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Tuesday, September 8, 2015

A Delayed D23 Expo 2015 - Films Post

Hello dear readers! It's been a while.

I had the privilege of going to the D23 Expo in Anaheim this year, and in terms of getting into presentations and panels, this was my most successful trip yet! I was able to make it into all of the major ones I wanted: Animation on Friday, Live Action and Parks and Resorts on Saturday, and Gaming on Sunday. I;m not going to go over everything here, but if you want a more detailed play-by-play, my boyfriend and I did 2 podcasts, one regarding Friday, and the other for Saturday.

I skipped on dressing up this year. As much as I love doing it, it's very time consuming and we were already getting up incredibly early to see things. I am hoping to procure a live action Cinderella ballgown at some point in the near future, though :)

Speaking of which, the Kenneth Branagh directed film exceeded my expectations. The marketing for the film seemed to play up the camp, but the film feels honest and true, and is a very worthwhile re-telling of the classic story that we all know and love. Audiences agreed, too - the film did exceptionally well at the Box Office. I am eager to add the film to my Blu-Ray collection soon.

Cinderella and Maleficent are some of the first few live-action re-tellings of classic Disney animated films, and while some reported titles have made Disney fans nervous (I, admittedly, being one of them), I am happy to report that what little I did see for The Jungle Book and Beauty and the Beast have me very excited to visit theaters when they are released. In the hands of the right writers, directors and producers, these films can be truly magical.

Beauty and the Beast has a strong celebrity cast, with notables such as Emma Watson and Josh Gad, and is appropriately a musical - it will be taking many cues from not just the animated film, but possibly even more so from the Broadway version. The film will most certainly be a beautiful spectacle, and if Cinderella's performance was any indication, I have faith that the film will do exceptionally well at the Box Office. But we have a while to wait - the film is not coming out until 2017.

Jungle Book is coming sooner, with a release date of April 15th, 2016, and folks, the film looks wonderful. I was especially nervous about this film before, but the footage that I've seen is truly magical. There's definitely a lot of TLC that has been put into this project, and it is obvious that Disney is really making sure that everything comes out just right. They have had to essentially double-shoot everything with their Mowgli (Neel Sethi) to get the look of him interacting with the animal characters and the environment of the jungle just right. But what struck me most is how they are truly keeping the spirit of the animated film with this new version (yes, you will hear a mention of "bear necessities"), and going so far as to re-creating some of those classic shots, but now with a truly living, breathing and wild jungle.

One of the fabulous freebies from D23
The last true standout that I want to talk about is, of course, Moana. Ever since the internet first heard word that Disney was making a Hawaiian "princess" film, fans flooded the internet with their imagined concept art, other making their awkward teen instagram posts lamenting that it took Disney this long to make this film and also noting that they were concerned about how they would treat the character.

Well, the good news is that this film looks to be shaping up to be Disney's next Little Mermaid, and I mean that literally - it's the same two men that shaped the 1989 favorite that are helming the Moana project as well. And it takes place heavily on the ocean. And you have a young girl who is eager to explore the world while her father, the chief, wants her to stay home where it's safe. And the mother is dead. Formulas.

Be excited for the Rock, who plays Maui, a burly demi-god that is trying to prove himself by helping Moana on her journey to be a navigator. Be excited for Moana's adorable piglet. Be excited that Moana looks to have more realistic body proportions! And definitely be excited for the animation. All accross the board, Disney has truly stepped up in the animation and CGI department. The realism is truly astounding. We're in for a treat.

There was a lot of new information and cool things at the Expo, and these are just some of the highlights. If you're looking for something more in-depth, I really encourage you to listen to the two podcasts I made (the details were more fresh in my mind when I recorded), and there's a lot of other details and films that I didn't mention here.

Stay tuned for one additional post regarding the Parks and Resorts news from D23 - lots of photos to come! 

Friday, March 21, 2014

Review of Disney's 'Frozen' Blu-Ray/DVD Set - Wishing for More Extras

I shouldn't have gotten my hopes up. I got the Tangled Blu-Ray/DVD set when it first came out, and the same thing happened. Why did I think this set was going to be any different?

If you've followed my blog at all, you know how curious I've been to dive into the making of Frozen. I've scoured every resource at my disposal to learn more about the various incarnations this project went through before Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee landed on making the film we now know and love.

The Art of Tangled gave me more of an inside-look to Disney's work on the story of Rapunzel, and while there was still a lot more that I would have liked to see, I felt that the book covered a lot of ground - while The Art of Frozen seemed to hold a lot back when it came to commentary on the amount of work the studio did on the Snow Queen project (don't let that deter you though, the book has stunning artwork and wonderful information on how and why the artists chose different shapes, what inspired them, etc).

The Blu-Ray/DVD set for Tangled could have included bits like these, with some commentary:

Bronze Wool uploaded those last two to their Youtube channel, and there are a few other Tangled storyboards as well. I tried locating a storyboard of one of the old Rapunzel concepts that had an ending very reminiscent of  Enchanted, where the two leads end up in a fountain in New York, but could not locate it - it is very possible that it was taken down or hidden.

I know that not everyone cares about extras. I read somewhere that Disney surveyed some of their customers, and most parents said that they didn't really care about all of the bonus features Disney used to put on their releases.

The thing is, I know that I'm not the only person that cares about this stuff. It doesn't surprise me that parents that buy every Disney DVD for their kids don't really care about the movie extras, but it's no secret that there are a lot of adult die-hard Disney fans that appreciate making-of documentaries.

