Tag Archives: Rewatch

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.

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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.

The Ill-fated Inability To Tell Time

This post was actually going to be about how I tragically pushed two posts out last week, so I wouldn’t have to throw out a substantial post this week, before I realized that wasn’t the case.

Just because two posts weren’t 7 days apart doesn’t mean I missed a week, because my posting schedule falls somewhere between Alice in Wonderland and The Three Caballeros on the regularity scale.

So, I still can’t tell time, but I also can’t use it as an excuse.  Son of a–

headdesk-demotivational-poster-1252553095

Regardless, I do have some blog post ideas, but they need to sit on the back burner for another week before they’re in post-able state.  All of them have to deal with romance, and let me say this right now:
Romance is really hard, you guys.  But, I kinda think The Princess and the Frog nailed it, and I need to rewatch that movie (maybe with a live tweet?  See more at the bottom of this post).

Also, we’re still making progress, although not much writing has been happening.  The Google Drive Crash Beast has been tamed (or at least circumvented), so that should pick up on my end.  The project now has its first concept sketch to it’s name.  I saw it for the first time last week, AND I’M STILL SUPER EXCITED.

I have a sketch of Luna and it’s just the bestest.  I don’t even care that ‘bestest’ isn’t a word.  I AM FIVE RIGHT NOW.

However, I’m hesitant to show it as I think our concept artist(s) want(s) another round of edits.  There are meetings planned to go over what we’ve got.

Script-wise, we’re sitting on something like 60 pages.  Plot-wise, we’re about halfway in Act II, with Act I completely written and about half of Act III written.  I have ideas on how to write the remainder of the script– we need a love scene (think “A Whole New World” or “I See the Light”), a confrontation scene between our protagonists, a pair of “everything is falling apart around me” scenes (Ivan and Luna each get their own), and a rejoining scene where our protagonists team back up to go after our villain.

Then it’s just a resolution scene after the climax, and tada.  Rough draft, complete with obvious continuity errors, an entirely questionable character that needs to get rewritten or cut, and the fact that I haven’t started dealing with the problem of “Princess Luna” already being a pop culture artifact.

devious_princess_luna_by_90sigma-d5ndpps
I’d lie and say that I had no idea, but even you, random server ping from New Zealand, would call bullshit.

Also, 60 pages might sound slim– remember that we don’t have a single song in the script, which should add roughly 15 pages (we have ideas about where songs might go, but no lyrics).  I can see the remainder of the scenes we want taking up about… eh, 15-20 more pages (each scene is about 3 pages, minimum, plus some extra stuff to get everything to line up),  so, really, we’re sitting on around 80-90 pages going into the first round of edits, rewrites and additions.

All in all, this is turning into an actual thing.  Of course, to be an actual actual thing, its time to start engaging in social media for realsies.  One of the dreams for this project is to maybe turn this script into a thing that you watch, rather than read.  The only way I foresee that happening is, well, if people actually want to watch it.

Maybe because I’ve put to much time into it, but I have faith that we have the beginnings of a really great story.  There is a lot of chaff in the rough draft still, but I can see the glimmer of something awesome.  To help me share that, and maybe to bring back livetweets of Disney movies, I’ve started a twitter account for the blog: @writingthemagic

The twitter handle will be used for thoughts I can’t really expand into posts, as well as future livetweets of Disney things… and maybe a place to get suggestions from the crowd if we ever need something like that.

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.

There is something fishy in Atlantis (it’s not the linguistics)

So, last week we watched Atlantis and The Rescuers.

Wait, you want to know how script writing is going?  Have a hint: Vladimir Putin.  No, but seriously– we’ve got a bunch of pages of notes and have realized that we both are kinda sorta awful at planning things.  When things settle down a little bit for me, I plan on getting a real post about it out (I might have missed a week, maybe?).

Anyway, lets talk about Atlantis because this was a movie I’ve seen twice recently and I mis-pegged it the first time around.  Oh, it’s still bad.  Atlantis bombed in the box office, and although Disney has done worse, it’s not exactly a movie I recommend.  Which is sad, because look at how cool that submarine is.

