Tag Archives: Analysis

Showing Emotional Pain

Here be spoilers to Guardians of the Galaxy. Turn back if you don’t wish to have things ruined. Onto the post!

Part of things you need to do when you’re writing a movie is to watch current movies–
especially movies that fit the genre you’re writing for so you can do the things that people will like, and don’t do anything that Battlefield Earth did.  So, I guess that puts Scientology out of the picture?

Anyway, if you don’t know, everyone is still fawning over Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel’s latest sci-fi superhero movie on their disturbingly fast movie release schedule.  And, you might be aware, I’m trying to write a sci-fi Disney film.  I saw Guardians, and came back with, well, questions.  So, I decided to go see it twice to see if anything made more sense on a repeat watching.

Also, I wanted to see it in 3D because I have a weakness for eye candy.

And now I’m gonna write about it, because Disney owns Marvel.  Boom.

So, lets kill the most important elephant in the room– the 3D was excellent.  I have gone on record having said that 3D sucks and will always suck, but if you have even a little bit of cash to spare for the more expensive ticket, I highly recommend it.  Yep, eating my words.  There are times when it gets flashy (I winced from exploding debris, in actual surprise and fear, not cheese), but there is actually a touch of subtly to it, and it turns out that makes the whole experience way better.

With that out of the way, lets talk about why I felt the need to re-watch the film.  Namely, my spirit animal, Rocket Raccoon.

No, not a regular raccoon.  Regular raccoons suck.
No, not a regular raccoon. Regular raccoons are the worst.

I know that everyone loves Groot, but my favorite character is Rocket.  Groot makes a close second (but more on that in a bit).  There is a problem with this.  Rocket (at the very least, maybe also Groot) is entirely CGI– not even supported with motion capture work ala Andy Serkis in The Lord of the Rings.

I was not ok with this revelation.  There are three Guardians that are played by real people, and I found the talking raccoon to be the best character?  That can’t be right.  Better re-watch.

And on re-watch, Rocket is still the best.

In an old draft on this post, I spent many, many paragraphs talking about acting and CG in acting and all sorts of things that are very much not writing.  I’m a writer.  This blog is about writing.  So, lets just say that Rocket (and Groot) are just as well acted as the rest of the cast and just look at the writing.

When it comes to characters in GotG, everyone gets what I’m going to term as a ‘heroic beat’.  One of the underlying themes is that this is, indeed, a ragtag group of A-holes, but in each character there lies something heroic.  Perhaps its deep down, but it’s there.  Everyone gets a scene where they find that bit of heroism in themselves, and react accordingly.

And these beats are not all written equally.

Of particular weakness is Drax’s beat, which somehow violates “show, don’t tell” in a movie, which feels impossible.  It’s when he realizes that all his actions were really just a mask for the loss he felt– and just sorta announces this to Rocket and Groot.  Yes, it fits Drax’s character to make this announcement.  Yes, the movie points out why it’s stupid a second later.

Gamora has her heroic beat while a lot of other things are happening.  She goes into the Collector’s place ready to sell whatever the orb is (and she knows it’s a weapon) for all the money so she can escape her shitty past. She comes out of the Collector’s place after the Infinity Stone does its ‘wreck the shit out of everything’ thing, ready to go back and get thrown in prison to put the Infinity Stone in safe keeping.  It’s not really shown– she goes in, purple sparkles (more on that in a bit as well)– and comes out heroic.

Quill’s beat is kinda cliched.  He makes the choice to sacrifice his life to keep Gamora alive, and the whole thing is set up the exact same way it’s been set up hundreds of times before.  We see the emotional turmoil as he realizes he can’t just sit there and watch Gamora die.  Yes, it slots in with his character nicely, and the movie makes fun of it later, but still.  

Now, lets look at Rocket and Groot’s beats.  Rocket’s beat is the “beating up a tuft of grass” line.  He wants to let go of these people he sees as a liability, but he can’t.  We actually see him emotionally deal with the consequences of realizing he can’t walk out on this one– with rage.  He hates this new-found compassion in him.  It totally sucks to be a hero.

Groot gets the best beat out of everyone– Groot’s heroic beat comes right as the big black bad ship is falling out of the sky.  The ‘We Are Groot’ line.  The discovery of something heroic to enable his sacrifice.  It’s still a painful moment for him– he starts to cry, after all, being a hero is hard.

