflix. But, I’m actually really glad that I did. It kinda tanked at the box office, but honestly, it’s not that bad. So what went wrong and what went right?

Technical Breakdown of Hercules

Act 1: The story opens with the Muses, filling in a narrator role, and singing to the audience that this will be the story of Hercules (very similar to the opening of Beauty and the Beast, but more like Aladdin). The “Gospel Truth” is an homage to the classical Greek chours modernized with a gospel spin and attempts to set the tone, a modernized classic. Then we flashback to Hercules birth. Hades attempts to kill the son of Zues as a baby by turning him mortal because Hercules will thwart his plan to overthrow Olympus in 18 years (such a specific number). This establishes the central conflict – Hercules vs Hades. The assassination doesn’t quite work, unbeknownst to Hades. Hercules is cast out of Olympus and raised by mortals. As an awkward teen, Hercules discovers that he is the son of Gods, and to become a God himself, the subplot, or B-Story*, he must become a True Hero. Act 1 ends with the number “Go the Distance” and the establishment of the Hero Theme. Act 1 is almost entirely exposition and characterization of both Hercules and Hades. I also suspect a secondary theme of Place in Society.

Act 2: Hercules meets Phil (who desires to be a Hero by association), and together they prep Herc for becoming a Hero through a musical montage “One Last Hope.” Now, properly trained, and just a bit older, Phil and Herc head to Thebes to prove himself a hero. On the way, he saves a damsel who wasn’t really in distress. Meg is unimpressed by Herc, but finds his naivety charming, creating a romantic subplot. After Herc leaves, it is revealed that Meg is an agent of Hades, putting her in direct conflict with Herc. Herc and Phil make it to Thebes, where Herc battles the Hyrdra. Upon success, Herc is catapulted into fame and wealth in the “Zero to Hero” musical montage, though, he has not become a True Hero. Interestingly, Herc has  a new Place in Society, polar opposite to what he was before. Herc has found his place, but it does not fulfill him. Meanwhile, Meg is sent by Hades to uncover weaknesses, where she “Won’t say [she’s] in Love.” Hades, realizing that their love is actually Herc’s weakness leverages it against Herc. If Herc gives up his strenght, than Hades will release Meg. Herc agrees, though, feels betrayed upon learning Meg worked for Hades all along, combining the romantic subplot and main plot together.

Act 3: Hades releases the titans, and powerless, Herc goes off to face them. He is all but defeated, when Meg sacrifices herself to save him from a falling pillar. Her sacrifice undoes Hades’ deal, and Herc then proceeds to stop the titans, preventing Hades’ take-over, and resolving the main plot. Hades, seeing his shot at revenge, takes Meg’s soul, and once again leverages it over Herc. Herc can save her if he can reach her in the River Stix. Of course, it’s a death trap. Herc agrees, and it’s his sacrifice that ascends him into godliness, resolving the True Hero theme. Leaving Hades utterly defeated, Hercules and Meg ascend to Olympus where Herc learns that he cannot be a god and be with Meg. He chooses her, resolving the romantic subplot and redefining his role and its theme.

In terms of structure, Hercules is really complex. Several plotlines are expertly woven together. A story of being a hero. A story of finding one’s place. A story of love. It deals with a fascinating take on the definition of a Hero.

The Heroic Theme: What’s Amazing about Hercules

In fact, thematically, Hercules may be one of Disney’s greatest films.

Hercules’s journey from “Zero to Hero” is quite complex. He starts as an good-meaning but awkward youth. His unnatural strenght makes him an outcast, and eventually he learns that he is an outcast because he has a greater purpose. Initially, it’s his desire to fit in, become part of something, is what propels his good deeds. After growing, he learns to control his awkwardness, then proceeds to do good deed to please his father, Zues. Herc is seeking a traditional sense of being a hero: saving others from great evils. His drive to be a hero comes from his desire to find his place in the world.

Slaying the monsters and completing his own trials aren’t enough to make him a God/True Hero, and he finds it unsatisfying. The standard expectation of heroic actions do not fulfill the True Hero requirement. This could be because he is doing heroism for someone else, for apporval. His motive for his actions are selfish. This is also paralleled in Phil’s desire to create a hero. Phil drives Herc on because PHIL desires fame.

Finally, Herc is put on the line when he loses what defines him as a hero – his strength. In what is his most heroic action thus far, Hercules enters a no-win situation against the Titans. There is another interesting phenomenon going on too. The people of Thebes have come to rely on Hercules, meaning they no longer flee during danger. They view him as a savior, and they nearly are destroy because of their reliance on him.

His strenght isn’t restored until Meg commits an her own act of Heroism, saving Herc from death, and resulting in hers. Herc will later parallel this action. His sense of duty to his Godly family and his destiny compel him to defeat the titans before attending to Meg (and ultimately missing her last moments). Yet, defeating the Titans isn’t what makes him a Hero. At this point, defeating monsters is really more of a job. Heroism is not defined by career.

Herc only achieves his True Hero status by facing impossible odds to save the person who matters most to him. His sacrifice for Meg, when no one is watching, when there’s no expectations are what makes him a hero. The movie defines his sacrifice by saying that it’s not grandiose gestures, or physical strength, that make someone a hero, but rather the small ones. The strength of one’s own will. The gestures no one sees, and done without reward. A True Hero doesn’t need super strength.

