Tag Archives: characters

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.

Advertisements

Concept Art !!!!!!!!11!!

So, I met with the pretty great Nick Pflug a few weeks ago for some concept art.  He also tumblrs (tumbles?).  Although he’s an animator by trade, I asked for some stills, and being the boss he is, he made some.  I also once played Netrunner at his house for like, 7 hours.

Before you can feast your eyes on the epic amazing that is our (*squeeeee*) art, I’d like to try and keep my inner fangirl on a leash and go into why I asked for art in the first place.  Consider this stage 1 of actually trying to turn this script into something.

First, there is something rather apparent about content that goes viral on the Internet– it’s short.  It needs to grab you in less than thirty seconds and keep you entertained for no more than five minutes.  This is not a place for 100+ page scripts.  Ain’t nobody got time for that.

So, one of several dreams we have for this project is that maybe we can eventually release a short trailer or an animatic or something– if we’re really lucky, we can have it showcase a song, which is why I’ve asked a composer and another animator to help out.  (if you’re a regular reader, you’ve met them before) We’ll let the result out into the wilds of the Internet.

So, without further ado, I’m gonna slowly let my inner fangir– OMG you guys!  We have art! And it’s just the best!  LOOKIT.  LOOK AT IT.  THIS IS THE GREATEST DAY OF MY LIFE.  EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE

1 - Copy 2 - Copy

So, this here are our concept sketches of Luna.  They’re pretty great.  Obviously, Luna’s design is fluid, but there are some cool standouts here– I’m a pretty huge fan of her eyes, which sounds creepy when you say it about a concept sketch.  The ballet inspired shoes are pretty neat too.

There are surprising details that I didn’t think about while writing– Luna has short hair.  Not that her hair length changes any particular part of the script, but it is part of her that I never really considered.

ON TO MORE ART, BECAUSE YAY.

3 - Copy 4 - Copy 5 - Copy

These are our Ivan sketches.  It’s amazing to see his robotic arm finally realized in an actual sketch, considering that part of the finale has Ivan using his arm creatively.  He kinda reminds me of Hans Solo, and I still can’t write him, but at least I know what he looks like when I read Shannon’s writing of him.

All in all, this was one of the greatest Skype calls ever.

 

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 Mortality Rate of Disney Parents

There is an off-joked about trend in Disney movies– if you happen to have helped give birth to a protagonist, you better get your will in order.

The number of Disney protagonists with two surviving parents is probably less than a tenth of the cannon*.  I could come up with only a few examples– Rapunzel’s parents in Tangled are around to watch their daughter grow up (although they aren’t really part of the narrative at all), and, um.  uh.  I had another example I was going to use, but forgot it mid sentence.

It’s not very many, is the point.  If you ever see both parents, you can set your watch on the fact that one of them is going to die before the credits roll.  Sometimes, the movie’s gotta troll first (Did you know that Bambi nearly kills the mother twice before she finally gets shot?  It’s almost frustrating to watch), other times they’re just never around and no one bothers explaining why (Beauty and the Beast), or they’ve passed away before the movie begins (Cinderella, Princess and the Frog).

I always thought this was a weird quirk, but never bothered looking into it.  One, because I’m not a parent and actual parents are already doing a great job handling parents in Disney and two, because I didn’t think it was that important.  Parents are hard to write, and if they aren’t needed for character motivation, just hand wave them.  Disney movies are stories about children, no one wants to see adult life.**

Well… protagonist age has increased as Disney has gotten older.  Snow White is a terrifying 7 in the Brother’s Grimm tale, and Disney aged her (in the 40s) to the much more mature 14-ish, which is better but deep in the land of “Seriously?!”

In contrast, Anna is 18 during most of the action of Frozen and Elsa is 21.   My little brother is younger than the protagonists of a movie that is ostensibly marketed to people younger than him.  Disney movies are happening to older and older people– so, you know, these aren’t entirely stories about children anymore.  Hell, at the rate we’re going, maybe we’ll have a Disney movie about a parent soon.

What I’m trying to get at is that Disney movies are growing up with the audience that fell in love with them.  And part of that is that we can’t just ignore parents– but, after starting to write my own Disney film, I can say with confidence that we will, and here is why:

Fairy tale parents are insane.

We’re adapting The Twelve Dancing Princesses, which only references one parent, the father.  Fine, I guess, considering that have 12 children with one woman seems like… well, painful, so the King was probably had a kid or four out of wedlock and we’d want to leave that to a humorous quip, if we bring it up at all.

Fine.  However, upon realizing his children are sneaking somewhere every night, the King’s reaction is, “Better put a bounty on my daughters!”