Pity it gets like... 5 minutes of screen time.
Pity it gets like… 5 minutes of screen time.

I’m used to this problem by now, because I work with computers, but if you’re a linguist and you want to see Atlantis… get ready to cringe.  Also, feel my pain.  However, I’m pretty used to professions being magic in Disney movies, so I don’t think this is where the film fails.  I’m sure sewing is too complicated for actual mice, but I won’t poke that hole in Cinderella.  You got to buy into some baseline amount hand waving/magic.  In this case, linguistics (much like friendship) is magic.

So, that’s out.

I gotta give credit where credit is due– the movie is hilarious.  Hands down, the supporting cast’s one liners are comedy gold.  And, hey, all the cast members get a bit of back story, except for Mole because you don’t ask about Mole’s back story.

Most of each back story snippet is, in fact, a little quirky and interesting.  The demolitions expert wants to open a flower shop, the mechanic was pressured into being great at repairing things by a father who wanted sons, the doctor got into war medicine from being drafted.

I had originally thought that Atlantis’ great failing was it’s protagonist.  Milo Thatch falls under the same problems as Jim from Treasure Planet.  Namely, that sometimes protagonists are less people and more just shells that we the audience are supposed to project ourselves into.

However, on re-watch… I no longer buy into that theory.  Milo is a fleshed out character.  He adores his father who perished before the outset of the movie.  He has a dream, and is willing to sacrifice everything on it.  He’s that ubiquitous awkward nerd type.  Now, he just needs a good character arc and he’s set.

Unfortunately, the plot to Atlantis is about as ramshackle as they come.  Lets start with character motivations, shall we?

It isn’t through any achievement of Milo’s that he gets to hang out with the cool kids (aka the rest of the cast).  They just get bored of teasing him, and then everyone is friends, apparently.  They continue to tease Milo after he’s proven his specialty in gibberish is useful, and then just sorta… stop.

Milo’s lack of arc is not helped by his love interest.  Which, by the way, can we just say it’s really awkward when Disney goes for sex appeal?  I mean, at least it isn’t a stripping mouse this time (go watch The Great Mouse Detective if you don’t believe me), but come on.  It’s even worse in the fact that Kida doesn’t do a whole lot– she’s basically just there to look nice, and then be a plot device.

"See, Sailor Moon, I can make adolescent boys confused too!"

No, but seriously.  Most of Kida’s dialogue is during her “date” ( which is going pretty badly, based on the conversation) with Milo.  Also, that scene is painfully bad– the running gag isn’t funny, and it just makes you wonder if Kida suffered a blow to the head during that whole apocalypse 8500-8800 years ago.

Other than that, she delivers exposition to Milo, spurs on his already well established curiosity, and gets turned into a crystal.

Also, although our supporting cast has back story, they don’t really develop.  They pull a pretty random about-face when they realize that their actions will lead the entire Atlantean population to die (at least the movie is willing to lampshade it).  And the villain will eventually turn on his compatriot for no apparent reason.

And I think that pokes at the huge flaw here.  Things just happen because they do, and explanation is hard to come by.  How is Atlantis’ culture dying?  Never explained.  How did an entire population forget how to read their own script? Never explained.  Why does the crystal only feel threatened when they kick a tiny pebble somewhere close to it?  Not explained.  Outsiders can’t see Atlantis and live, so did the King plan on murdering them after letting them restock their supplies and spend the night, or did he just assume that they’d eventually starve to death looking for a way back to the surface?

So many plot holes, so many questions.  So, despite a strong grounding with a really cool setting (look at that sub picture again), some great characters (I’d watch a TV series that’s just the crew just putting around, exploring places), the lackluster plot really hurts this film.

We shall do better!

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.

I wanted to write about Frozen but then wrote way too much

There seems to be some confusion, so lemme clear this up and also get this out of the way at the start.