Then he gives his new found godliness up because he learns that being a hero isn’t what he wanted anyway. He just wanted his own place, which he’s now found, and it’s not on Olympus.

This theme is deep and thought provoking. Almost every scene in the movie works towards this theme. Heroism is questioned and criticized throughout, until it makes it final statement at the climax. Then it continues through the resolution because what it’s not the rewards of being a hero that ultimately makes Herc happy. The theme is so integral that it cannot be separate from the story.

So why did it fail?

Because it does fail. Hercules is not considered on of Disney’s great films. It wasn’t a runaway box office success. It didn’t spawn numerous sequels or successful TV series. I believe I know why.

It’s the source material that causes everything to fall apart. By choosing to adapt an ancient Greek myth, it’s pigeon-holed into a setting that doesn’t really fit it. The Gospel musical style and Greek Urn artistic style are at odds.The Greek design doesn’t really come across either. I’ve been to Greece, and nothing in that movie makes me think of it or its aesthetics.

Look at Herc’s character design. What he hell is he wearing? No matter how you spin it, it looks like he’s wearing a gold dress. And his red hair and superman curl? Um, not feeling very Greek at all to me.

Who approved this? He never looked good.

The movie continues to struggle to fit its Greek mold by giving us iconic Greek monsters. Then bastardizing the mythology. At the time of this film, Hercules: The Legendary Journey was quite successful. And while that show may not have stayed true to the myths, it didn’t butcher them like Disney did. It also meant that Geek myth was at the top of everyone’s mind in the mid-90s.

Hercules is at it’s heart a superhero movie. If you changed the setting, and set it someplace like, I don’t know, New York? Got rid of the mythological trappings, and gave it a radioactive burst, and you’d have Superman. If it had just changed its setting, relinquished the Greek inspiration and accepted that it’s a superhero movie, I think Hercules could have been one of Disney’s best. But it didn’t, so we have an odd mix of awkward animation and excellent storytelling.

Response: The First Few Minutes

Johnathan posted The First Few Minutes, and he brought up some excellent points. I was going to expand in the comments section, but my comment quickly spiraled out of control. So I made it my own post.

In cinema and screenwriting theory, there is a term for this: the First Ten Pages(or First Ten Minutes). This refers to the importance of the first pages/minutes of any movie. Producers use this rule as a way to quickly decide if a movie is producable/marketable. If the first ten pages/minutes attract their attention, then they read the whole script. Otherwise, it gets passed on. In advanced stages, marketers have noticed that the audience gives the filmmaker around 10 minutes before they decided if they’re going to change the channel/walk out on the movie or not.

And for reference, youtube audiences give videos 30 seconds to a minute.

Additionally, Blake Synder refers to this as “The Opening Image.” He says that the opening scene is the first “beat” of the movie. It establishes tone, mood, and scope. These are the moments that typically decide if your audience will watch or not.

When developing the story, it’s crucial to focus in on this beginning. Characters, tone, conflict, setting, all must be defined quickly. All great movies do this. All great books too.

In the world of publishing, it quite typical for agents or publishers to request the first 10-30 pages of a manuscript. They use it as a measure of the story as a whole. If it doesn’t start off good, chances are it won’t magically become good. Many books, readers know they’re going to like it from the first line.

Johnathan couldn’t remember the first line of several of his favorite books. I remember several of mine:

  • “There was a hand in the darkness and it held a knife.” – The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
  • “When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow.” – To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee (ok, this is actually my mom’s favorite.)
  • “Our story begins where countless stories have ended in the last 26 years: with an idiot … deciding it would be a good idea to go out and  poke a zombie with a stick.” – Feed by Mira Grant

Each of these lines set the tone, and adds intrigue to the book. The Graveyard Book is accompanied with a illustration of a two page black spread with a single hand holding a knife. It’s dark, scary, and full of potential. Is this a murderous knife? Is this a defensive knife? Is this a knife that’s going to make a sandwich? After reading that line, you immeadately have to turn the page. Of course, you learn that it’s a murderous knife, who’s killed a family. Yet, it’s target, a baby, has escaped.

Harper Lee’s classic, holds just as much intrigue, yet, has a completely different tone. You can instantly feel the Southern, youthful, feel of the book. This is a book documenting the events leading up to something moderately awful. The summer Jem broke his arm. Well, how does Jem (an unusual name) break his arm? We have to read the entire book to find out.

Feed opens with a bit of humor. This is a beginning that starts where most stories end. It’s narrator’s voice is quickly established, and we instantly know two things: it’s about zombies, and zombies have been around a generation. The tone and scope are instantly set, and damn, I need to know what happens when her brother pokes the zombie.

I totally gauge a book on how it opens, and I use that as my basis for choosing a book to read. Often, I read the first chapter to see if I’m interested, and only give a book about 50 pages before I decide if it’s for me or not.

I’m a little more lax on movies, because I’m more willing to commit to two hours than twelve. Though, I form my opinion of a movie in the first ten minutes. Much like a book, movies need a good opening too. There are several movies that spend way to long setting up. This is the End (which I watched this weekend) is one.

I only vaguely remember the opening image. I think it’s Seth Rogan meeting Jay Baruchel at an airport? I also remember thinking, what the hell is Seth Rogan doing just chilling at the baggage claim at LAX? I spent more time wondering about celebrity normal life than I did wondering what the hell was going on in the movie.