It all comes down to seeing the emotional crucible required to go from jackass to hero.  In only two characters do we really see that emotion played out (pssst.  It’s Rocket and Groot.  If you didn’t know.  pssst).  And, part of that is the scenes that were supposed to show a lot of the emotion in two of the three other characters aren’t really written to focus on that.

I might just be too jaded for Quill’s scene.

Could we have seen this emotional turmoil if the characters had been acted better?  Yeah.  The fix could go either way.  This relates back to our Disney film because all of our protagonist’s barriers are emotional ones.  All of the rough stuff we want to throw them through is about making hard choices and living with consequences.

Not that movie doesn’t do cool things with the fact that each character hits the heroic crucible at a different time.  Gamora totally judges the hell out of Quill when he wants to sell the Infinity Stone for money because she’s become heroic and he’s not there yet.  Her moral indignation is actually rather neat.

Now, why do I like Rocket over Groot?  That’s entirely subjective, but mostly because Rocket drinks.

I really don’t want to continue this post, so I’m gonna end it here for now. Perhaps next week I’ll talk about the ending and how GotG’s popularity is a testament to theme trumping logic (because that movie doesn’t even follow its own internal logic).  Or I’ll write some actual script some more and talk about animated Disney things.

Advertisements

What is love? Baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me, no more…

Romance, man.  I don’t even.

Look, maybe I’m playing up to the lonely writer stereotype (is that a thing?  is it an attractive thing?…. la…ladies?), but I’m not a huge fan of the typical romance plot you see in movies/books/comics/pretty much everywhere.  It just feels shallow and very, very fake these days.  I guess this means I’m not romantic?

Eh, never had the dreamy eyes for it anyway.

Now, the obvious counter argument is, “Seriously?  You’re writing a story where one of your main characters is the hologram of a castle’s AI system, and you’re going to lose your suspension of disbelief on true love?  What kind of monster are you?”

Well, when you put it that way… yes, actually.  One of the reasons why I want to write this screenplay is because the typical Disney love plot drives me up a wall, hissing like the meanest member of your grandmother’s 30 cats.  I can point to two reasons why:

1) Speed.  Oh, you met someone two days ago and want to get married?  Yeah, that’s gonna be good.  Because when people pull those kinds of shenanigans in real life, it’s totally sane and always works out.  Sure.

2) Characterization.  What about Eric gets Ariel feeling all tingly?  We never find out.  Was it his skill at dancing that drew her gaze?  The fact that he was royalty?  The mysterious allure of something forbidden?  The fact that her cave was running out of space and there was no way a merman would ever let her hoard her stuff?  Why did Snow White fall for Prince Charming?  Outside of his name, of course.  Falling love could be a huge character moment– what the protagonists see in each other can be powerful and really lends credibility and believability to who they are.

Now, recent trends in Disney movies have abated these problems somewhat– both Tangled and Frozen end with their protagonists not getting married, but with a kiss and the vague promises of a future date.  Yes, Rapunzel eventually marries Eugene, but we get the important line at the end of the film– “And after asking, and asking, and asking, [she] finally said yes.” (Replacement mine, I don’t want to write extra to spell out the joke).

However, both these films still don’t satisfy me on the characterization side of things.   We get vague hints of it in Tangled, but it still kinda feels like the love by default sort of Disney standard.  Flynn gets characterization through his emerging love for Rapunzel (he finds that what he was looking for was more than just money, freedom or adventure), but, honestly to this day, I’m not really sure why she falls for him.

I think most of her ‘falling in love’ is wrapped up in the kingdom montage, after all, her line to Mother Gothel is, “And… I think he likes me.” (Emphasis mine). Very importantly, it’s not “I think I like him.”  She takes longer to come around, and that’s probably why I like the movie so much.  But we still never really learn why.

See previous posts about my rant on Frozen— it’s very love by default.

Now, enter in the most commonly associated animal with love– the frog.
The_Princess_and_the_Frog_poster
I feel like I might have made that reference wrong.

Anyway, despite the fact that it might be racist, I’m a pretty big fan of the film overall.  Yes, I know that the action slows to a crawl when they get to the swamp.  Yes, Randy Newman is not my favorite composer.

How can I still really like it?  Because Tiana and Prince Naveen have one of the most character driven love stories in all of Disney’s cannon.  I mean, their love plot still moves way to fast (I think it’s a three day meet-greet-marriage?  Certainly no longer than a week).  Both of them are willing to do far, far too much for someone they just met.  I know.