Look, I don’t have kids, but I get the feeling that that is pretty awful parenting.  Reconciling that with anything is just… it’s hard.  Think about the levels of father/daughter trust failure that need to happen:

1) The daughters need to decide that it’s better to sneak out than ask their father, or else the King would know that dancing was the reason why the shoes were worn down every night, he just wouldn’t know where.
2) The king asks his daughters what’s going on, and they’re so afraid of him that they refuse to tell him, despite the fact that the act of dancing doesn’t seem to impair them in any way.
3) Instead of trying to get to know his children better and earn their trust, the king hires a PI/compels the police to figure this problem out.
4) Upon that failure, the King still decides that random people just living in the kingdom are his best bet.  Rather than, you know, talking to his children.

And he’s a king, not a low-functioning alcoholic!  To make matters tricker, most of what I’ve written for Luna factors on the king being a competent ruler, as she struggles to find the courage to fill his shoes.  This man clearly can not exist… but he does and I have no idea how to write it.

What do?

Well, actually, the solution so far has been pretty easy– pull a Dumbledore.  Dumbledore doesn’t actually do a whole lot in the early Harry Potter books.  He kinda just delivers exposition and ties up loose plot threads.  Sure, he’s a powerful wizard, and his knowledge and ability probably would have saved some Hogwarts’ student’s lives, but he’s always just unable to help for whatever reason.  The King is our Dumbledore, at least at this point in this draft.

So far (and we’re about 20 pages in) the King has not actually shown up.  We see a lot of advisors to the king, but the man himself is kinda like this mythical creature that we never really show.  By keeping the king an arms length away from the action– he’ll always be just unable to help, Luna can both idolize her father and her father can be a horrid parent at the same time.

If we never bring attention to it in the narrative, hopefully the slight of hand will work– viewers will remember the king for how the other characters see him, rather than by his actions.  Just like early book Dumbledore.

The other option is to highlight the fact that the king is an isolated, shitty parent because the kids were primarily raised by mom.  But, we don’t want to point attention there either, because, you know, 1 parent, 12 children.  Ouchies.

Also, by writing a blog post about it, I totally kill the magic.  I’m a wizard that reveals how the trick works before showing you the trick.  Thank god this is just a rough draft.

*This ended up sparking a lively debate with some friends.  We’ve so far come up with 6 out of the 52 movies in Disney’s main animated canon where the parents live.  I’m also being unfair– many Disney movies feature protagonists that can’t have parents without it getting weird (Wreck-It Ralph, for example).  However, in a lot of movies where the parents are around, they get forced away from the action, either because of the plot (Mulan) or because they really subscribe to Laissez-Fare parenting (Peter Pan).   In, eh, about half of these films, the plot breaks down if the parents happen to be great parents– Wendy would never want to run away if her father hung out with her more in Peter Pan, and if Herc’s foster parents in Hercules were able to integrate Herc into society better, there goes that movie.

Essentially, successful parenting undoes the basic framing of a Disney movie– going on an adventure to learn a moral, because that moral would have been passed down along with some really awkward Dad joke.**

**However, all of this is kinda moot because 101 Dalmatians exists.

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.

Treasure Planet, Women’s Restrooms and Keanu Reeves

So, another Disney film we’ve recently watched is Treasure Planet, because in order to appropriate some sunshine, you need some rainy days.

No, actually, we watched it because Treasure Planet is one of two Disney films that has science fiction-y elements, and we have some rough plans for science fictiony things maybe.

And, Treasure Planet is… well, it’s one of the weaker Disney films.  It’s not, say, Dinosaur bad, but it’s not particularly good either.  It tanked really hard and it is up to us to figure out why!

I haven’t read the source material for Treasure Planet (the novel Treasure Island) in a very long time.  That being said, I want to say that this is one of the most spot on adaptations of a Disney film.  There are scenes lifted from the novel and transplanted directly into the film.  I’m pretty sure the romance between the good doctor (whose name I can’t remember) and the captain (whose name I can’t remember) was added on, but that’d be about it.

So, it is pretty accurate as far as adaptations go (Disney has strayed far further away from source material).  It also looks beautiful.  The space port reveal shot is animated scenery porn, and not the bargain bin brand either.  The world the story takes place in is actually rather awesome.  I like space pirates, the way they travel through the galaxy is cool.  The score is… acceptable (it’s not obtrusive, at any rate).

So, where does the movie go wrong?  Well, lets talk for one more second about where the movie goes right, before we break into it’s glaring flaws, which really all stem from one pivotal problem.