In fact, the entire first act,of the movie is nothing but set up. It doesn’t establish scope, or mood, or even what the hell the movie is about. It establishes the comedy tone and Seth Rogan and crew as characters. Though, like most Fanfiction, we the audience are already familiar with them, and therefore do not need huge amounts of backstory. The world doesn’t start ending until the end of Act 1. And for me, I’ve already lost interest. If I didn’t know this was an apocalypse movie, that would have surprise would have come out of nowhere. (Maybe, it’s because our inciting incident doesn’t have to be what closes Act 1.)

In contrast, Shoot ‘Em Up has one of the best opening scenes I’ve ever seen. In fact, spend the next minute in a half watching it:

In 1.5 minutes everything about this movie has been set. We know the tone from the opening two shoots (satirical and gritty). That intense CU followed by a sharp cut, then completely undermined by the carrot. Because, what bad ass eats veggies? We know our main character is a bit grungy, lives on the wrong side of town, takes the bus, is reluctant, but has a good heart. We know that he’s not involved with the conflict, but chooses to make himself involved because its the right thing to do. We see conflict: Pregnant lady is in trouble. Kinda a universal sign of good – pregnant women. We see our villains: truly evil, I mean, they’re gonna threaten a pregnant lady with a gun. The movie unabashedly sets itself up and carries itself throughout. In the first ten minutes, we have our inciting incident, a birthing scene, and an epic gun fight. The scope and tone are set. The mood is set. Our hero is defined, and he has a dilemma. Even with all this intense action and conflict, Act 1 clearly doesn’t end until the Hero fully dedicates himself to the baby about 30 minutes in.

First Impression Failures: Pocahontas

Why does the movie’s opening not linger? We start in England (scope fail) with our romantic interest (not our hero) followed by a boat ride establishing our secondary characters (John Smith saves Thomas, was there a point?). The tone is actually set rather darkly (someone almost dies), which is sorta indicative of the tone. However, the scope is totally absent. The romantic tone that perpetrates the majority of the movie is absent. Our Main Character is absent. So yeah, no wonder no one remembers it, because well, it really doesn’t set the story correctly.

Getting it Right: The Little Mermaid Does What Pocahontas Tried to Do.

We open with a chorus singing about “mermaids” on a boat with Prince Eric, which are renounced as “sailor tales.” Eric talks about how he is looking for someone, and he feels she’s just under his nose. Then very quickly (we spend like 1 minute with Eric), go below the ocean where we meet the mythical mermaids. We are introduced to 2 worlds very quickly (scope), as well as characterization of the two main characters. Eric wants something more (tone), and he isn’t stuff like Grim (character). Then we learn that Ariel is irresponsible and kinda the odd daughter out because she failed to show up for her coming out celebration. Tone is established quickly – magical adventure with a dash of romance. We know our characters, and we see their conflict. They are looking for each other, but they belong to separate worlds.

In generalization, Pocahontas and The Little Mermaid open the same way. On a boat, with our Male MC, and a reveal of our Princess who is just a little odd. However, they are weighted differently. We are given a teaser of Eric, where John Smith is introduced as our protagonist. This is implied because we spend so much time with him (and he saves someone). In Pocahontas, we even get our bad guy before we learn of our hero. Our conflict between Smith and Radcliff is established before we even get to “the New World.” We don’t even get to our setting before some crazy, irrelevant stuff happens! Stuff that feels critical (someone almost dies), but it really isn’t.

Yet, in the Little Mermaid, we get straight to the point. We are not confused that Eric is our hero. We just know he exists. The minute time frame gives us just enough foundation to recognize him, but not associate him as our MC. It also function as a set up for in about fifteen minutes, Ariel is gonna be saving him. He’s already planted on a boat.

Not Quite Right: Frozen

Since a lot of our inspiration comes from Frozen, I kinda want to point out that Frozen sorta screws up here. Our opening image is the ice workers, cutting the ice, with some weird song.

While this image sets our tone: cold, and our setting: cold, we don’t really get anything else from it. Our scope isn’t really clear. In fact, the icemen don’t really serve any purpose, except they are where Christoff hails from. And Christoff is a secondary character. This is not his story. We spend 3 minutes of irrelevant mood setting. We don’t even get an idea of scope because, well, I’m not even sure where this scene is. Then, this later poses the odd question of why was Christoff raised by the damn trolls?

Thankfully, we jump right over to Elsa and Anna where we quickly learn about the two sisters, their bond, Elsa’s secret, and we establish the conflict between them. So, it sorta redeems itself. Wish the movie would have just started here…

Johnathan is completely on to something here. (Also, he gets total props for mention my favorite sci-fi show as a pointer.) Openings are important. They are the first impressions of a story, and we all know how strong those can be. And while they aren’t the key factor in something being good or not, it’s a key factor getting audience to watch in the first place.

Belle is a Bitch, and Gaston’s All Right: Beauty and the Beast’s Character Problems

As I mentioned in my Beauty and the Beast rewatch post, if you start to look too hard at the story, things really fall apart. This is doubly true for the characters.

Growing up, my Godfather would renlentlessly tease me about how Gaston was the hero. He would sing, “I want a guy like Gaston!” horribly off key. He would go on and on and on about how Gaston was noble, and the Beast was awful and deserved to die. As a smarty pants six year old, I would correct him and tell him that no, Gaston was the villain. However, as I grew up, I started to think, maybe Uncle Bob wasn’t so wrong.