But, Prince Naveen mincing random bullshit he found for Tiana is a more touching moment than anything in Frozen.  Tiana looking at the Shadowman’s vision of her father and realizing what he truly stood for is chilling just to write about.

Both characters have flaws, and it’s only seeing someone else without those flaws do they realize what they’re missing in themselves.  Tiana is not only a strong character in her own right, but it’s her hard work that foils Naveen’s carefree lifestyle.  It’s Naveen’s focus on actually smelling the roses that shows how Tiana is missing out on so much more in the world.

That’s brilliant characterization!  And the movie sticks it in front and center, so you know it was the intent.  By falling in love with each other, the pair learns something about themselves– Naveen is able to find someone that makes him truly happy and Tiana realizes what her father’s dream truly was.

The movie eventually trips on it’s own feet and gets rather sappy towards the end, and again, the fact that it ends in frog marriage makes me facepalm, but in the middle?  That is a love story for the ages.  That’s what love is all about.

That’s how Luna and Ivan should fall in love.  Both characters are both on the run– Luna is running from her future and Ivan is running from his past.  Its their falling in love that drives the character change that lets them find the courage to face their problems and make the hard choices.

Hold on, writing about my screenplay is inspiring me to write my screenplay.  Brb.

Visual Storytelling

It was only a matter of time before we got here– to the land of things you can not script out but are important for any good film.  Much like Moses and the Promised Land, this is a place I can only view from far away on top of a mountain, never allowed to actually go there.

I want to talk about one far off building that seems to have gotten a lot of traction these days– visual storytelling.  The idea that we can tell large parts of a story not through dialogue, or even action, but in how things look.  Often, we use what’s on screen to augment parts of the plot or highlight particular aspects of characterization.  Sometimes its super subtle.

For example, Carl Up starts the movie with more rounded facial features and after his wife dies, regresses into a bitter old man who also looks more square-ish.  He’s the square peg that refuses to conform to the round hole his life has become– he’s all stuck in his ways and unable to give up the past.  It’s not until that boy scout comes along– who is also more roundish– helps Carl learn and smooth out the edges.

Pacific Rim is the poster child for this as large parts of that film are only told visually, but I only ever saw Pacific Rim drunk at a New Years party, so i can’t actually reference it (or remember large chunks of it, outside of GIANT ROBOT SMASH MONSTER THROUGH BUILDING, HELLS YEAH).  But I can give you an example– Tarzan, and Jane’s attire through the movie.

Jane starts out the movie on the run from stealing Belle’s dancing dress in Beauty and the Beast:
jane--full dress

As the movie progresses, Jane starts realizing that a ball gown is not exactly strong jungle attire, and decides to switch over to the outfit she stole from The Wild Thornberrys:
Jane--level1

Then, while Phil Colin’s croons, Jane realizes that actually, sleeves are horribly restricting and really hurting her ability to get her lady boner on for Tarzan:

jane-- level2

Yet, when it’s time for her to go back to England, the ball gown comes back on:

Jane--level3
However, after Jane finally makes her choice to stay in the jungle, fuck clothes:

jane-- level4

To put it very succinctly: when Jane makes the correct decision according to the movie, she shows more skin.  We can chart her entire character progression based on that.  As she falls in love with Tarzan, and in doing so realizes her place is the jungle, she goes away from formal attire and more towards her mini-skirt/sports-bra combo.  When she decides to go back to England, it’s back to Belle’s clothes with her.

Her trend is far more gradual than Tarzan’s– who goes directly from loincloth to suit and back to loincloth, because this movie isn’t paced super well.  At any rate, you can look at this in a few ways:
1) we are shown Jane’s gradual acclimation to the jungle.  She can pass from England to the jungle because she slowly becomes part of the jungle– she sheds off the layers of high society to become more like Tarzan.
2) we are shown a visual aid to how Jane and Tarzan feel about each other.  As they fall in love, they start to dress more like the other– Jane gradually, and Tarzan all at once.   By the end of the film, they’re in love because they dress the same.

It’s probably the first idea over the second– after all, the movie hardly needs any visual help to show it’s love plot, and Jane comes about three degrees too close to molesting a blackboard sketch of Tarzan long before she drops the sleeves on her shirt.

However, that still leaves us with the thematic problem of Tarzan being unable to leave his place (the jungle) and Jane being allowed to leave hers (England) for reasons that are never shown.  I never said the thematic elements were good, just that the visuals support them.