Frozen is a good movie and everyone should go see it.  You should also totally go take your kids to see it.  It is currently one of the highest grossing animated films of all time.

And it deserves that money.  I’m even excited that Frozen is currently making _all_ the money right now.  Considering one of the alternatives people could be spending their money on is The Croods*, I’m more than happy to report that we are not all entirely brain dead when it comes to entertainment choices.

Score one for the home team.  I own the deluxe soundtrack.  T-Fury ran a Calvin and Hobbes and Frozen crossover shirt, and if I wasn’t worried about things like ‘eating food’ I would have bought it in a heartbeat.  I’d buy the blu-ray if I had a blu-ray player.

After finding out the quote feature is just a way to make some text really big and super pretentious, I won’t go into the Chesterton quote I wanted to use, so we’ll skip the freshman English paper and go right to the heart of the matter.

In order to even get the drive to improve something, you’ve kinda gotta fall in love with it first.  It’s why I’d never think about writing a Disney movie after, say, Dinosaur, because that particular movie makes me want to do something else– namely drink heavily, or write C code to simulate a computer drinking heavily.

If you put things on too high of a pedestal, they essentially can’t inspire you because they’re too good.  You’re too starstruck to actually want to create things.  Sadly, any example I give here is going to have far to much math for you to care about, because I find math pretty.  Beautiful, even.  I got your back, Euler’s identity, even when the kids in the parking lot are making fun of you.

To get inspired to improve something means you need to see something special about the original, so much that you want to wipe the flaws off of it and make it even better.  This project isn’t quite ‘lets write Frozen better!’ because it turns out, that’s not fun.  Instead, the fact that Frozen was still good (despite cracks) inspired me to think, “Well, hell, if you can still be good even with some flaws… I can do that!”

And so, we get to Frozen, which for those of you who don’t remember, was the movie that sparked this entire adventure off.  I have problems with Frozen.  I still like it– hell, I still love it, but I do not think it is perfect in every way.

Keep this in mind, as I’m gonna be pretty blunt with some things.

Oh, and one more thing– let us not forget I’m mostly a computer geek who has seen far to many movies about princesses.

This is the closest I get to a critical analysis.  Oh, yeah… Spoilers, ahead, I guess?

Now that we’re done with preamble, lets talk about this guy:

"Oh, so all Germans are evil now?  THANKS DISNEY." -- not what I'm going to say.
“Oh, so all Germans are evil now? THANKS DISNEY.” — not what I’m going to say.

Hans is the “villain” of Frozen.  And he is really bad at it.  The idea is that he’s evil because he wants to marry Anna and murder Elsa to become king of Rivendell Arendelle.    Which is a rather evil plot, I won’t lie.  However, Frozen gives you this reveal in the third act, as a Shyamalan styled plot twist.

And like most things Shyamalan has done, it’s bad.  Don’t imitate that guy, Disney.  Don’t.  No one likes him.  It’s like trying to be more like the kid that collects far, far to many firearms or the kid that flays squirrels in his free time.

See, here is the thing about plot twists– they need to be set up.  You gotta give the audience some hints that someone is about to change their colors.  You don’t have to tell us outright (although, that is a useful way to heighten tension), but give us something.

Hans goes bad out of nowhere.  Anna goes to kiss Hans to not get frozen to death and Hans pulls back, revealing that he never loved her after all, thus becoming less of a character and more of a plot device in less time than it took for me to write that sentence.  This also makes Hans’ earlier actions in the movie beyond puzzling. For someone who wants to make a power-play for Arendelle, he does a fantastic job of making sure the sisters stay alive and don’t get vilified by the community.

I mean, its not the worst villain Disney has ever done (I’d nominate Edgar Balthazar, but not with any confidence).  It’s just frustrating because he could have been the most chilling villain ever.