Our perceptions of Beauty and the Beast’s character roles are establish by tone and the placement of the character. Beast is the first person we’re introduced to. We are told that he is a prince (all princes are obviously heroes) in disguise (and our hero has a problem), and the scene ends with the words “For who could ever learn to love a beast” ringing in our ears. Cut to Belle exiting her house. The answer to the question left from the narrator is answered visually, by a beautiful girl asking for a better life. This means, that when we met Gaston, the audience is forced to associate him as an antagonist. Belle must end up with the Beast, because the story dictated it.

Gaston is introduced with a gunshot and a dead bird. While there is nothing wrong with hunting, the way it’s presenting sets a dark tone around Gaston’s character. We see Gaston step from the shadows. Characters in shadows are associated as evil. Compile that with the image of Gaston killing a duck, we know that he can’t be up to any good. Then Gaston says, “I’m making plans to woo and marry Belle.” Now, he’s in conflict with what we know Belle must do. She must love/marry the Beast. Because of Gaston’s motive and his intro visuals, we assume that Gaston must be our villain.

But looking past the visuals and tones, when we look at the actions of the characters themselves, we get a different picture.

Belle is a Bitch. Oh, what? You don’t believe me? She’s the smart princess! And not vivacious, and a brunette! She’s totally the outcast. By those traits, she should be my favorite Disney princess (she’s not). But, when you really watch Beauty and the Beast, you start to notice something. Belle is a terrible person. Just take a moment and really watch “Belle’s” number:

“There must be more than this provencal life.” She wonders around basically singing about how much better she is than everyone else. That their normal lives, perfectly good lives, aren’t good enough for her. Then, because she can’t be interrupted reading, she kinda rampages through town. She fucks with someones sheep; she knocks someone out; and basically disrupts the entire towns morning. (And while the town people may think she’s odd, they are not mean towards her at all. In fact, they don’t seem to mind her fucking up their morning.)

But, Belle is smart because she reads! Yes, and so do Twihards. She reads the same book over and over.

“That one? But you’ve read it twice!”

“I know, it’s my favorite.”

If the librarian (because I refuse to call that place a bookstore) recognizes she keeps taking the same book, then, well, she’s taken it a whole lot. I’m an avid reader, and I have favorite books. But I don’t constantly re-read them.

We don’t really see her read anything else. Nor does she seem to reference her experience with some literary character, which bookish people do. Besides the opening scene, and an insert where we see her read to the Beast. She spends a great deal of time trapped, and she doesn’t ask for a book. What avid reader leaves the house without a book, or is stuck for several hours without looking for something, anything to read.

*As a side note, there’s this little gem. Belle describes her “favorite part because you’ll see.” Such an articulate reader huh?*

Then let’s just get to how rude she is throughout the majority of the movie. She rarely says please or thank you, even when people are doing nice things for her. She constantly disobeys orders. “Don’t go in the West Wing after my captor so nicely moved me from a jail cell to a suite? Nah…”  She talks back to the Beast and blames him after he saves her life because she was a dumb ass that ran out into the night.

Let’s look on that example for a minute. Belle offers herself up in exchange for her father. Then, when offered something better than a prison cell, she basically balks. The Beast tries to ask her to join him for dinner, and when she says no (which, really is quite stupid. She’s in this predicament herself, and it seems smart to get to know your captor, or you know, eat), he then demands her to join him. She doesn’t, yet doesn’t receive any real punishment from the Beast.

Then she and the servants continue to disobey Beast and make her a lavish dinner. Then she wonders through the castle, and decides, that instead of exploring the whole freaking thing, that she’ll go looking into the one place she expressly forbidden. I mean, she has a whole CASTLE, and on her first night, she goes where she isn’t suppose to go. Because, she’s a bitch. She didn’t look for an escape, like a rational person, nope, she goes into the dangerous place. As far as I can tell her motive is just to piss of the Beast. Then, when the Beast gets mad at her about it, she escapes the castle, breaking her sworn promise. (All right, so we know Belle isn’t worth her word for anything.)

Because really, she only made that promise she was bored. Yup. Boredom. After spending the entire opening of the film bitching about how boring her life is, she then takes the first opportunity for something new. It just happened to be something good, like saving her father. And to prove that it isn’t heart felt, she abandons her promise as soon as things get a little hard (because let’s be real, a fancy manor and free range at a castle isn’t really punishment). And later, when offered a similar choice (marry Gaston and save her father or refuse and dad is committed/imprisioned), she chooses to refuse. Because she never liked Gaston, and well, marrying him would be a prison to her. As much as she loves her dad, she loves herself more. Oh, and to top it off, because she can’t be wrong, she reveals the Beast, and basically starts the manhunt. I mean, come on Belle, use some common sense! You were frickin’ petrified of him like a week ago, why would this “provincial” townspeople, who are so below you, be any different?

So, yeah, her entire altruistic sacrifice is undermined.

Meanwhile, Gaston is actually not that bad. Ok, maybe he’s bad, but he’s completely understandable. Which is probably why he’s a great villain.