So while the "Making of Frozen" featurette was entertaining and took us through WDAS with some of the leads from the movie, and gave us a joking visual look at the process, the features do not shed a lot of light on what the "Snow Queen" project went through on the whole. I especially would have loved to have seen a full documentary, talking about thing like how the game changed when Jennifer Lee, the first woman to direct at the studio, came on board. And the short deleted scene of Elsa being more of a villain gave us an idea of what the film might have been like, but there's still that darn clip used in all of the promotional material going around of Elsa shooting her ice magic after Anna says, "That's no blizzard, that's my sister!" - which is proof that there's footage of Elsa doing more villainous-type things that are more fully-rendered. Some may consider me strange for wanting to see these things, but I'm a big fan of the movie, the project and the studio that produced it.

Take this promotional image that was released with that first set of (what the rest are) stills from the film, for example:

This never happens in the movie. Interestingly enough, when I received my lithograph set for pre-ordering Frozen from the Disney Store, this image came along with a few other stills, but re-cut awkwardly so we only get a bit of Anna's head and a slightly better view of Elsa, with the torch eliminated (or at least out of frame).

The point that I'm trying to make is that Elsa's character went through drastic changes up until a few months before the film was released.

Frozen has become a sensation. If you use the internet at all, you've seen the explosion that this film has created. "Let it Go" has done more than win an Academy Award this year - it has become the anthem for young and old alike. Frozen is, in a word, special. The creators went so far as to use that term when I visited panels talking about it at 2013's D23 Expo.

One may want to argue that Disney "held back" on extras because with all the re-releases they do, they want to make sure they have more interesting stuff to show us in the future. I understand all of that, but Tangled hasn't seen another release, and all we got on those extras were Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi throwing out a few facts about the film, like how many hairs were actually on Rapunzel's head - something that could have easily ended up on the Disney Channel for promotional material. Sleeping Beauty has seen multiple releases in the past several years and has yet another approaching shortly, but Tangled still sits quietly. So how long will we have to wait to get a real behind-the-scenes look at the work it took to make this film?

Probably a really long time. Decades, even. I anticipate that I will be a senior citizen by the time that happens.

In any case, I guess we should all be thankful that we can actually buy Frozen to watch and bring home with us. Not too long ago, the only way to re-watch your favorite movie was if you were lucky enough to catch it being aired somewhere on cable, or you went back to the movie theaters again in a re-release.

For now, I will "let it go" and enjoy the film in glorious HD.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Snow Queen Reins Supreme! - Thoughts on Disney's 'Frozen'

I've been holding off on writing a review for Frozen, which may seem odd to my readers, as I've been writing about the film with an extreme emphasis for months now. I even had the lucky opportunity to see it before it was released to general theaters, as my wonderful boyfriend obtained tickets to an early showing at the El Capitan in Hollywood.

I knew I would love the film, but I wanted to give the public - and myself - some time to digest. I needed to see the film again, and see how it looked in a regular 2D viewing - which is what I just did today! My mother and I had a movie date - and yes, she enjoyed the film ;)

With all that said, let's talk about Frozen. If you haven't seen the film and don't want anything spoiled, then get out of here and go see it! It's easily a Disney classic, it's been nominated for several awards and is probably going to beat The Lion King domestically at the Box Office because it's just that good.

For some, Frozen is like any traditional and beloved classic Disney animated feature film. It is a compelling story inspired by a classic fairy tale, it features a heroine (or in this case, heroines) in trouble, is made up of a cast of interesting characters, has beautiful animation, and has a magnificent soundtrack.

These are all classic Disney elements that make the brand what it is. One may claim to not appreciate the Disney Princess franchise or enjoy musicals, but they are undeniably integral parts of the Disney legacy.

Where Frozen is different, however, is it's celebration of love. Traditionally, Disney fairy tales celebrate the idea of romantic love overcoming the greatest obstacles and saving the day, but here it is sisterly love that breaks the spell.

Frozen also boldly confronts the idea that some of us do not know what love is, or what can constitute as untrue love, and that the handsome prince isn't always so beautiful underneath his exterior.

I sincerely enjoyed the fact that every main character taught the audience something different about love. Love takes on many forms. Heck, even Olaf, who many were ready to hate coming into the theaters, was the physical embodiment of Elsa and Anna's love for each other and charmed his way through the film.

Disney has shown familial love before. Finding Nemo is a prime example, but Marlin's fatherly love doesn't break a curse. I applaud Disney for breaking from the traditional route here and celebrating something that is all too-often ignored in entertainment representation. Family is tremendously important, and in times like these, it is very important that we are reminded that at the end of the day, we have family (whether blood-related or the families we create with friends, pets etc.) that we can always count on, even when the odds seem insurmountable.

Everything that Elsa does is out of love for others, and her prime motivator is her love for her sister. After nearly killing Anna in an accident, Elsa is mortified and fearful her powers - beautiful, but if not controlled, dangerous. To protect everyone that she loves (her kingdom included), she is forced to lead a life of seclusion, even at times cutting interaction with her parents that know her secret. And even after her parents are gone and she becomes Anna's estranged guardian, she is fully willing to make herself out to be the "bad guy" in order to protect Anna when her younger sister absurdly proclaims that she is going to marry someone that she just met. Anna is selfless in her act of protecting Elsa from Hans even after believing that her own sister meant to hurt her, but it is Elsa's tremendous love for Anna that saves her sister's life and the future of the kingdom - and, in turn, she saves herself.

Some are frustrated with the fact that Elsa did not get a love interest in the film, but Anna got two. The reasons as to why stem from a very, very long development process.