If you want to go the villain route, then the scene where Hans goes after Anna and Elsa just needs a single modification.  It’s the perfect time for him to hint that he’s got bigger plans than falling in love with Anna.  He’s isolated from the rest of the cast, outside of that ineffectual old guy who, I’m convinced, exists only to throw a sly Arrested Development reference in the movie (and also to help keep the stupid pump fake alive for the villain).

frozen-ad-5 frozen-ad-6

 

I’m on to you, Disney.

This is the perfect time for him to hint at his true colors.  In fact, this is when good Disney films actually do perform their villain reveal.  In The Lion King, Scar unveils his murder plot when he’s separated from the rest of the main cast (with song).  In Hunchback, Frollo unveils his rape plot when he’s separated from the rest of the main cast (with song).  In Beauty and the Beast, Gaston unveils his plot to win the heart of his true love when he’s separated from the rest of the main cast (with song).

Instead, Hans looks and acts like he is really concerned about Anna (like, maybe, he actually cares?), and is generally a pretty good ruler in the midst of the current crisis.  If he were to clue us in, at this point, than his very heroic actions at Elsa’s ice hotel are more believable as cover.  

Also, for members of the audience that catch that Hans is the villain at this point, the ice hotel battle royal gets an extra dose of tension and meaning.  What’s Hans going to do once he has Elsa?  Oh shit, the camera faded to black, did he just kill her?  Did she just die?  No, he couldn’t have killed her because he stopped those two other guys from killing her, but what if she got trapped under the ice chandelier and he left her there?  He totally would do that because he really wants the throne, and Anna doesn’t even know and oh my god, SHOW ME THE NEXT SCENE.

And then when Anna is galloping back to the castle, half the audience that missed the clues are like, But he won’t help you!  KRISTOPH IS YOUR TRUE LOVE, TRUST THE SENTIENT ROCKS, THIS IS A DISNEY MOVIE.  ALWAYS TRUST THE SENTIENT ROCKS. And the other half is like TURN BACK.  He’s gonna use you Anna!  HE’S ALREADY USED YOU.  But you also have to go back and save Elsa, he’s gonna kill her and/or let the town people kill her!  WAIT NO.  WAIT.  WHAT DO?

There is a pretty solid explanation as to why they ran Hans as a villain the way they did.  We’re supposed to emphasize with Anna as she’s freezing to death, locked in a room.  We got played by Hans too, Anna.  We feel your pain.

But that’s not really how movies work.  Or books, for that matter.

The reader, or the audience, can’t be a true participating member of the action on-screen.  We get a different angle of insight on the characters– either too much (we know things that the characters don’t know about)  or too little (the characters discover something that isn’t shown to us, see all of the detective genre).  We also don’t spend enough time with them to really develop emotional bonds.

Aside: You know how little kids can be best friends in like, 3 seconds?  You ever think that maybe the reason why they respond so heavily to onscreen things is that they literally form a stronger bond with the characters in the time we see them, because they form interpersonal bonds faster?

Back to my main point: as such, we aren’t going to sympathize with a character that way– tricking the audience doesn’t make us feel pity towards a character who also go tricked.  We can relate a character being tricked to a time when we were tricked, in our own lives.  That’s how you generate an emotional response and sympathy– you set it up to something the audience has experienced in reality and can relate too.

So, we don’t feel Anna’s pain.  If, however, we knew Hans was evil all along, then we could relate to Anna’s distress, as more of a mentor/teacher/confidant.  I knew this was going to happen to you.  He was rotten from the start, Anna.  Just like Jeremy was when he dumped me, so that he could murder my Dad and take over the family bank.  He also dumped me because he judges women by breast size.  I bet Hans and Jeremy will die alone and no one loves them.  Fuck them.  Lets get a drink.

Anna still has the same problems in this version though– which brings us to my big second point.  Frozen has this other character, perhaps you’ve seen her:

princess_anna_frozen-wide

Now, I have no problems with Anna at a start.  But, any good character should grow and develop through a film, especially one that is going to have some moral teaching attached to it, because Disney films always do.  Especially because we spend most of the film with Anna as our protagonist.  Anna… isn’t so big on the character arc concept.