There is more to dig into here as well– the fact that Jane stole her dress from Belle is on purpose.  The movie is playing at undertones– the story of Tarzan has similar themes to Beauty and the Beast.  Tarzan is a wild gorilla man… sure, he starts higher on the screw-ability curve (unless you’re into that, and from comments I’ve heard about Robin Hood, there are more people into that than you might expect), but there is a theme of Jane bringing civilization, manners and, well, gentleing (ooh, I made up a word) out the wild Tarzan.

Unlike Beauty and the BeastTarzan doesn’t want to focus on how this process brings out other sides of Tarzan’s personality for Jane to fall in love with, because Tarzan decided to use it’s runtime for an extraneous music number about gorillas trashing a camp.

These are probably considerations that’ll get pushed to the back burner in favor of more pressing matters (Guys, how do I write a romance scene for a Disney film that isn’t the most cliched thing ever?  This is really hard), but it is cool to pick up on.

Who knows what I’ll be blogging about next week.

Inspiration from Any Source

Although we’re not done with the rough draft yet, its pretty obvious that there are some things we’ll need to patch up in editing.  One of the most profuse problems (and probably due to the fact that we’re two separate people which highly similar although slightly desperate visions) is a Deus Ex Machina sheen that sorta permeates the entire thing.

As of the current rough draft, we have a lot of important characters and plot elements that appear the moment they’re needed by the plot, then get abandoned like a red-headed stepchild the moment they’ve served their usefulness.  This is mostly due to focus during the rough draft.  Premature optimization is a dangerous thing, in both Computer Science and writing.  Focus on the details too soon, and you’ll miss the forest for the trees.

What I’d like to do (as we edit and polish and all that good jazz) is reference plot elements before they’re actually used, and then bring them back up again when they’re needed.  Elements can also be referenced later on for a joke or a bit of world building or whatever.  I’d like to push us away from looking like a bunch of lazy ancient Greeks and closer to Checkov’s Emporium.

To quote the man himself:
“If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.”
—Anton Chekhov

We need to talk about our rifles more, rather than just having characters pull them out of their butts when required.  So, clearly,  need to look at a master of the plant– a true master of setting things up, a work of fiction so full of references that they’ll plant a plot element only to use it a minute later, something like…

Rick_and_Morty_opening_credits

Oh.  Um.  Avert ye eyes, children!  Tis a dark and dangerous black magik at work here!

Actually, I swear pretty regularly in my posts and have already brought up other not really safe for children material (unless you think graphic ritual sacrifice is family friendly), so… well, time to scar some poor kid for life.

Despite being very, very adult, and very irreverent, Rick and Morty is a master of plants.  Just watch the first minute and a half on an episode (which isn’t actively racist or sexist, so it’s pretty tame):

http://video.adultswim.com/rick-and-morty/ricksy-business.html

That’s a throw-away line that comes in full circle for a joke (and to advance the plot) before we even see the title card.  Clearly, the show’s writers are teaching a master class on what I want to learn.  The big problem is to stop laughing so I can actually pay attention.

My taste in humor is crass.  I’m not proud.

So far, I’ve only seen three episodes, and again, I struggle to turn on the analysis part of my brain when I’m having so much fun, but there is something of a pattern here.  Rick and Morty will drop a line or event that seems almost out of context or just blabble-y.  Sometimes its so random its giggle-worthy just for being so unexpected (I’m pretty sure that’s why Superjail is going on it’s 4th season).  However, that one line will come back as a plot element (usually coupled with some sort of punchline, because this is TV to make you laugh).

However, I really don’t think this is a thing I can template out and plug-and-chug my way through.  I’m sure that there are tons of way to bring up plot elements before the fact, and gracefully slip them in and out when needed.

Meanwhile, i’m gonna go grab a beer and laugh some more.

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.

Maleficent, Cinderella III and Intentionality

So, last weekend, I saw Maleficent because you gotta keep your hand on the pulse of the modern fairy tale if you plan on writing one.  And yes, I want to talk about it this week.

This post will have spoilers.  You have been warned.