If you have kept up with this blog, you will know that Disney has attempted to bring some incarnation of the story of the Snow Queen to life for several decades, going as far back as to when Walt Disney was still alive and running the show. Obviously, things kept seemingly not working out. Try as they might, Disney's creative teams constantly ran into trouble when trying to get a handle on the Snow Queen's character. Here's one excerpt from James B. Stewart's Disney War:

... June 11, 2003, (Then-Disney CEO Michael) Eisner has invited me to a creative meeting of the feature animation team, led by (Thomas) Schumacher's replacement, David Stainton. Eisner usually attends these meetings once or twice a month.

"That's why this has to be a Legally Blonde-type comedy," replies Mary Jane Ruggels, another creative vice president.  

"Sleeping Beauty was 1938," Eisner says. "The ending was forced. Like Treasure Planet-- it just ended. It wasn't funny or clever. Are you sure you can save this? Is Ice Queen better?" 

"You mean Snow Queen," Ruggels says.

"I love The Taming of the Shrew idea," Eisner says. "Take Martha Stewart. She's tough, smart -- a worthy adversary. If she were a doormat of a woman, no one would go after her. Marlo Thomas used to call me about marketing 'That Girl.' She said, 'If I were a man, I'd be president of the network."

Eisner expresses some reservation about the team assigned to Snow Queen, then adds, "John Lasseter. If we make a new deal with Pixar ... " 

Stainton jumps in: "You mean when we make a new deal with Pixar."

"I said to John, you can have Snow Queen. He loved it. John said, 'I want to do a princess movie.' "

Eisner asks for the Snow Queen synopsis. 

"The Snow Queen is a terrible bitch," Ruggels says. "When her suitors try to melt her heart, the Snow Queen freezes them."

"Each one should be a phony, but different," Eisner says of the suitors.

"Then along comes a regular guy," Ruggels continues. 

"This is perfect!" Eisner exclaims. "I'm afraid to hear more."

"The regular guy goes up there, he's not that great, but he's a good person. He starts to unfreeze her ... she melts."

"It's great," Eisner says. "Finally. We've had twenty meetings on this." 

Some of the language used to describe this shelved concept of the Snow Queen makes me cringe.

Clearly the creatives were toying with the idea of the Snow Queen having a love interest. Perhaps having the title character simply be a "bitch" that has all her problems solved by one man sounded good to some people (this meeting certainly reflects the film industry of the time), but as John Lasseter said to the Chris Buck's team (this was before Jennifer Lee joined the project), "You haven't dug deep enough." Everyone has a motivation. Audiences need to be able to identify with the characters that they see on screen.

Soon Jennifer joined the project (and thankfully breathed some realistic female essence into the leading ladies and story and broke the glass ceiling at Disney) and somewhere along the way someone asked, "What if Anna and Elsa were sisters?"

That question changed everything. Finally there was an emotional core that the creatives could work from, and the story took off.

Could Disney have come up with a version of the story that would have given Elsa a love interest? In Frozen's incarnation that we now know, I do not think so. If Elsa had to cut herself off from her own sister, often her own parents and completely from anyone else in her kingdom at such an early age because she felt she was too dangerous to be around anyone, how could she allow herself to emotionally connect with someone romantically? When Elsa says at her coronation ball that she doesn't dance, it's not because she feels that she has two left feet - it's that she doesn't dare touch anyone for fear of hurting them. It's why she quickly turns away from Anna when her sister reaches to touch her. Elsa is almost completely covered up, but she is still afraid that any contact with her sister could result in harming her.

This is, however, not to say that Elsa doesn't deserve a love interest. Elsa absolutely deserves love, in all forms of the word! And yes, even though it crosses fandoms, Elsa and Jack Frost would make quite the lovely couple (and hey, it's not like Dreamworks owns the entire concept of Jack Frost - Disney could potentially do something with that idea...I wonder what the copyrights are regarding that name...)

Anyhow, the problem was that if Elsa couldn't even let her own sister into her life, how could she even fathom allowing a complete stranger in? Elsa had to reconnect with the person she loved most before she could allow herself to connect deeply with anyone else - and love herself.

Personally, I don't think that Elsa needs a man, because she's so amazing on her own. When we go to the movies and see a male character not have a love interest, are people always getting upset over it? I've never seen that kind of complaint. Leading female characters do not need to be paired off to be interesting to service a story. BUT, I think that the reason why some fans are so upset for Elsa is that they connected with her so deeply - they felt that she deserved to repair all of that awful loneliness and pain in her heart. And I very much feel the same way. Some are calling for a sequel - I truly, truly hope that if a sequel is made, it will be of at least the same caliber as Frozen. Lasseter put his foot down several years ago demanding that Disney films that came out in theaters only get sequels if they are good enough to also be released into theaters. But Cars 2 wasn't that long ago (sorry John)...on the flip side, the Toy Story sequels were all amazing. Cross your fingers.

In the meantime, I have to say that while Anna is a charming character that gives the Disney Princess lineage a nice shakeup and I understand why the film was set essentially from her perspective, I really wish Frozen spent more time with Elsa. The film could have easily used at least an extra 20 minutes with her. We got a fantastic amount of backstory leading up through "Let It Go," which is an amazing song that I cannot stop singing in my car. But after that, we saw a lot less of Elsa and her awesome ice palace didn't really get much use (though at least Marshmallow was able to use it after - please tell me you all stayed after the credits?!) Anna and Elsa's confrontation sped by like a bullet train, and before I knew what was happening, I realized that Disney had cut the whole sequence of Elsa shooting a blizzard at Anna, Kristoff, Olaf and Sven.

And that little piece of footage was what had me hooked to see this film, folks. Do I regret seeing the film because this footage was seemingly cut? No, of course not. But my curiosity is driving me crazy.