Anna’s supposed to be kinda derpy, a do things first think later kinda girl, who is desperate for love because she’s been locked in a castle for most of her– huh.  That’s funny.  Totally thought I was writing about Rapunzel again for a second.

Her arc is set up to teach her a) love,  b) maybe think for like, three seconds before you do things?  Kristoff’s comments to her (“I don’t trust your judgement!”) and general reaction to Anna’s Impulsive Decision Making Process (trademarked) make it pretty clear this is not a trait we’re supposed to approve of.

Except it totally works out for her, like, all the time.  Of all the decisions Anna makes on the fly, how many come back to bite her?

One.  One of them.  Maybe.  The entire wolves scene is Anna being better than Kristoff at everything, despite his experience.  Snow giant fight scene?  Again, it’s the quick, “DO THIS THING” type decision making that saves her.  And Anna’s saving grace at the end?  Split second decision to throw herself over her sister.

The movie does laud her rapid fire decision making process.  In fact, she tends to make worse decisions the more time she has to think about them.  So, that’s out.  And on the love side?  Surely she learns about love?

Not quite.

Why does Anna leave the castle when she is freezing to death?  If you answered, “To seek out a true love’s kiss from someone she met two days ago”, you’re correct!  Good job. We made a whole lot of progress on the ‘learn about love’ front during this journey.  She has some evidence that Kristoff might care for her by coming back (or that he’s really looking out for his ice business), but how does she know that she loves him?  You just got dumped by someone you swore you were in love with, that’s a pretty intense about-face to pull after five minutes.

In fact, Anna doesn’t even believe it (“What do I know about love?”) while she’s freezing to death.  It’s Olaf (sigh) that suggests that Kristoff loves her, and she just decides, whelp, its either that or a freeze to death.  Might as well go kiss the same lips a reindeer may or may not have kissed.

“Well, the trolls just tried to get them hitched,” you reply.  Because love is something other people tell you to feel?  Right.  Sure.  Don’t start pointing fingers at me, I know I’m being hypocritical.  Just keep reading, I promise I make sense eventually.

Anna makes a trademark split second decision to sacrifice herself for her sister, which is the catalyst for Elsa’s big character moment, which thaws out the entire kingdom.  Anna learns, after the fact, “oh, check it.  Elsa loved me after all,” and gets to do nothing with this new nugget of wisdom.  Laaaaaaammmmme.

Speaking of, lets talk about the most beloved character to ever eat a carrot after it had been in a reindeer’s mouth:

Frozen-2013-Kristoff (1)

Man, Kristoff.  You’re… tricky.  Kristoff doesn’t really develop much as a character either… unless we want to run his development parallel to Elsa’s.  One of the things I love about Frozen is the unmentioned extrovert against introvert personality types the movie showcases.  Anna is a very strong extrovert.  Elsa is a very strong introvert.  Hans, Anna’s love interest, is a very strong extrovert.  Kristoff is a very strong introvert… but Elsa doesn’t get a love interest.

Shannon and I have talked about the theory that Kristoff is a holdover from an earlier version of the film where Elsa does get to find love (They even match hair colors!  That’s adorable), but I’ll let her talk about her own theory.  In order to really get the subtext of personality types across, Anna or Elsa need to interact with someone of their opposing personality type.  Elsa can’t interact with Hans, because Hans is the villain and wanting to kill people generally ruins genuine interactions.

Anna and Elsa’s interactions tend to end with ice-splosions, so Anna gets Kristoff as an introvert foil until they get to Elsa’s ice hotel.   And that’s about it.  He gets elevated status towards the end of the movie, because someone’s got to get the girl and the magical talking rocks said so.  A pity, because even if his character isn’t developed further, it could be a better foil.  That being said, the seeds for Kristoff to have his own arc that mirrors Elsa’s are in the film, and Anna and Kristoff ending up together at the end of the film can totally make sense.