The supporting cast is (for the most part) decent.  I can’t remember names, because I suck with names, but the captain, the doctor, the cyborg– all of these people have personality.  They have quirks, flaws, conflicts– I’d go drinking with them.  They aren’t phenomenal characters, but they have enough personality to sell me.  I can believe in them.  They even have some character growth– falling in love, or realizing they have a soft side, etc.

The same can not be said about our protagonist, Jim.  But that’s because Jim is supposed to be me, or rather I’m supposed to project myself unto Jim and become Jim.  What I’m trying to say is that Jim is the Keanu Reeves of animation, and Keanu Reeves is the uncanny valley of acting.

That paragraph made no sense, I’m gonna take a few steps back.  And to do that, we need look at a graphic novel called Understanding Comics, or alternatively, a Cracked After Hours episode.  Another alternative reading would be Revealing Phantasms, depending on how into academic reading you are.

The basic idea is that we can rate all art on a scale.  On one end is the Mona Lisa, on the other end is the women’s bathroom sign.  Both these ends have merit, because they both represent characters.

The Mona Lisa is a fully-fleshed out character.  People have written comics featuring her (The Far Side comes to mind), we’ve written fan fiction on her backstory (I’m assuming that it exists on the Internet), academics have done historical research into who she was.  However, despite her personality, there is something that the Mona Lisa can’t do– she can’t be you.

Which is something the sign on the woman’s bathroom totally does.  It’s because the sign is so generic– any female (ok, ok: female in the society/culture in which the bathroom sign exists.  Don’t send me hate mail) intrinsically knows that the little stick person in a dress is her.  That sign means that she can go in the special room.  And that stick person in a dress does this for hundreds of millions of people, every day, all the time.

That little stick person has no character.  She has no personality.  Her face is a neutral mask; she’s a hollow shell of a character, which sounds like another protagonist I saw recently–

Neo

No wait, I mean–

Jim-Hawkins-Treasure-planet-disney-35597000-640-960

Outside of the cheapshot on Keanu, what he’s doing makes some sense.  It’s the same strategy that Twilight took– and one of the reasons Twilight got so popular.  Bella doesn’t have a personality, she’s a hollow shell that we’re supposed to project ourselves into so we can live out whatever vampire fantasies we happen to have.

Neo is playing the same role, but the fantasy we’re supposed to live out is different.  In The Matrix, the fantasy is all about being special, about having some unique knowledge and ability that no one else has.  Keanu is bland and emotionless because we, as viewers, are supposed to treat his emotions like a fill in the blank problem.  How do you feel when fighting your robot overlords?  Great, that’s how Neo feels.

And, I think, that’s what Treasure Planet  was going for with Jim.  Jim doesn’t get a lot of dialogue, really.  He rarely talks about himself or his backstory.  His one point of character development is during a montage with the Goo Goo Dolls, in which the main chorus is something along the lines of “Yeah, I’m still here”.  Whelp.

Jim’s backstory can be summed up with “shit happened, but I’m still kicking”, which is probably the most genetic backstory ever.  Anyone, even someone who is rich beyond belief, can identify with that.

Jim’s minimal character arc is basically him discovering that he’s awesome.  But, twist, he was awesome the entire time.  Just like you, random viewer!  You’re awesome.  And you know it. Go you.

The problem is that we don’t watch Disney movies for the the same reason we watch Fast and Furious XVI.  (My years of playing Final Fantasy have trained me to always use roman numerals when referring to sequels.)  Disney probably took the neutral mask protagonist approch because they were adapting a swashbuckling, action story.  But we don’t watch Disney movies for that– we watch Disney movies because of the characters.  Why has Frozen done so well?  Elsa is a brilliant character (also, the soundtrack).  The Little Mermaid?  I’d hope you aren’t projecting onto Ariel, because Ariel is kinda dumb.  However, being optimistically dumb is a pretty strong character trait (and it even makes sense in context, considering Ariel’s privileged upbringing).

Not all Disney movies have done this, some of them have used the blank mask (Snow White I’m looking at you).  But, when you look at the most successful Disney movies (from a make all the money perspective), none of them have had a blank mask protagonist.  Fairy Tales in general do not have blank mask protagonists– they don’t develop a lot of character (because they have like, three lines of text to do so), but fairy tale characters have their own sort of charm.  They’re a bit absurd.

Also, writing a blank face protagonist doesn’t sound fun.

So, safe to say, this is not a tactic we will be using.  Disney has used it (more often than you’d expect), but despite its usefulness, I’d like my Disney movie to be a bit more than the lady on bathroom doors.

I’m vain, whatup.

Adaptations– the Art of Removing the Icky Bits

I love Tangled.  Straight up, its one of my favorite Disney movies of all time.  I think I’ve re-watched Tangled more than any other Disney movie.  This probably does not paint me in a positive light.  Whatever.