Of course we all wanted Elsa to be a hero in this story, but were curious about her also being an antagonist to a certain extent. Disney kept her character shrouded in mystery for a very long time. Of course, originally they planned to have her be even more of an antagonist then she ended up being in the final film, and the script and story went through so many changes...

Still, I have to ask about this bit, because it was (and still is) in a lot of the more recent marketing! I'm sure you all remember the, "That's no blizzard, that's my sister!" clip. Originally, the full clip which is now entitled "That happened" had our characters land into the soft pillowy snow after their encounter with Marshmallow to then be suddenly attacked with a flurry of snow and wind. Kristoff then shouted, "Now we just have to survive this blizzard!" and Anna finished with, "That's no blizzard, that's my sister!" as the camera panned up to Elsa in all of her icy glory. Now, however, if you went on to the official Disney Animation Youtube page, you would see a slightly different video with no Elsa in it at all, which fully matches what you see in the final film version. I wanted to find the original clip for you, but I have a feeling that Disney sought to remove every trace of it that was ever around. Even when I type to search for this particular clip on Youtube, the webpage crashes. Coincidence? I think not!

And neither is this! I am now officially convinced that Rapunzel is cousins with Anna and Elsa.

Anyway, I can't help but think back to when Tangled was coming to theaters. Disney had made some fairly entertaining promos - one of them even got their own poster. And I wondered if maybe this little bit of Elsa's awesome ice magic was merely developed to be used for promotional material.

We got to see Rapunzel dangle Flynn/Eugene out of her tower, and apparently she was enjoying it. But if you think about it now, do you really think Rapunzel would have done something so cruel?

I certainly don't.

And that is possibly what came into play for Frozen, but on a grander scale, and not spawning from trying to generate interest for the film. It wouldn't make much sense for Elsa to shoot ice magic at her own sister after she accidentally struck her and was mortified by the whole thing. Yes, she created Marshmallow, but only so that she could be assured that her sister would be escorted off of the premises.

So perhaps kind of late in the game, the creators decided to cut that footage. But Anna's line kind of stuck with potential moviegoers, and those moments have still found themselves as tidbits in current Frozen trailers. And every time I get a glimpse of Elsa in this footage, I get that darned pang of curiosity.

I still don't have The Art of Frozen in my possession. It may answer all sorts of questions for me. At the same time, I feel that it will leave just as many unanswered. If the Blu-Ray does not have a serious making-of documentary on this project, I will be very, very disappointed. Disney already dropped the ball with Tangled on that front. Are they embarrassed about the amount of times they tackled this project and it didn't go anywhere? They shouldn't. They should also know that there will be fans out there that will want to know more. I just sincerely hope that we will not have to wait 20 years before we get an honest behind-the-scenes-look at the making of this film.

There's still so much more to write about's yet another reason why I've held off. I just had to focus this post on my new favorite character! But don't worry, I haven't forgotten about Anna and the rest of the characters. I'm actually really excited to talk about Hans with all of you - some people do not give the filmmakers enough credit for the creative genius that they put into this character!

In the meantime, I hope you all have had happy holidays and will have a happy new year!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

The CG Princesses and Disney Animation

Look, there's been a lot of talk lately about how supposedly similar Anna and Elsa from Disney's upcoming animated feature Frozen look in comparison to Rapunzel in Tangled. And then that statement that a Frozen animator said that has mostly been taken out-of-context. Before pressing on, I highly recommend taking a look at this article real quick - just so you can fully follow along :)

I'll admit that I felt this way when I first saw those supposed "leaked posters" - but I pulled those images from my blog once I found out that Disney was requesting various site to remove said posters as they were fakes. Unfortunately, not all of the images were taken down, and mislead movie-goers are pulling up the pictures and crying foul.

Admittedly, both images were close to the final character designs, but still, they were unfinished. The public groaned over the similarity between princesses, but really, was that fair of us?

Before we tackle this question, we need to look at the official character designs and how they are translating to the screen.

Elsa Final Sketch
Anna Final Sketch

Anna, Elsa, and for your bonus enjoyment, Kristoff ;)

CG Film
I really love the original sketches. There's obviously a strong similarity between the initial concept art and the final CG designs, but as you can tell, the transition was not seamless. Both Anna and Elsa have rounder faces, and even their eyes are slightly different.

Now let's take a look at how Rapunzel translated from concept art to film.

Concept art

CG Advertising

Final film version

Now, I could pull tons of pictures and stick them side-by-side, but have any of you noticed the huge discrepancy between all of Rapunzel's supposed "looks?" I mean, just look at the CG advertising image and compare it to the final version. Rapunzel's eyes used to be set far wider apart. The advertising image was supposed to be the final "official" version of her, and still, it wasn't.

But now take a look at the concept art again. That was how Glen Keane designed her to look. Her features were sharper. She looked a little more mature. Her chin was smaller, etc.

Do you get the point that I'm trying to make here? The animators sketch up these beautiful designs, but when it comes time to entering it into the computer, those designs have to be altered. How something looks in 2D might not necessarily work once it is switched over to the 3D format. And once you start comparing those character designs, you notice differences between the princesses.

Yes, there is certainly a similar "look" going on. Disney is known for their traditional Disney Princess looks. Merida was a huge departure from that design element, but she was created by the Pixar team, not Walt Disney Animation. Her face is also very round, so CG naturally helped that along. Should Disney try to do something different? It's arguable that they should, but whenever they have, Disney has assessed that the films do not do as well at the box office.