I went in with very low expectations due to the fact that
A) I have opinions about who Maleficent is that spawn from my deep reading of fairy tales, and the blurb about the movie on Google did not meet those opinions.
B) I remember not liking that gritty reboot of Peter Pan that Disney did a while back
C) Angelina Jolee has been in a lot of bad films

B and C turned out to be pretty much unfounded.  The movie is beautiful, and considering how often Angelina Jolee stares at something off screen and still manages to convey emotion, her acting is pretty impressive.  She does her damnest to sell Maleficent, and she does a good job at it.  The score is fine– it’s not obtrusive, if not particularly memorable.  At least it isn’t just hours of drumsplosions, which seems to be where Marvel is taking their scores these days.

The writing, however, had problems.  There is only one character in Maleficent, guess who.  Everyone else in the film is a foil, and an obvious one.  Stephan is a foil to Maleficent’s own darkness and rage, Aurora a foil to Maleficent’s carefree childhood.  The pixies foil Maleficent’s intellect and prowess.  The bird who’s name I don’t remember doesn’t actually make it to foil status, he just sorta wines sometimes and carries out her orders.

No, seriously.  He throws a bit of a temper tantrum in the middle of the movie, and I still have no idea why.  (Not the “you turned me into a wolf!” one, the “you can turn me into whatever you want, idgaf” one– yes, this character is a bit of a whiner).

So, clearly, this movie was written with one star, and so it is up to Maleficent herself to carry the film.  And, as stated before, Angelina does a damn good job of it.  But, well…

I don’t agree with this story being a Maleficent tale.  It’s a fine story of betrayal in love, and redemption in learning to love again.  There is nothing technically wrong with it– hell, the story is not the typical angle of learning to love via romance, but learning to love over (for all intents and purposes) a family member.  It’s even very Disney in that aspect, as its Aurora’s goofy enthusiasm that warms Maleficent’s heart.

But, read that sentence again.  Warms Maleficent’s heart?  Really?  We gave the Star Wars prequels shit about Darth Vader, and we’re going to let this one slip by?  Look, say what you want, but bad guys are always more badass.  And, evil is at it’s most badass when it doesn’t have a reason– I can’t recall the exact source, but Steven King has written about how horror ends the moment you reveal the monster.  But, now we’re going a step further– not only are we revealing the monster, but we’re also revealing how it looked when it was 2 years old and slinging oatmeal everywhere.

Maleficent was one evil lady– even in the original fairy tale of Little Briar Rose, she’s just a bad apple.  No accounting for it, she just is.  Take The Lion King as an example– we know that Scar is ambitious, but we never know why.  He’s just an evil lion with dreams for power– he looses that aura of mystique when you reveal that he acted this way because he had to drink after Mufasa at the watering hole.  Or something.

But, this is a personal gripe.  Learning the background behind a villain can cast them in a sympathetic light, which can also be amazingly powerful.  It’s the give and take between Sid in the Toy Story series and Lotso the Hugable Bear.  Sid still kinda freaks me out, but Lotso is the more complex villain.

I probably would have been ok with learning about Maleficent’s innocent past if this wasn’t a redemption story, more of a epic “rise of the villain” tale.  Like a badass Dr. Horrible.  But Maleficent’s wings get restored and I sighed and hey, at least it looked pretty.

So that’s my review… but that’s not what’s really interesting about the film.  Essentially, Maleficent is a concept I don’t like executed very well (outside some shoddy writing).  Disney actually has the exact opposite hiding under a shelf– Cinderella III.

Yes, I’m going to compare them.  Hold on to your hats, people.

Cinderella III asks the question no one else was asking, outside of one really lonely fanfic writer– what if the evil stepmother got a hold of the fairy godmother’s wand?  I submit to you, dear reader, that is a ballin’ premise.  I want to know more about that story.  The evil stepmother is ambitious, cunning and just creepy as all getup.  Now, lets give her magic– how the hell is Cinderella gonna win now?  Her side levels in druid to charm small animals aren’t going to be much help.

There is even the cool framing device of having the stepmother rewind time back to the point that the slipper didn’t fit one of her children, and then uses magic to make it fit.  The prince wasn’t entirely blind, and know’s something is up because an ugly stepsister is not who he danced with.  In addition, we get an interesting bit of character focus– what’s life like for an ugly stepsister?  We know that her mother dominates all her personal decisions in the name of selfish gain, so what are her ambitions?  Aspirations?  Who is she?

Does this not sound like an amazing film?  I know how this story ends, and I want to re-watch Cinderella III.  Sadly, the movie is a goddamn train wreck.  This is the title song–

 

You can see the good movie trying to escape gimmick ridden, bland and sloppy animated nightmare.  This is probably the best clip from the film too, outside of the pumpkin sequence, so it really only goes downhill from here.  It’s a fantastic movie to watch after a couple of cocktails.