Yes, Gaston is chauvinistic. I’m not going to pretend otherwise. He has very clear cut ideas about the place of a woman in the world, that lines up very much with the time period of that movie. But before we get all high and mighty, look over at the Beast’s castle. Women don’t really have it much better their either. We have Belle, the prisoner and basically wife figure (who wouldn’t have to be in the kitchen cooking because she has servants), the Feather Duster and the maid and sexual object, and Mrs. Pott’s who works in the FUCKING KITCHEN and has to be the mother figure too! (And we don’t really even know what role Lumiere and Cogsworth play, though, they are probably more advisory than servantly.) She’s probably the nanny for all the damn castle babies. So yeah, women’s roles in Beauty and the Beast, no matter where they are aren’t particularly progressive. But Gaston is called the asshole because he just openly acknowledges it. At least I know where I stand with him instead of being given the false illusion I’m something more.

Yet, as chauvinistic as Gaston says, he actually proposes to Belle, and goes out of his way to make it special for her. In that time period, it would be totally legit for Gaston to completely bypass Belle and just get her father to marry her off. In real life, Maruice would have been honored to pass Belle off to Gaston because Gaston is the most respected and revered person in town. (Not to mention it doesn’t seem like Maurice is making a whole lot of money, and Belle is basically just an extra mouth to feed.) But, back to Gaston. Then he prepares an entire celebratory engagement party for her, with music and food and general happiness. So what if his ideals are antiqued to a modern woman, he show us that he’s actually quite romantic.

(And for the record, Belle doesn’t come out and say no, and when dealing with marriage proposals, that needs to be explicit. It’s probably because she knows that he’s probably her best option.)

Plus, after Belle publicly humiliates him with her rejection, Gaston goes on to be quite unhappy. He sulks over her. For all of his pig-headedness, he does seem to genuinely care for her. I mean, come on, he can have the hot triplets, but he chooses bitchy Belle. I do believe that he does genuinely love her, though, it may not be the Disney-ied true love we want our characters to end up with.

Which brings me to my next point: Gatson is kinda the town role model. He’s handsome, and he’s an excellent hunter. Gauging from how sharply dressed he is, he’s probably pretty well off. He’s the equivalent to of the modern day star quarter back. He has an entire number dedicated to his qualities: handsome, manly, the strongest, the best hunter, and he’s great at expectorating. So yea, totally the quarterback figure.

Let’s backtrack a little. I want to point out, that while Gaston seems to belittle women, it seems to be only with their role in society. He doesn’t actually hurt women, or is rude to them.  He doesn’t do that with anyone else in town, either. In fact, he is quite polite. In the opening number, Gaston constantly asks, “excuses me” and “please let me through,” and doesn’t shove anyone out of the way. In fact he goes out of his way to avoid causing anyone an inconvenience.

Besides his low opinion of women’s roles, and his high opinion of himself (which by society we are told are bad things), his only two “acts of villainy” are his plot with Maurice and his lynch mob. Both of which are totally understandable.

Let’s face it, Maurice is kinda crazy. I mean, he build a death contraption that cuts firewood. And to Gaston’s defense, he only conspires against Maurice after the guy storms into the bar and spouts crazy talk. While I wouldn’t say that it’s the best of plans, being nice didn’t seem to get Belle’s attention either. And really, is coercing Belle into being a wife really any worse than the Beast holding her prisoner? Yet, we forgive the Beast.

His second “trecherous” act is his ralleying against the Beast. Which, honestly, is a perfectly reasonable reaction. Belle shows him an image of a monster (which only Belle and the audience know isn’t so bad at this point). The Beast is howling, and kinda on a rampage in the castle. Gaston draws the conclusion that the monster that locked Belle away and is currently rampaging is a threat. Yup, it’s the same conclusion we drew at the beginning of the movie. If falls in line with the “crazy talk” Maurice was spewing earlier in the movie. So, while Gaston may have a deeper motive of jealousy, his initial motive isn’t unreasonable or villainous. I mean, the Beast did kinda hold Belle hostage, and Gaston loves her.

Ultimately, yes, Gaston is a villain of the movie. He is a villain because he doesn’t learn to look beyond the surface. His failure to the theme is ultimately what makes him the bad guy. Not so much his actions. And Belle is a hero because she fulfills the theme and sees the Beast as more than a monster. (I guess she does? She kinda doesn’t do anything.) Though, I’m not really sure she really learns to look beyond the surface, because she only sees the Beast (who a damn prince, which is obvious to deduce because he lives in a castle!) as better. Her conclusions don’t apply to anyone not magically enchanted. Still, the characters’s actions contrast with their roles. We praise Belle as a stuck up bitch, and villainize Gaston as the worst kind of human ever. The movie so successful uses visuals, tone, and score, our opinions of the characters are dictated by the direction of the story, not their personalities.

The Rewatch 2: A Critical Analysis of Beauty and the Beast

As I mentioned in my Mulan post, critical analysis of a movie is essential to scriptwriting and movie-making. There are lessons to be gathered from each and every movie. However, some highly acclaimed films really don’t hold up under scrutiny. Yet, are remembered as classic. Beauty and the Beast is one of them.

Technical Breakdown of Beauty and the Beast

(aka What Fails? The story.)