So… lets try to take the entire third act of the film entirely in the other direction.  Don’t make Hans the villain.  Make his feelings genuine.  Teach a real love story for once, Disney.  First, for all you young ones in the audience, (don’t tell your Mom I swore, ok?  Also, never drink your problems away) love is not that ‘butterflies in the stomach’ feeling you get when you see someone you like. Your heart fluttering when that special someone touches your hand?  That’s your body having a fun cocktail of hormone overload and a surge of adrenaline from your fight or flight response (Papers with respectable names say so.).

In a nutshell, you just took a hit.  Welcome to being high on “love,” and the people that constantly form new relationships after breaking up with people after a few months?  Junkies.

Now that I ruined that for you, what does Anna’s and Han’s relationship most resemble after they sing Love is an Open Door?  High school kids in love.  Actual love, real love, true love, is something that develops over time.  It can take years to finally come into bloom.  True love’s first kiss is not the same kiss you have on your first date.

(This is getting to sappy.  I need a crass joke, stat!)

So, no, even without the trolls priming us to jump for Kristoff as Anna’s true love, no one over the age of say, 17, expects a kiss from Hans to heal Anna.  I’m ignoring any argument that starts with, “But in Disney movies…” for a bit.  We don’t have that experience, we don’t believe it.  Not for one second.  So… what if it doesn’t?  What if the kiss does not heal Anna, but both Hans and Anna still think they love each other?

Well, wouldn’t that be one hell of a moral quagmire for Hans?  We, as the audience, knew Anna’s plan wasn’t going to work.  We know Arendelle is starving to death.  We know Elsa doesn’t believe she can stop the storm.  We know Anna is dying.  If Hans and Anna aren’t in true love, well, it’s pretty doubtful that Kristoff and Anna are.  Not even the trolls thought they were truly in love, they just wanted to set Kristoff up much like how the Italian side of my family is probably talking over how to set me up.  This is… rather bad, isn’t it?

Beat pause.  Linger for a second. Annnnnnnd…. then have Hans decide to kill Elsa.

But, to really make it hit home, have him do it out of fear.  He doesn’t want to lose Anna.  He’s scared, everything is falling to pieces around him.  He takes the only path he sees, because good ol’ panic has got blinders on his face.  Because that’s what panic does.  Good tie in to the themes about fear, incidentally.

He can even tell Anna that he’s off to murder her sister– because he wants to save her.  She can object, but she can hardly walk.  Besides, she’s about to get hit with the revelation of a life time– she loves her sister.  That’s true love.  And hey, Disney, you were able to make the bestiality joke earlier, so I assume a quip about ‘kissing your sister’ is on the table.

Olaf (sigh) comes back in the room, Anna realizes that the one person she’s loved all this time, even as she got doors slammed in her face, was Elsa.  Even after near freezing to death, she still believes in her sister.  And, even given present circumstances, she believes that Elsa loves her.  That’s the feeling she can trust, not this heart-fluttery bullshit.

That also takes some real critical analysis.  Way to think through your problem and analyze your feelings, while everyone else is jumping at the first option that comes to their heads.  Way to think first, Anna.

She goes back outside, looking for Elsa.  Kristoff comes back (more on this in a second), Anna is presented with the same choice.  She can either trust what she knows is true in her heart– everyone else at this point has told her that Elsa’s kinda a loose cannon at worse, extreme introvert at best.  Maybe Elsa doesn’t love her back?  Or, she can trust the trolls– who just tried to set her up with Kristoff.

However, to follow her heart, well, that one comes with a serious gamble.  But she throws herself in front of Hans and saves the day.  Elsa, at this point, gets the same character revelation Anna got as the snow stops and she breaks down, sobbing.  Anna was a reckless fool, sure, but Elsa can’t imagine she’d ever turn Anna away.  Anna thaws, Elsa realizes that love is the opposite of fear and thaws the kingdom.