So here's that infamous quote that everyone is fuming about right now:

Historically speaking, animating female characters are really, really difficult, ’cause they have to go through these range of emotions, but they’re very, very — you have to keep them pretty and they’re very sensitive to — you can get them off a model very quickly. So, having a film with two hero female characters was really tough, and having them both in the scene and look very different if they’re echoing the same expression; that Elsa looking angry looks different from Anna (Kristen Bell) being angry.”

Yes, that animator wasn't as careful with his words as they should have been (at least, not enough for the internet to quote him later.) Yes, both women and men alike are supposedly difficult to animate, as the classic Disney animators will say in many interviews that no one ever wanted to animate a prince, yet they were comfortable animating characters like the seven dwarfs because they didn't feel like they had to make them look handsome or pretty.

But the quote was taken out of context because the very reason this animator even said any of that was that he was explaining the difficulty of translating the original character designs into the CG format - which is why I've been showing you all the vast difference between sketch to final film designs.

But no, I do not think that these princesses and princes and whatever other supposed ingenue leads Disney comes up with need to look beautiful all the time. If they are to represent normal human beings that we can relate to, they need to express a full range of emotions.

I blame marketing, I truly do. It's why all of the princesses (Merida included, as the internet remembers) got sparkly sexy mess makeovers. It is reportedly what Disney makes more money off of, because little girls want all of their princesses to fit into the same world where they all have a similar look and could possibly be friends, even if it disconnects the characters from their own worlds.

They're afraid to have a single frame of Anna or Elsa look not-so-pretty, because they do not want these characters to end up being "tarnished" in any way. And while I would whole-heartedly prefer that they animate their heroes and heroines in a fully realistic manner, I understand their wariness. Because anyone could take a single frame from their film, upload it online and turn it into a meme that Disney may not be comfortable with.

That's probably not their primary fear, though. Their ultimate goal of marketing is to make little girls continue to love Disney Princesses, and because of that, marketing will always be obsessive with their appearance. They want these female characters to be so beautiful that these little girls will always want to purchase the dolls, dress up like them, etc. And since marketing likes to make them a set, their looks have to be "streamlined."

While that may be somewhat disheartening, here's the good news - marketing can't go back and change how a film is animated. Cinderella's ball gown in her classic film will always be white/silver - marketing cannot touch the film and make her dress blue.

This whole situation is pretty ironic. As I've noted here before, just a few weeks before Tangled was to be released, another Disney employee made a statement that was taken out-of-context. That Disney was supposedly never going to make another fairy tale again. That's not what he actually meant - what he was trying to say was that Disney had no interest in pursuing the little girl demographic with princess films, because apparently princesses didn't do well at the box office because Princess and the Frog was released at the same time as Avatar and the economy was in the middle of its nasty downturn. And then Tangled did well and the "boys club" (as Brenda Chapman aptly puts it) ate their words and pulled the Snow Queen project off of the shelf, which had been an on-again off-again production for a long time at Disney.

As hard as the boys club works, they still seem to not understand why Disney has become the powerhouse that it has. The two films that saved the Disney animation studio from closing were Cinderella and The Little Mermaid - and let's not forget the very first Disney animated feature film that starred Snow White, which was a huge success for the Disney company. They need to understand that it's so much more than just having pretty princesses make a nice doll set.

It's about having any female character to have a story center around her. Because most forms of entertainment star a male character, the male-to-female character ratio is generally 3-to-1, and at best, the female is just in a supporting romantic role, only there to romantically engage the male hero.

Traditionally, boys have had their superheroes. Yes, Marvel and DC have female superheroes as well, but do they get big-budget movies starring just them? Marvel's Avengers set, which has done tremendously well at the box office, only has one female heroine that has not even had her own movie. And let's face it...while Black Widow is awesome, her story is still greatly shrouded in mystery and her costume is a basic black leather catsuit which more than likely doesn't really help her all that much in combat. Over on DC's side, they've been working on a Wonder Woman film for years, and at this rate, it's just never going to happen because all of these big male executives are too chicken to finish the job.

So where does that leave female movie-goers, especially ones of the younger variety who wants toys and costumes to pretend that they are those characters because there is something inside of them that they aspire to be? Disney heroines often enter the picture, and these women generally emulate great compassion, dedication, dreams and fulfilling them. The female underdog that somehow, despite all of these obstacles thrown in her way, achieves her happy ending because she chooses to be brave and takes a risk to get there. Yes, they're beautiful and have wonderful dresses that many of us want to wear, but it's their story and their heart that connect with people all over the world.

But these marketing folks that are aiming to sell as much product as they can - and to a certain extent, many of the higher-ups at Disney - well, I don't think they realize that. Maybe the little boys want the toy cars because it gives the boys a sense of action and the cars are shiny, but personally, I connected with Cinderella because the world was often cruel to her and she continually responded with kindness and her goodness granted her a happily ever after - not because she had a big ballgown and danced with a prince.

In any case, if marketing has this much control over the creative process - and believe me, they do certainly have some clout - then we as fans need to speak up. We can't just say that a statement is misogynistic (even when it is), because that's not going to change the creative process in animating these characters. We need to say that we want to see real human expressions, even if that means that a character is suddenly unattractive. That we want to see more realistic portrayals of humanity, even along with the nitty-gritty.

And maybe, just maybe, we need to stop untagging ourselves or deleting pictures where we ourselves do not feel that we look "perfect." Maybe we all need to recognize that perfection is truly in the eye of the beholder, and that perhaps it is time to practice what we preach when we tell little girls that they do not have to look a certain way to feel good about themselves. Because until that happens, quite honestly, none of this is going to change.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Thinking About Movies, Part 3: Let's talk about Disney's FROZEN!

Hello my wonderful readers!