Act 1: Setting the fairy tale tone, a narrator tells us the exposition. There is an enchanted prince in the woods, who’s been turned into the beast. (Though, this is an effective example of when Telling vs. Showing works.) A ticking clock device is introduce, because the “Beast must learn to love by his 21st Birthday.” Then we meet Belle, who hates her life, establishing the Status-Quo with the musical number “Belle”. At this point our theme of Beyond the Surface is established. (We have the Beast, who is a prince in disguise; Belle, who is more than her “beauty;” and Gaston, who is handsome, but a bit of an ass, aka, not pretty.) Belle’s father, Maurice, heads off to some convention where he will show of his insane contraption (a set up). Meanwhile, Gaston proposes to Belle, which she refuses because she can’t bear the thought of being a housewife.  Of course, conveniently, her father’s horse shows up indicating that her father is missing, the inciting incident. She follows the horse to an abandoned castle, where she offers herself in exchange for her father, ending Act 1. (Note, there is only 1 musical number and its reprise in Act 1.)

Act 2: This first half of Act 2 goes: Belle and the Beast do not get along and culminating in Belle escaping the castle. This is expressed in a series of events where Belle flat out ignores the Beast’s demands. (“Be Our Guest” is part of the servants participation in Belle’s rebellion.) When Belle flees, the Beast goes after her, saving her from a pack of wolves. Belle returns to the castle, and she and the Beast begin again.

Because she saved him from the wolves, the Beast has “fallen in love with her,” and their relationship is developed through the number, “Something There.” Meanwhile, Gaston broods because of  her rejection (“Gaston” musical number), and devises a plan to coerce Belle into marrying him. Back at the Enchanted Castle, the Beast experiences a blooming scene, just before the number “Beauty and the Beast,” as he is transformed from monster to prince. I think the subplot involves the servants’ desire to be human, though, their number “When We’re Human Again” is cut. (Or perhaps the subplot is Gaton looking to marry Belle, and his scheming to get Maurice committed? Or could it be there is no subplot?) I think the Beast’s low point, or Dark Night of the Soul, happens when Belle leaves the Beast to nurse her father. Once home, Gaston confront Belle and tries to have her father committed, offering her a parallel of the Beast’s offer in Act 1. She refuses, and reveals the Beast lives outside of the town. Gaston rallies the town, and Act 2 ends with “The Mob Song.” (Interesting note, I’m not sure there is A Point of No Return in this movie. At no time do I feel that Belle couldn’t return home. I mean, she does. She goes home to her father, and I’m not sure she would have gone back to the beast.) With the exception of “Belle” and the “Beauty and the Beast” reprise, all songs exist in Act 2.

(And yes, Belle, this is all your fault.)

Act 3: Before Gaston leaves, he traps Belle and her father in their cellar. Meanwhile, the beast has given up hope, as the town folk invade his castle. His servants defend it bravely. Belle is saved by chip, the teacup who I believe functions as the voice of the audience, and her father’s madcap invention (almost a Dues Ex Machina). She reaches the castle, inspiring the beast to fight back. The Beast and Gaston battle it out on the castle eaves, ending in both the Beast and Gaston’s death. Also, the ticking clock runs out at the same time. Belle’s love, breaks the spell, and revives the Beast as  Prince. And they live happily ever after. (Or so we believe.) Also note, there is a musical reprise of “Beauty and the Beast” just before the movie ends.

The movie employees several Disney staples: the comic relief companion, though not an animal, but rather magical household items;  a distinctive setting (France); a magical element; and a hybrid musical. While these elements are utilized, they are not utilized so well.

The companions aren’t used to their full advantage, and often, are used to progress the plot forward because neither central character will. They have a blatant disregard for their master (letting Maurice into the castle and starting the whole affair, plus the entire number of “Be Our Guest”), and their motives are entirely selfish. Without them, there would be no story, yet, their choices feel like they are driven by plot rather than character.

The movie is set in France as a nod to more popular renditions of the story. Also, I believe it’s also because it’s heavily influenced by Cocteau’s Le Belle et Le Bete. I mean, come on, the Beasts look the same!

Beauty and the Beast is very basic in story. In fact, I would say that it’s not a fairy tale adaptation or retelling, but just another iteration of the story. It’s like a moving picture book. Disney’s version doesn’t really add new elements, or manipulate existing elements to tell a complex, compelling story. It doesn’t use the story as a basis for something bigger. I’m not even sure if it’s a modernization since it’s set in a historic setting with chauvinistic ideals. It is nothing more than the tale.  

Most of the plot is moved forward because, well, if they didn’t there wouldn’t be a movie. Belle is a static character, unless you define her change as “falling in love.” We need outside influences, the servants, to make things happen. There are more plot holes than Swiss cheese (the 10 year curse, a random prince in the woods*), but, we still buy into the movie. We are emotionally charged when Gaston storms the castle. But why?

What Works: The sound and animation.

First, I’m just going to get this out of the way. Beauty and the Beast is a beautifully animated film. It’s gorgeous. The design is stunning. Colors are utilized awesomely. Johnathan pointed out that blues and oranges are used to compliment the differences between town and castle. The characters well animated. It’s just lovely.

But it’s the sound of the movie that pulls at people’s heart strings. The score is so complex, and well crafted. It uses swells to manipulate the audience into feeling what’s going on in the scene instead of actually paying attention. The musical numbers are memorable, and fill in the emotional gaps the poor scripting leaves.

Even the voice actors deliver amazing performances with subpar lines. Belle says horrible things, all the time, but because her voice is calm and lovely, we ignore them. The beast’s transformation has more to do with line delivery than his character’s action. We know he’s changed because we hear it in his voice.