Kristoff is back, and instead of fumbling over getting kissed, fumbles over asking Anna out.  This is a big moment for him, actually– he hasn’t been in love before (his own admission, earlier in the film), and Kristoff doesn’t exactly do the whole ‘act on your feelings’ bit.  The very fact that he’s asking is a big deal, he’s thawed out beyond that cold ‘people suck, reindeer rule’ exterior.

Internal thawing to mirror external thawing!

Does Anna turn him down and go back to Hans to try again?  Does she say no to both of them?  I dunno, I think both options are more interesting than the sort of love by default we get at the end of Frozen.

My changes aren’t perfect.  The trolls still don’t really fit into the action at all, and the ending is still meh (Oh, so Elsa can just thaw everything now.  Sure.  Ok.), but I sorta think that a lot of people would watch it.

You know what the kick is, and why I’ve written a 3500 word essay on this?  Frozen arguably covers all of these things.  From the lyrics of Fixer Upper, the movie is hinting that the solution to Anna’s problem is to show a little love to Elsa, and Elsa needs to open up to Anna.  All of Kristoff’s character development I’ve “added” is in Frozen, it’s just never explicitly called to light, so its impossible to tell if I’m over-thinking it or if it’s what the movie intends.  You’ll notice Elsa isn’t on here, because Elsa is an awesome character.

Frozen, at the end of the day, copped out and shoehorned a traditional ending on a movie that was screaming for something else.  None of what I’m talking about occurs in Frozen‘s first act.  And that’s the cautionary tale– Disney probably would never make a Frozen without the typical ending.

Pixar would, though.  But that’s a post for another time.

What Makes a Good Character?

So, last week, I watched both Pocahontas  and The Great Mouse Detective with some friends (and not my writing partner), which is why the showing wasn’t live tweeted.

This is another awkward week for me, because I personally think that the one with mice is a better movie, but not adjusted for inflation dollars say otherwise.

I’m also convinced that we can blame one particularly pervy animator working at Disney during the late 80’s for modern furries, but that’s unrelated to the topic I want to talk about.

At any rate, I would maintain that all the characters in both these films are not humans.  Miko, Flick and that stuck up pooch make decent characters in Pocahontas and Basil, Dr. Dawson and Ratigan are oozing with character in The Great Mouse Detective.

However, all these characters are missing one last thing that separates the Elsas of fiction from everyone else.  This intro makes this post sound long… might want to grab a drink before you dive in.

I’ll wait.

Got something with rum?  Yes?  Great.

Lets start by talking about what the humans from Pocahontas are lacking to make them strong characters.  Keeping within the narrow range of Disney films, a character is a person the audience is supposed to relate to.  It’s the characters of the film that allow the viewers to relate to the plot.  Without them, things just happen on screen for reasons.  You can have a badly written character, which would be one that attempts to connect to the audience in a particular fashion and fails (this was covered a bit in context with Beauty and the Beast).

However, the humans from Pocahontas don’t even reach that level for me, and I think it’s because they’re all way to genetic.  Jon Smith is a bland heroic character, Pocahontas is a vaguely rebellious teenage girl and the villain is greed personified (but not in a good way, like Doctor Facilier).  They all have strong character traits, but no personality.  Personality comes from the little quirks that riddle actual people and prevent them from falling neatly into an archetype.

Look at Grandmother Willow, who is a pretty solid character.  When we’re introduced to her, she plays into the “Wise Person Providing Guidance” archetype.  Pocahontas goes to her for wisdom, and she advises our female lead on dreams and listening with your heart and other Disney magical things.

However, later in the movie, we see Grandmother Willow arguably kick as much ass as our leads.  She drives away the men looking for Jon when he steals away with Pocahontas.  She’s old and wise, but she also has a surprising bit of spunk left in her.  It’s that quirk of spunk that prevents her from being bland and makes her a person (we all know that grandparent that rocks despite having two hip replacement surgeries)*.

So, what quirks does Pocahontas have?  Or, to cite some lines from a much better Disney movie:
“What’s his last name?”
“of the Southern Isles.”
“What’s his favorite food?”
“Sandwiches.”
“Eye color?”
“Dreamy.”