Yes, I've been MIA for a while. I've had a lot of out-of-towners visit for extended periods of time (they arrived just before I went to D23, which made things even more complicated), plus a few others things have popped up here and there. Then there's work, some new and some gone. I no longer work for Examiner, so at least I don't have to send you guys over to another website. I'd rather write for myself and make nothing than write for someone else and make next to nothing ;) Anyhow, all of this shifting around has prevented me from writing all that I've wanted to. I'll eventually do a write-up on the D23 Expo from this year. It will have lots of pictures. And I really want to write about the Imagineering Pavillion, as it was, in a word, amazing - and I want to stick up for MyMagic, as the Imagineers there were very helpful, and seriously, they've thought of everything to make things more convenient for guest while keeping them safe.

But what I've really wanted to talk to you all about is this November's upcoming Disney film Frozen. I've been talking about this movie a lot here, and it's easy to understand why - this is a "Disney Princess" blog. But this will be an exciting film to see because 1) the film has been an on-again off-again production at the studio, 2) the people working on this production have bucketloads of talent, and 3) the film looks to be in the same vein as Tangled in that it is a fairy tale, but it is also fun, action-packed and has a bit more of a contemporary feel.

Since the new trailer has premiered today, I felt that this would be the perfect time to talk about this film a bit more, bringing in some things that I found out at D23 (I went to both the big Animation panel on Friday and then the special Frozen presentation on Saturday) and also bringing in some speculations that I have after seeing this new trailer. With that, let me include the video of that first.

I am so excited for this movie. Any concerns that I had with it before are gone - everyone at Disney says they feel that they have something really special, and that's something that they only say when they have a film like Beauty and the Beast. You're going to instantly love Olaf. He's going to be the new "it" character. Girls and women are going to love both Anna and Elsa, and it is going to be truly refreshing and amazing to see Disney tell a story about the power of sisterly love. The music is fantastic. The team behind it was sitting in the audience at several D23 events (they're just as big of fans as the rest of us!) and they are truly proud of their work. They should be. The type of lyricism is going to be something that really knocks your socks off. They've brought in the witty humor from Book of Mormon but kept things tasteful for a Disney audience and story.

If you've seen any of the D23 press from the major Animation presentation, you've more than likely heard that Idina Menzel sang live, "Let It Go." Going into the presentation, I didn't expect to see Idina there - but as the presentation progressed, it was clear that any big stars that were available to attend were there, and as Frozen continued to get built up, the audience was hoping for Idina to make an appearance...then John Lasseter came out, picked up the microphone to move it to the center of the stage, and the audience was screaming. I've never had such a fan girl moment in my life. I love Broadway and Disney - never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would have the pleasure to see Idina Menzel sing live on stage, let alone a Disney song! I will never, ever forget that experience. The song is beautiful and moving, You're going to love Elsa (John certainly does - apparently he listens to it over and over again.)

One more thing I wanted to point out. The love triangle is really intriguing to me, and I'm happy to see that we have a beefier Disney love interest for once (Jennifer Lee, one of the directors, couldn't contain her excitement about the "mountain man" either at D23) - Kristoff's design reminds me of Bastion, who was a potential significant other for Rapunzel in that film's earlier stages.

Oh-kay. With that, I'm going to give you a nice summary of this film, which will include spoilers!!! If you do not want anything from the movie spoiled for yourself, do not continue reading on! Also, anything that I share here has been openly shared - anything that the creators requested to keep secret, stays a secret. In any case, this is going to be an amazing film. We'll start after the break.

Once upon a time, in the land of Arendelle, there lived two princesses that were also sisters, Elsa (the eldest) and Anna. Elsa and Anna were best friends and incredibly close. In their happier times, they built a snow man together, and they named him Olaf. The two girls loved each other very much, but one of them had a secret - Elsa had unique and mystical powers in which she could control ice and snow. Being very young, she had difficulty controlling these powers, and was also afraid of anyone finding out, for there was a prophecy that had been told that someone would put their kingdom into eternal winter.

One day, while Anna and Elsa were playing, Anna made Elsa laugh. Unfortunately, whenever Elsa would laugh or lose her temper, her ice powers would reveal themselves - and poor Anna got hit with them by accident. Anna then became very cold, and nearly lost her life. She was saved and her memory of the incident disappeared, but as a result, she gained a streak of white in her hair, and Anna and Elsa's parents decided it was best to separate the two sisters for their own safety. Elsa was forced to shut out her sister - and the rest of the world - and constantly wear gloves to keep her powers in check. As long as Elsa kept her emotions at bay, her powers would not reveal themselves. She grew up living mostly in solitude, and became a very proper, elegant and controlled princess that the kingdom grew to admire and respect. Anna, on the other hand, never understanding why her sister shut her out, grew up lonely as well, but very awkward and always needing to insert her foot into her mouth.

Time went by, and eventually the day of Elsa's coronation arrived. Many important dignitaries came to Arendelle for the occasion, including a handsome prince that Anna met the day of. They are smitten with each other, and that same day, the prince Hans asked Anna for her hand in marriage. Elsa's coronation went off without a hitch, and during the celebration, Anna asked for Elsa's permission to marry Hans. Elsa was, obviously, shocked that her sister would accept a proposal from a man she'd only known for a day, and told her that she would not allow Anna to make such a rash decision. Anna got upset and confronted her sister, and unfortunately, Elsa couldn't hold back her feelings any longer - her powers were revealed in front of everyone. Elsa fled the kingdom, found a place far away and was finally able to "let it go" and let her abilities thrive and create a beautiful castle made of snow and ice, where she could hide herself from the world.