Beauty and the Beast is what makes fairy tales timeless. It’s why we keep retelling these stories generation after generation. Disney’s film, reminds us that sometimes, we can get away with bad writing if we can invoke strong emotions and have good muisc. Even with all things consider, it’s still a milestone in cinema (refer to the picture earlier in the post).

It also serves as a reminder that this isn’t what we want in our script. We want to do something more. We want an adaption. Yet, Beauty and the Beast serves as a reminder not to forget about the emotional pull a magical tale can have.

*As a side note, I came up with a justification for why the Prince Beast lives in the woods and the town doesn’t know. He’s a middle/younger son who lives in his own chateau. Since he’s in no position to gain the throne, well, no one would pay attention to him, and he really wouldn’t have any jurisdiction over the town. Also, that would be why he’s a prince, not a king. Johnathan suspects that he was such an ass of a child, his parents didn’t want to deal with him, hence, why a ten year old would be left parent-less.

The Rewatch 1: Critical Analysis of Mulan

Critical analysis is essential part of art. Doubly so with writing. Triply so with movies. So, on to one of perhaps a drier blog post, but something quite interesting. This is my critical analysis of Mulan.

Mulan is one of my favorite Disney movies, and probably one of the most underrated. It’s a surprisingly solid film with with fascinating takes on gender. I’m sure the gender bending is the reason I really love this movie. But there’s also the fact that’s is good too. And this:

Mulan has a textbook structure; three acts with each act hits its required mark. It’s got clever dialogue, fun music, every scene is important, but most of all, it has a clear theme. Sounds like a simple formula for success, yet, it’s surprisingly difficult like frying a perfect egg.

Technical Breakdown of Mulan

(using Shannon’s highly scientific method which is a hodgepodge of Syd Field, Blake Synder, and NOCCA. Also, all the borning stuff.)

Act 1: Establishes Mulan is a quirky, but smart girl (achieved though her “wake-up” sequence and through the musical number “Honor to Us All”). We also learn, in those very same scenes, that quirky smart girls aren’t what women should be in feudal China. (Thematic Conflict! Mulan vs Society) Act 1 addresses gender roles for women. This is the start of identity beyond gender theme. In a distant elsewhere, China is at war. This establishes the status quo – or life before the central conflict. This opening ten minutes has a hook because Mulan is a conflicted character. She wishes to bring honor to her family by fulfilling her role, but she ultimately fails. Her desire and failure gives her motive to change and propel the story forward.  Act 1 ends when Mulan decides to fulfill her father’s conscription into the war (inciting incident). There are two musical numbers in Act 1.

Act 2: We see Mulan struggle with her new gender role, and the role of the military. New characters are introduced. She develops as a character, through a series of failures and achievements (primarily through “Make a Man out of You”), becoming one of the  best soldiers in her unit. A romantic subplot, as well as a subplot reflective of Mulan through Mushu and Cric-kee, are introduced. Though most of this, gender roles are established from a masculine perspective. After the musical number “A Girl Worth Fighting For,” we reach the point of no return, where we discover the vicious Hun slaughter. Now, war ready, the regiment meets the huns on a snowy cliff , where Mulan, ever the oddball for she disobeys orders, almost single-handedly stops the invasion. The price of victory is the reveal of Mulan’s secret and her expulsion from the army. Mulan’s low point and blooming scene follows, when she discovers the Huns are not defeated, and she charges towards the capital to warn the Emperor.

Act 3: Opens with celebration. Tensions escalate as Mulan is ignored, and the Emperor is captured. In a stunning feat of plot and gender subversion, (and a reprise of “Man”) Mulan and her company (who help her because they respect her as a soldier, regardless of gender) infiltrate the palace and save the emperor. This plays off the gender roles established in both first and second an emphasizes the theme of identity beyond gender. In an unusual Disney movement, Mulan strikes the killing blow to Shan Yu. Mulan is recognized for her achievements as a person, rather than woman or man, by the emperor, resolving thematic conflict, and she returns home to her family, resolving the theme of identity. The romantic subplot is also resolved, though some ambiguous courtship.

Mulan also has some notable Disney troupes: a companion animal that serves as comic relief, a distinctive setting (China), a magical element, and hybrid musical. Unlike some Disney movies, Mulan fully utilizes these elements.

Mushu arrives in Act II to aide Mulan in her adventure, though more often, provides a comic foil. He further complicates things for Mulan except for the end, when he finally provides her with the “spark” she needed to defeat Shan Yu. Mushu becomes intrinsic to the plot, especially, because he’s the one that propels the troops towards the destroyed encampment, and ultimately sets them onto the path on the mountains. He fills a subplot reflective of the theme of identity, by demonstrating a different path to oneself – giving him solid characterization. Mushu wants to be a great spirit. To achieve that, he must help Mulan. Of course, he admits to her, that his motives are selfish, and that he is a selfish creature. Cric-kee is Mushu’s companion, and foils Mushu with is “lucky” identity.

Besides historical significance, the China setting is greatly reflective in the artwork, and in the concept of honor. It’s also an interesting setting to bring up gender roles, since it is well defined in Asian cultures. Additionally, by placing it in a setting that is not European, Mulan plays the sci-fi trick: set it in space, and it’s not really about the real world. Set it in China, and it’s not really reflective of Western culture (though, it is).  Additionally, the concept of “honor” is better set in a Eastern culture. For without honor, Mulan wouldn’t be in quite the predicament she’s in.