Maleficent is the exact opposite of that– but intention is the smaller of the two sides of the coin.  You can go see a movie who’s concept you don’t agree with, but if it’s done well, you can still call it a good time.  Sure, the angel symbolism is stupid in Maleficent, but did you hear the prince’s lines in that opening song?  “Would my perfectly perfect wife put on her perfectly fitting shoes?”

I feel bad for copying that line.  Heaven forbid I actually left it in a script for a movie.  Hopefully, enough people are interested in our concept, but the lesson here is this– a good idea is only the start.  The real important battle is making that idea so good that  the most your haters can say is, “eh.  Not the story I wanted, personally”.

This title will be written as soon as I get off TV Tropes

Disclaimer: TV Tropes is one of the more notorious black holes on the Internet.  A common tale of woe told around monitors is that of a man who goes to TV Tropes and the next thing he knows is it’s a week later and he’s got Cheetos stains on everything.  You have been warned.  I’m a professional– don’t browse TV Tropes at home kids.  It’s dangerous.

Things that you run into when you write any type of fiction: tropes.

Defined by the authority on tropes, TV Tropes:   “Tropes are devices and conventions that a writer can reasonably rely on as being present in the audience members’ minds and expectations.  On the whole, tropes are not clichés.”

A cliché is a trope gone to far– one that’s been done to death and back and no one wants to hear that bit again.  However, even the most trite and overused tropes often get reinvented to add fresh air to an old concept– we’re still telling damsel in distress stories, after all, but in modern fiction (or, I should say, good modern fiction– trashy dollar store novels will use every hack in the book) it’s rare to see the textbook example.  Everyone has read that textbook already, thank you.

So, to understand our source material a little better, I browsed through its entry on TV Tropes.  I was saddened to find out that TDP isn’t a trope namer for any tropes, nor is it the first example of any trope.

Several tropes can get thrown out as unimportant– the fact that TDP, in the version we’re basing things off of, has no named characters is nice, but irrelevant.  Disney movies have characters with names.

Per our preliminary notes, we’re already including a big, fancy castle, massive numbers of siblings, a protagonist that starts out pretty poor and some sort of dance.  I’m currently scribbling down on a notepad what the basic consequences of having these sorts of tropes does to the narrative and characters.  For example, seeing that large families these days are kinda rare, and households are having less and less children,  how did it happen that a political figure in the far future has twelve daughters?

Magic?  Strange political reasons?  Really bad luck?  Taking advice from rabbits?

Aside: Oh my god, I want to write that scene where the king, is his awkward youth, gets dating/relationship advice from a magical talking rabbit.  I’m giggling just picturing that.  Probably doesn’t fit into our story or target audience, but still.  *snicker*

I’m not looking for a particularly compelling reason, or a rational one, or even one that I’m going to explicitly point to.  Just food for thought.  Another one:  Dancing might be pretty rare, so it helps the princesses motivations along– they love dancing (get it from their mother) but this is the year 20XX.  No one dances anymore.  It’s a dying art.

Other things to look at are tropes that have become clichés (but weren’t done to death when the tale was written down) that we’re going to want to subvert or ignore.  Everything isn’t better with a traditional princess, but I’m hoping to subvert that a bit.  Personally, I’d like to bring out the political side of being next in line.  The royalty in our story, I think, is going to hold actual political power, and Luna (and probably the next oldest, Zorya) are going to be expected to rule themselves one day.

That’s a heavy responsibility– it’s like being the President, but you can’t blame things not working on congress.  Being a princess is not all fun and games and being frail and waiting for a white knight– that doesn’t feed people.  Ruling feeds people.

There are several tropes in TDP that I hadn’t considered at all before looking over the tropes page.  In the tale, the princesses evade getting caught through slipping drugs in wine to put the people sent to find them to sleep.  The protagonist gets around this with some discrete drink disposal.

Even though I haven’t really thought about it, we can throw some quiet nods to both tropes all in two scenes.  Maybe in our version of the tale, our protagonist (who’s name is Ivan, by the way), is the first person to try and figure out what the princesses are doing every night and one of them comes up with a knee jerk reaction to roofie him.