Time went by, but the kingdom's temperatures didn't change. Anna, determined to bring back warm weather and re-connect with her sister, decided to go off an adventure and save her kingdom. However, the environments were treacherous, so she enlisted the help of a man that knows everything about ice - Kristoff. Kristoff was a guy who preferred to keep to himself (save for hanging out with his pet reindeer Sven), but considering that his business was doing poorly due to the amount of plentiful ice available, he knew he needed to help Anna end eternal winter. On the way, they ran into Olaf - who, as it turns out, Elsa created soon after she created her ice kingdom. What Elsa really wanted was a more intimidating snowman to protect her from the outside world, so Olaf went out and Marshmallow (the very scary-looking snowman) was born). Olaf dreams of what summer is like - he obviously had never experienced summer, but wished to help aid Anna and Kristoff in their quest.

Anna and her friends fought through the harsh winter environment and Elsa's powers to keep them at bay, but finally Anna reaches her sister's new home. Elsa is now very different - she is free to be herself and is a new woman.

What happened next? Well, if the creators revealed all of that, then they'd be revealing too much. But from what I've seen, here's what I think happens.

Anna tries to convince Elsa that she needs to come back home and work with her to figure out how to end eternal winter and resume her rightful place on the throne. Elsa and Anna start to bond again, but something terrible happens - Elsa's powers hit Anna again, and instead of just one white streak of hair, her entire head of hair turns to ice white. She is getting too cold again. Elsa is horrified and begs Kristoff to get Anna away from her and save her. Olaf makes a great sacrifice to save Anna. Hans is not who he appears to be. Anna realizes that she is really in love with Kristoff, and Kristoff isn't interested in being so alone anymore. And because of the power of the love of two sisters, everyone in the kingdom is saved and they all live happily ever after.

That's all I have to say on Frozen for now. I'm sure I'll be writing even more about it before it's released, but until then, see you guys next time!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Thor coming to Disneyland this fall in celebration of 'Thor: The Dark World'

More Marvel in Disneyland! I know a few people out there aren't that big on the idea, but I like the Iron Man Tech exhibit. What I wonder is, where is Thor going to go?

Thor coming to Disneyland this fall in celebration of 'Thor: The Dark World'

Discuss it here!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Thinking about movies, part 2: The Lone Ranger

Note: I'm delving into The Lone Ranger here. If you haven't seen the film yet, go see it and then come back here!

The Lone Ranger was released amidst a summer filled with big summer blockbuster movies, and it's not the only one that has suffered from a rather cold reception. But I'll get to that later.

I was less excited to see this film in comparison to a lot of other movies that have been released this season, and it had nothing to do with the fact that it's a western.

Let's get something straight here - I love Johnny Depp. I especially love him as Captain Jack Sparrow. But - this film is entitled The Lone Ranger, not Tonto featuring the Lone Ranger. And all of the advertising made it VERY CLEAR IN ALL CAPS THAT THIS FILM STARS JOHNNY DEPP AND ITS FROM THE SAME GUYS THAT MADE THE PIRATES FILMS (LOGO!!! - wait why would they literally show a Pirates of the Caribbean logo for a completely different franchise? Does Disney think I can be brainwashed with it? That's rude) - oh yeah and then there's some guy with a big white cap and a black leather mask. BUT LOOK JOHNNY IS BEING SILLY AND THAT WRAP AROUND HIS HEAD KINDA LOOKS LIKE THE JACK SPARROW BANDANA (oh haha with a bird I see what you did there Disney). In the actual film, there were two obvious gags taken from the first Pirates of the Caribbean film - but it worked.

I don't blame Johnny for the way Disney chose to market the film (although he was a producer). Maybe it was Disney's ridiculous advertising that caused Johnny to decide to create his own studio and work out that deal with Disney so he doesn't become their branded product.

Anyhow, I really wasn't a fan of the way this film was marketed, so I wasn't in a hurry to see it in theaters. When I visited Disneyland a few times before seeing the film, I saw plenty of Tonto headdresses, but not a single white stetson or black leather/pleather mask for sale, which I totally would have picked up. Those cowboy root beer glass mugs sold out super fast - hoping I can still get one of those. 

By the way, the Tonto headdress may look offensive at first glance, but the Native American tribe that the character is based from is not offended. It is established in the film that Tonto is an oddball (a fact the other Native Americans laugh about in the film) and Johnny worked hard to sound as authentic as possible. Disability groups, however, are reportedly unhappy with Disney for showing the film's villain with a cleft lip.

Anyhow, the message was clear - Disney didn't appear to be behind the technical star of their film and was over-promoting Johnny Depp.

Image from my buddies over at MiceChat. You can read some very insightful comments on this product here.

Which is a real shame. Because besides the fact that Armie Hammer did a fantastic job in this film and has true star potential and power, the film is actually equally divided between the Lone Ranger and Tonto. Both of the characters get equal screen time on their back-stories and development, and by the end of the film the audience has a solid understanding of why they are who they are and why they become who they become. I guess the payoff of this film was supposed to be that once we saw all of this, we'd be able to see more Lone Ranger flicks with far more Lone-Rangerey action. But the film hasn't done well in terms of American Box Office numbers, and as we all know with Disney - if it isn't an immediate success the first weekend, you can forget seeing any sort of franchise. I hope that people do not consider this film to be a dark mark on any of these actors' resumes - the film was well-cast and full of talent.

The film has its issues - mainly, the fact that it seemed like they were trying to incorporate 4-5 different scripts into one movie all at once. Films can have sub-plots, but it's bad when they jump all over the place and can't carry on a steady narrative. Apparently the writing team from the Pirates films first started on the project, but focused more on the supernatural, like - er, werewolves. Then they brought in another writer in who tried to tone down the supernatural stuff, and there are some really great moments in there, felt like the story had a lack of direction. Yes, it's an aged Tonto retelling a youngster in the midst of the Great Depression what he remembers, and him explaining why they became a team of outlaws that do good. But unfortunately you only have so much time on a movie screen to do that.