The magical element is very subtle in the film, and adds to the “legendary” tone that is Mulan. The magic is restricted in that of Mushu and the ancestors. It’s also a play on cultural Chinese beliefs, and does not hold much bearing on the entire plot. However, it adds a child-like element to the story. Children indulge in fantasy, and like all good fairy tale stories, need that element to be able to relate it to a wider scale.

In an interesting note, the musical element of Mulan works exceptionally well. The music is accompanied by montages that propel the plot forward, often revealing character development, and even advance the plot. In the “Honor” song, there is a brief moment where Mulan wins a Go game (or game of similar nature) indicating that she is quite smart, but not very feminine since the players are men. In, “Man” she is actually expelled from her camp, though, she uses it to succeed at the impossible task given to her by Li. Later, the reprise “Man” is used in a wry context as the solider dress like women, driving home the gender identity plot.

Yet, Mulan isn’t as iconic as say Beauty and the Beast or The Little Mermaid. It’s most likely a case of timing. It followed two lackluster Disney films, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Hercules. It was beat out in almost all areas for awards, and if I remember correctly, the late 90s were a bit of a decline for Disney. The Musical was in decline, and anti-heroes on the rise. It’s gender-bending could also be a factor. I’m not entirely sure why it seems to be less than other Disney film, but for me, it’s one of my all time favorites.

Mulan kinda does everything right. Every action in the movie is explained. Every scene given importance and depth. Issues of identity and gender are raised. All characters grow and expand, and are ultimately victorious. In terms of traditional model, Mulan is an excellent film to strive for.

The Disney Movie Rewatch

In any art form, one of the easiest ways to improve is by participation. If you’re a novelist, read lots of books. If you’re a musician, listen to lots of music. If you’re a theater actor, go to lots of plays. If you’re a filmmaker, watch lots of movies.

I mean, come on, isn’t it the best thing ever to be like, “No, I have to watch this movie. Because it’s part of my job”? (Yes, it is. And, FYI, a good tax preparer can figure out how to deduct it.)

On a normal basis, I watch a lot of movies. I watch them for fun; I watch them critically. But, when I’m working on a project, I search out movies that I can draw inspiration from. For example, in prep for my web series, The Adventures of Keith Flippen, I queued up Jason of Star Command on Netflix, dusted off my DVD of Galaxy Quest, and watched various episodes of Flash Gordon on youtube. I used them as reference. These are the images people conjure when something is described as “retro sci-fi.” These are my predecessors. I need to watch what they did, understand why it worked so well, or failed, and how I can add to it, and do it my way.

So naturally, when we decided to aim for a “Disney” adaptation, that conjures a very distinctive image. There are staples and troupes specific to Disney. Disney movies are often placed at a very high standard. To understand them, it means, re-watching the best (and maybe some of the worst) of Disney.

Of course, re-watching every movie Disney ever released isn’t really practical. And since we’ve acknowledged we want to focus specifically on their animated features, we can narrow it down even more. Our top choices (and some that are readily available) for rewatch,  in no particular order, are as follows:

  1. The Little Mermaid
  2. Tangled
  3. The Lion King
  4. Aladdin
  5. Frozen
  6. Beauty and the Beast
  7. Mulan
  8. The Hunchback of Notre Dame
  9. Hercules
  10. Tarzan
  11. Snow White
  12. Lilo and Stitch
  13. The Emperor’s New Groove

Movies re-watched.

Movies that were more complicated than initially thought, and we feel need another re-watch.

This list will probably be added to as we narrow down what kind of movie we want to write. So, what do you think of our choices? Are there some important movies we’re missing? Leave a comment and let us know!

Highlights from Last Night’s Live Chat

Last night, Johnathan and I decided to continue on our next step in our Disney movie writing process. We watched Mulan and Lilo and Stitch and tweeted as we watched the same movie across the country. Here are some of the highlights.

On Mulan:

On Lilo and Stitch:

So there you go! Highlights of last night’s movie watching. Coming soon, post discussing the movies at length. We learned a lot watching those, and I can’t wait to do this again with more movies! We do have quite a list building up for it…

Once Upon a Time, We Decided We Should Write a Disney Movie

It started with a tipsy text message across the country discussing why Frozen wasn’t a great movie. It’s a good movie, don’t get me wrong, but it felt…off. It made decisions out of fear, out of producers, out of monetary demand, out of standard Hollywood pacing – and that made me angry.

So in my text message, I said, We should write our own Disney movie, and do it right. And my reply was, “Yes.” As so, once upon a cold Sunday evening in January, we decided to write the next big Disney fairy tale movie.

I’m Shannon. I live in New Orleans and made a web series. I do know a little about movies, but mostly I make it up and just sound authoritative about it.

Johnathan is my cohort. He’s doing graduate school out in California where he is studying computer stuff that goes way over my head. He’s an awesome guy, who loves Disney movies, and thinks a lot like me.

We have a long history of causing fun distraction during NaNoWriMo, and drinking until we sing all the Disney songs. Neither of us really believes in growing up. So of course, we’ll make the perfect pair for writing screenplay together. Across the country.

Together, we’ll keep this blog documenting our process. And, because we realize that the only way to see our movie actually become a Disney movie is to become internet famous.