Our protagonist evades the ruse with the help of his animal sidekick, or his robotic arm (preliminary notes put Ivan as a cyborg.  And of course he has a sidekick, this is a Disney movie) and the tale goes on as normal.  I don’t know how important exactly the drugged drink is, but it is very important to note that the princesses do not want to be caught.

This helps tie into our already established themes about Luna– she starts the tale so resistant to leave the nightly dancing that she’ll resort to chemical warfare to keep things the way they are.  By the end of the story, she’s the catalyst of change.

Other things we haven’t covered at all– the hero in the fairy tale gets help from a magical shady lady in a forest.  I, personally, kinda dislike this trope.  It’s a derivative of Deus ex Machina, which came about because the ancient Greeks sometimes wrote themselves into a plot holes and were kinda lazy (I think.  It’s been a few years since I had to sit through an ancient Greek lit class).  Unless we decide the story needs it, I’d be more than happy to never touch on this facet of the tale, and let Ivan win his battles on his own.

Ok, two more.

First– the ubiquitous rule of three shows up in TDP– the protagonist has three days to figure out where the princesses are going every night before he gets murdered by the king.  His first two trips down to the hidden underground castle are pretty much the same, his last time down there has a twist.  The twist, at least in TDP, is rather minor– the solder takes an extra cup along with him for proof to show the king.  I almost want to ignore the pattern outright, but it’s such a common fairy tale rhythm that not using it feels wrong. Repetition is a tricky beast in stories– amazingly powerful when done right, but boring as hell when done wrong.

Finally, the fairy tale does do a bit of subversion– the youngest child doesn’t win.  However, the youngest princess is totally onto the protagonist the entire time he’s spying on the princesses.  You get the feeling he chooses the oldest as a bride because she’s a few light bulbs short of a full set and he knows he can outwit her.  However, we want people to leave the theater with Luna as a confident princess, ready to take on the throne.  What do?

Well, rather than just ignoring the subversion, I think we can play homage to it.  Cassiopeia (our youngest princess) can find the evidence that starts Luna’s change of heart, thus keeping true to the spirit of both characters, while still letting us focus on the older one without making her kinda dumb.

This helps add dramatic tension as well– Cass doesn’t know the gravity of the evidence she brings to Luna (or even that it’s a bad thing), and when Luna uses it as a reason to stop the dancing, Cass can naturally resist, rebel and ultimately feel like it’s her fault for pushing her sister away.

Awww, yeah.  Just what I like in my fictional characters– development and personality.  Damn gurl, you look fiiiiine with all that character.

Audience Participation

Hi!

I haven’t written a post in a month and a half, and that is bad and I feel bad.  In my defense, I spent the first week of April on a boat, and the rest of April unable to believe that I spent the first week of April on a boat, and the last two weeks catching up on all the work I should have done in April when I was boat-shocked.

That isn’t entirely true, but it’s close enough for government work.

At any rate, two weeks ago, I invited some friends over, cracked out the nice booze and re-watched some more Disney films, bringing The Little Mermaid and Tangled up to the good ol’ analysis block.

Both of these films are remarkably similar (and both performed well at the box office).  So similar, in fact, that they might as well have been the same film, done slightly differently for different generations of viewers.  I’m not insane in this idea– The Little Mermaid came out in 1989, and Tangled  came out in 2010.  That’s a 21 year difference, and generations usually span about 24 years (looking at a wikipedia article, anyway).

I know that this doesn’t hold serious water– people are starting to have kids older and older (in the US, at any rate)– but just run with me for a post.  Mostly because I think we can start to see a vague outline of a Disney archetype, and the flaws and strengths of that archetype.

Tangled and The Little Mermaid both have female leads.  I’d tentatively classify both leads as strong.  Ariel is on a quest for a man, but she does almost all the heavy lifting on her quest for her true love.  Eric just looks pretty, misses the point, gets enchanted, but then stabs Ursula with a ship.  So, he spends most of the film as pretty incompetent, but manages to get a crowning moment of awesome.

Rapunzel beats people with frying pans and has an eidetic memory.  It’s clear she’s a strong lead, however, her love interest also isn’t astonishingly competent.

“But, he steals the crown from under the king’s nose!” you decry.  Well, yeah, but he had help from the Stabbington brothers.  In fact, if it wasn’t for Flynn’s little quip about allergies, they might have gotten away totally clean.  Flynn stumbles into Rapunzel completely by accident, and spends the rest of the movie getting helped by Rapunzel’s singing ability, Rapunzel’s hair and a den of thieves with aspirations.  When he tries to save Rapunzel, he gets stabbed.