I’ve been working through Grimm’s fairy tales, I obviously bumped into ye olde version of Rapunzel, the fairy tale that Tangled is based off of.

And depending on the version you read, because kings are never given names and sometimes editors like to throw ‘the’ instead of ‘a’, the fairy tale can read like Game of Thrones.  But none of the epic dragon bits, or cool battles, or smart-ass midget– just the weird incest bits.

Oh, and the prince (who might be Rapunzel’s brother, maybe?) also gets stabbed in the eyes and wanders around blind for an unnumbered amount of years.  It doesn’t exactly scream “Disney magic”.

However, the important parts of the story still shine through in both adaptations.  Gothel steals Rapunzel away (movie: actual theft, fairy tale: part of deal) due to Rapunzel’s mother needing a plant (movie: so she doesn’t die, fairy tale: so she doesn’t die, with a side order of gorging herself on flowers).  Rapunzel is locked away in a hidden tower so her parents can’t take her back.

Both adaptations have the ‘let down your hair’ bit.  Rapunzel hoists Gothel up and down in both versions (still don’t know how anyone got in or out when Rapunzel was young).

However, our male lead is drastically different (we’re ignoring the weird maybe incest.  Oh, you were already ignoring it?  Good).  Both men fall in love with Rapunzel, however Flynn isn’t a prince, whereas our unnamed fairy tale hero is.

In the movie, this happens over the course of Rapunzel’s and Flynn’s adventures to go see floating lanterns.  Aside: I’m gonna assume floating lanterns are a lot cooler when fireworks haven’t been invented yet.

In the fairy tale, Rapunzel and unnamed prince totally get their mack on in the tower, several times while Gothel is away.  After Rapunzel leaves the tower in Tangled we get a lot of things that aren’t in the fairy tale.  However, the conclusion of the movie continues to remember the tale that it came from, Flynn does his best prince impression when he cries for Rapunzel to let down her hair.  Gothel, in both versions, lifts Flynn/the Prince up into the tower into a trap.

Rapunzel heals the male lead with her tears in both versions.  And both end with a happily ever after.

The fundamentals of the tale are the same in both versions.  The symbols are the same. Stuff happens in the same order. The parts that the movie does not include aren’t really needed to tell the story– instead of having Gothel transport Rapunzel to a desert and having the male lead fall out of the tower, go blind and wander around for a few years to find her, Gothel just gets her stab on and kills Flynn.  This sets the same scene, Rapunzel crying over the male lead’s body, a lot more efficiently.

Also, Rapunzel doesn’t have twins in the movie.  She totally does in the fairy tale, while she’s in a desert.  Yeah.  I’m gonna assume childbirth isn’t super Disney.  Things that are also not super Disney: a life in squalor while Rapunzel waits for her blind prince.

What does the movie add?  Character!  Most fairy tales aren’t long enough to really develop their characters.  Why would anyone fall for Repunzel anyway (outside of her voice, which is all we get from the brothers Grimm)?  Tangled tries to answer that.  Why would Gothel take Rapunzel away in the first place, what kind of flower is worth a child?  Disney movie.  What kind of person is willing to make that trade?  Disney movie.

And in making the characters more complex, some occupations changed.  The elements of magic where shifted from Gothel to Rapunzel.  However, the core symbols that everyone associates with the story stayed.

How do you know what are the core symbols of a fairy tale?  Great question!  Part of the reading I still need to do are several Rapunzel adaptations* from the YA section of the library.  Fairy tales have been adapted to death and back, so its a simple as identifying what every single adaptation keeps.

However, Shannon and I did talk a bit about this on Skype.  The rough consensus was that the core symbols of a fairy tale are those that jump to mind the moment you think of the fairy tale in question.  Hunchback  drastically changed its source material (I’m hazy because recalling details from the one time I tried to read the source material is like trying to recall the details of a suicide), I don’t think Phoebus even exists** in any capacity in the novel.  The core elements, however (a grotesque mockery of the human form falling in love with a woman who skirts on the outside of civilized society), remain.

And I seriously doubt any version of anything would keep awkward-maybe-incest.  I’m sorry, I just can’t drop it.

*I picked out the books that had the most reviews on Goodreads that were covered in gifs.  I know how Tumblr works.  I’m on to you, YA romance readers.

** Turns out I am in fact a silly duck.  From someone who does remember the Hunchback novel better than I do:
“Phoebus actually totally does exist in the novel. The difference is that in the book he never changes sides.  Which is funny because Frollo does try to kill him, similarly to what happens in the movie. But he manages to frame Esmeralda for it.”
Thanks, Facebook friends!

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.