Sure, this conversation in Frozen happens in different context (true love, they aren’t having some meta conversation about characters) but the underlying concept is the same.  The audience should fall in love with the characters on the screen.  Pocahontas doesn’t have any of that– she’s more plot device than person, vague strong female lead than character.

All the characters of Pocahontas have this issue, except for maybe the villain who is a bit of a fop (and according to some equally unqualified people, not the real villain of the film at all).  It’s hard for me to care about the action on screen when I can’t relate to the characters that are a part of that action.

So, lets turn this about on its head and take a look at The Great Mouse Detective.  This film only works because of its characters.  The plot is pretty predictable.  The setting is just modern day (when the movie was made, anyway) but with mice and without the cool Rescuers-esque world building.

However, Basil is a wonderful protagonist.  He’s the spitting image of mousy Sherlock Holmes, and just like the detective he is based off of, he is bristling with character quirks.  He’s observant and brilliant, but because his mind works so much faster than the people around him, he comes off as a bit insane.  It’s also obvious he’s worked alone for quite some time– he has trouble relating and talking to other mice.  He’s arrogant (he never learns Olivia’s last name), full of himself and also dangerously obsessed with catching Ratigan.

He might be one of my favorite Disney characters.  He gets strengths and flaws in equal measure, and I totally know people exactly like him (heck, I’ve worked with Basils in software engineering).  The movie also mirrors it’s protagonist and antagonist very well– a lot of Ratigan’s strengths are Basil’s strengths, and a lot of his flaws are Basil’s flaws.  Ratigan is also brilliant (he’s evaded Basil’s attempts to capture him time and time again and comes dangerously close to lethally outsmarting the protagonist in the film), full of himself (he gets a harp solo in the middle of his own song, which he uses to bitch about his problems) and dangerously obsessed with killing Basil.

There is a defining difference in both these characters– one of virtue.  Basil does want to help people in his own, round about way.  Ratigan murders his own henchmen.  However, both these characters are effective because of their quirks.  Ratigan is just as greedy as the villain from Pocahontas, but he comes across as less of a plot device and more of a character.

So, we see the difference is that characters with little quirks are more believable than ‘pure’ characters.  Have another example: Elsa from Frozen loves chocolate, along with her sister, Anna.  It’s a one line gag, but it helps flesh out both characters.  That’s all it takes to establish a little quirk.

However, obviously, Elsa is a great character for more than just this one line.  In fact, Elsa is a cut above all the characters from both these films because she develops as the film progresses.  The events of the plot change who she is, she grows with the viewer.  Over the course of Frozen, Elsa goes from a girl terrified of her powers to a queen able to control them.  Along the way, she learns about what fear (and its opposite) truly are as well as how to appreciate and accommodate her extroverted sister.

It’s a powerful character arc, one that carries the movie.  Both films I watched last weekend did not have character arcs.  Heck, The Great Mouse Detective goes out of its way to remind us that Basil has not changed, at all, over the course of the film.  Pocahontas has character change (Jon Smith), but because he was never a fleshed out character to begin with, his growth isn’t a potent as Elsa’s.

In fact, without the ground work, his transformation over the course of the film isn’t effective, at all.

So, what to take away from all of this?  Characters are important, complicated things.  They need some good qualities, some questionable qualities and if we really want them to stick with an audience, they need to grow.

So, characters are basically my vegetable garden back home, except with less weeds.

*It is interesting to note that this “old person with spunk” has become a bland archtype.  It may have been a bland archtype at the time Pocahontas first came out.  However, I happen to still enjoy it, so this doesn’t bother me too badly.  It’s still something to note of having been done before, and maybe even done to death.

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

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

Technical Breakdown of Beauty and the Beast

(aka What Fails? The story.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Works: The sound and animation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Disney Movie Rewatch

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

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

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

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

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

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

Movies re-watched.

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

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