As a side note, I wish the filmmakers had taken that opportunity to push forward a message of hope in a dark period. We are, after all, in the Great Recession. House prices may be going back up, but that doesn't mean the majority of us have more money in our pockets to spend. Hollywood and major corporate Disney is probably clueless about all of that, though.

Consider the Star Wars films. George Lucas knew that the beginning of his story wouldn't be as interesting to movie-goers as his middle-to-end story would be, which was why he chose to create A New Hope first - and why, even though the prequels lack solid scripts, a huge fan base came out to see them and continue to make the man rich decades later. Perhaps we needed the middle for the beginning since there was so much story to cover. The source material is from a television series, after all. Perhaps the whole concept would have fared better as a contemporary television show given the HBO treatment, with 44-minute episodes and shot beautifully. Then they could have shown everything and much, much more.

I was going to include some other Star Wars image, but my Google search led me to this and I just had to do it.

Personally, I knew what I wanted to see. I wanted to see some good old-fashioned wholesome heroes in a cinematic look of the west. We got that at times; the cinematography is absolutely breathtaking with its vast scopes of the wild west, and Armie Hammer's portrayal of the Lone Ranger/John Reid is earnest and natural. And let's face it - Silver the horse stole the film in his own right. His "dialogue" with Tonto early on in the film immediately won me over.

The filmmakers went to several states to film in the west's most beautiful landscapes.

But unfortunately, since the filmmakers had to spend so much time covering back-story and shaping these characters, the audience didn't get to see so much of the Lone Ranger actually in action. It's not until the very end of the film that we actually see him take on a "persona," and the film actually ends with John bouncing different names for himself off of Tonto, who shoots down every one of them as they head out into the sunset. The majority of the main trailer shows footage from nearly the end of the film. It just took too long to get to the whole "hero in action" part of the film for me.

But when they finally got there? Wow! I loved it! It was exciting, spectacular and a lot of fun, and I was sorry to know that Disney had already pulled the plug on any future Lone Ranger would see as a franchise. I legitimately want to see more of these characters.

Mainly doing stuff like this.

As Johnny Depp has said, the critics wanted to see this film seriously fail, and they trash-talked it for a long time because of its production issues. The film was expensive to make and Disney had to at one point halt everything to re-work the budget. Everybody has a budget. The critics wanted to see Disney fail, and while the movie isn't doing amazingly, it's really not as bad as they make it out to be. While Disney isn't getting the numbers and reviews it would like over here in the states, the film seems to be getting embraced overseas. That doesn't surprise me - as Americans, we're used to enjoying the novelty of other countries. The same works the other way around, and it's been a while since a western film has been released. Who knows...maybe this film isn't doing what Disney wants it to do commercially right now, but perhaps merchandising, like the film's strong tie-in with the soon-to-be-released Disney Infinity, will help in the long run.

Also, if you just ask a friend who has actually seen it, they're unlikely to bash it the way critics do - based on general public votes online, the film isn't getting remotely as bad of a rating.


But the unfortunate thing here is that the majority of the American public just hasn't come out to see this film (Disney missed much of their target demographic and an older crowd showed up instead), and whenever Disney doesn't have an amazing opening weekend, they try to brush everything under the carpet. When my boyfriend and I came into our theater to see it (it was maybe the second weekend of it being out) we discovered about 5 other people in the theater, and no one else showed up. We literally heard crickets as we walked through the door to find our seat.

Something that the media has been pointing out as a whole is that a lot of the major summer blockbuster films haven't been doing well this summer. Journalists are asking whether or not audiences may be "burned out" by the summer blockbuster formula. I will say that it was odd going to see a special screening of Star Trek early this summer and being flooded with only end-of-the-world film trailers. I had to comment to my friends, and they agreed - it's rather depressing. Life is depressing enough as it is - I'm rather keen on seeing something with a more sunny outlook on life. And I've always been burnt out by films that rely on explosions more than story and character development, but perhaps the demographic that's always loved that stuff is getting fed up with it now too. As I've already remarked in this article, it seems that Hollywood is rather out-of-touch with the ordinary man and woman of today. And it doesn't help that a family trip to the movie theater only continues to get more and more expensive as the public's wallets get thinner - people have to be more discerning about which film they choose to see for their excursion.

I suppose the interesting element with The Lone Ranger in this case is that, really, the trailer made the film out to be far more explosion and action-oriented than it really was. I found that the majority of the film was far more introspective than that. What would have drawn in more Americans? I'm not really sure. I do believe that minimally featuring Armie Hammer and plastering anything Pirates of the Caribbean-related hurt the film. Maybe from a marketing standpoint (in terms of numbers) pirates and cowboys deliver the same results financially, but they are two entirely different genres and they need to be treated as such. Perhaps the public saw through the manipulation - I found a lot of it to be insulting. We are people, not numbers.

In any case, it's a shame that things have turned out this way. Marketing can truly make or break a film, and while there may be more factors to take into account with The Lone Ranger, I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that it probably had a lot to do with what ended up happening at the Box Office.

If you haven't seen the film, I'd suggest giving it a chance. As a forewarning - you may want to pick up a Stetson when you exit the theater.

Next time, I'll be looking more at a favorite here on this blog - Frozen! There's been quite a bit of material released since I last wrote about the film, so there will be a lot to delve into. So don't forget to subscribe here and follow me on Twitter @MakeItAqua!