It’s actually an important part of the movie– Flynn, as Flynn, is playing an act.  It’s all bluster, and that mask isn’t the person Rapunzel falls in love with.  Rapunzel, who can read people surprisingly well for having no social contact her entire life, aptly notes, “I like Eugene better.”  A great way to get us, as an audience, to like Eugene better is to make Flynn a bit of an idiot.

Alright, but it’s not like Rapunzel and Ariel are the same character or anything… right?

Well… they both have the same initial motivations.  Both want to escape an environment that they feel is trapping them.  In Rapunzel’s case, it’s an actual imprisonment.  For Ariel, it’s just wanderlust.  Both of them are naive about the worlds they will go explore– Ariel tries to comb her hair with a fork, Rapunzel recoils from a rabbit.  Both of them find love in the middle of the movie (to contrast against, say, Sleeping Beauty or Snow White where the protagonist finds love early on).

The plots even follow the same basic order– In our introduction to Ariel and Rapunzel, we are shown about their fascination with the world they wish to explore. This fascination brings them into conflict with a parental figure, and they are both ordered to never go near that world.  Both will sneak away and go explore that world anyway, and in doing so, find love.  The parental figure in question will disapprove of said love, and attempt to forcibly separate the female lead from their love.  The female lead will find a way around this separation.  However, just at the moment when the pair is about to profess their undying adoration for each other, disaster strikes and drives the pair apart.  Both female leads have a revelation, and decide to fight for their love.  The films end in a climatic battle, where the leads defeat the villain that drove them apart, and live happily ever after.

Bam.  Two Disney movies in a paragraph.  That sucker reads like something out of TVTropes.  I could go into how Mother Gothel is an Ursula/King Triton mash up, but you get the idea.  These films are remarkably similar– however, they aren’t the same.  I’m not arguing that Disney’s just rehashing old classics for money (although, they could and we wouldn’t even notice because I saw a trailer for Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day two days ago on YouTube).  I think that Tangled is a modern retelling of The Little Mermaid, and it’s the differences in the films can tell us a lot about the audiences that went to go see them.

Rapunzel is much more of a go-getter.  She doesn’t mess around with plucking flowers, or whining about how her mother is a horrible controlling monster.  She gets work done with a frying pan, tames a palace horse, and sings a band of murderers and thieves into working with each other.  She’s direct with her complaints, choosing to directly argue with Mother Gothel several times rather than bitching in her cave.  In the underground princess cocaine fighting ring, I put money on Rapunzel over Ariel.

Don’t google that.

Actually, both our leads in Tangled just feel older than the leads in The Little Mermaid.  Rapunzel doesn’t have the ‘school girl in love’ reaction to Flynn that Ariel has about Eric.  It’s not until the end of the film, when she’s sobbing over Eugene’s corpse that she says, “I love you.*”  Ariel is all over Eric within approximately three seconds of seeing him for the first time.

There is no pressure on Flynn to find love, unlike Eric, who has that old guy nagging him pretty constantly to find a wife.  Rapunzel is returning to the world she was born into, rather than leaving the one she was born into like Ariel.  Tangled still has that wonking great plot hole that is covered by shoddy writing (oh, you can remember an event from when you were a single year old.  I don’t believe you.) whereas, in The Little Mermaid seems to do a pretty spot on job with events following each other in a believable manner.

But, I’m just rambling right now.  I prefer Tangled because I think it treats love more maturely than The Little Mermaid, and as stated before, I’m not a fan of typical Disney love stories– and I think that’s the big difference.  Tangled is more focused on personal discovery, and love comes out of that discovery.  In The Little Mermaid, love is front and center, right from the get go.

I want to say that this parallels feminism things, but I’m probably wrong, so I won’t go there.  It does parallel the fact that people are getting married later and later though.  Funny how this came full circle.

Tune in next week as I talk about why I can’t figure out why I hate Atlantis!  (I lied: it’s plot is awful.)  But, more importantly, this text message exchange!

Lets Do This Thing
We’ve got a fairy tale picked out and we’re going to start script writing.

I have no idea what I’m doing.

*Actually, I might need to get a clarification on that.  I know she admits that Eugene was “her new dream”, and I’m pretty sure she chokes out an “I love you” over his corpse, but the caffeine does not seem to be with me today**.

**Goddamn, Disney is dark when you just talk about plot elements with no context.

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.

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.