It’s official. We are living in an age where we get a new Star Wars movie every year. This week we got the first trailer for Rogue One, the first of three upcoming Star Wars Story Anthology films. Set to tell the story of how the rebellion got the plans for the Death Star, Rogue One will be an interesting experiment.
It does have an uphill battle. It’s a prequel of sorts that doesn’t involve any of the original cast as far as we know. Which means unlike The Force Awakens, it can’t rely very heavily on nostalgia. Not too mention it’s a break from the main story. Going back in time instead of moving forward. None of this is necessarily bad, but it is something new and different from what we’ve seen.
What makes me most excited about Rogue One is in fact because it’s taking a break from the main episodes. Outside of the Expanded Universe, now defunct, it seems like the entire galaxy revolved around the Skywalkers and their friends. The comics and TV shows help to broaden the universe but generally, Star Wars has pretty much been the Skywalker reality show.
With Rogue One, it might be the first film where a Skywalker never appears. I say might because Darth Vader could still make a surprise appearance. Or even Princess Leia could appear at the very end to receive the plans. Rogue One will give us a chance to see what everyone else does when the Skywalkers leave the room. What’s even more exciting about this prospect is the lack of Jedi.
Don’t get me wrong. Space wizards who wield laser swords are one of the biggest draws of Star Wars. But they are only one small sect of actual force users in the galaxy. Not too mention all the other other warrior groups out their just waiting for their time in the spotlight. That’s why Rogue One is going to be extra special. Or at least, why I hope it’s extra special. We get a chance to see a Star Wars story of the regular non-space wizard populace.
Plus, if the film does stay away from the Jedi/Sith war, we can explore the force in a new way. It’s one aspect that the movies have never explored. Sure, the Expanded Universe has given many different kinds of force users and beliefs outside of the Jedi and Sith. Even the Clone Wars animated show explored these groups, which is the only piece of EU which survived the purging. However, the films have not which is the general populaces only knowledge source for Star Wars.
The point is, the Force is obviously not strictly good or bad. It has a dark side and a light side. But what about the space in between? Not everyone is a hero and not everyone is a villain. It’s time for those grey areas to be put in the spotlight.
Basically, while the conflict is still the Rebellion/Empire conflict from the old movies, it has opportunities to add depth to the universe. The biggest problem with purging the EU is this loss of depth. The shades of grey between the Jedi and Sith. My hope, is the characters we meet will be those shades of grey. Not all good but not all bad. Which from the trailer, looks to be the case.
American animation has lost something. While not detrimentally important, if not addressed at the studio level it could vastly narrow the variety of content. American animation has lost it’s sense of artistic aesthetic. To be clear I don’t believe this is something exclusive to American animation. It’s more of a large studio problem. America just happens to have a lot of big animation studios.
This loss of aesthetic largely came about with rise in CG animation. However, it’s not restricted to this type of animation. Let’s back up for a second and let me explain exactly what I’m talking about.
What sets animation apart from live-action more than anything is that everything is hand-crafted for that film. From the landscapes to the faces on the characters. While live-action still has visual development (costumes, sets, etc). Production is still largely restricted by making it look as realistic as possible. Even when you look at films that are grounded in fantasy (Pan’s Labrynth, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars) you’re still held back by realism.
Not too say that this bad. In fact, it is down right amazing when you are able to create a world that looks real no matter how ridiculous it might actually be. However, when you no longer have to hold to reality there are some interesting directions you can take.
When you have absolute control over the medium you can make your world more accurately represent the story. The most recent best example does actually come from 3D. Mostly in the form of the design of the emotions from Inside Out. For the most part, each character was designed to reflect their personality. Sadness small, blue, and modeled after a tear drop. Anger was red, blocky, and rigid. Fear was all squiggly, bent out of shape, and all around spastic. So on and so forth.
Joy, Sadness, and Disgust could have been modeled more distinctly but that get’s into a much different discussion about diversity and women in the industry. The point is, the characters were able to be shaped to their personalities. This doesn’t even take into account the design of the rest of a films world. However, this is restricted to Riley’s mind world. The outside has to reflect reality as closely as possible. This isn’t necessarily case for every 3D film but it’s quickly becoming the trend.
Another example from 2D animation would be Atlantis: The Lost Empire. When your in the surface world, you have a lot of hard edges. Lots of squares and triangles. In many ways, it mirrors rigidness of Milo’s world. One where everything is straightforward and defined. Thus no room for his fantastical voyage to a lost city. Plus, the surface world is cloaked in darker hues further adding to the depressing tone. Sure, it may look like our world but the artist’s were obviously not going for photo-realism.
Now when Milo first enters Atlantis, we get much brighter hues and less rigid shapes. Thus marking the joy Milo initially finds and signifying his crossing of the threshold. These sorts of design choices in animation can add an unconscious depth for the audience. A layer that helps suck the audience in even more.
So what does this all mean? Well like I said earlier, this isn’t necessarily just an America problem. It’s more of a problem with big animation studios. Looking at Studio Ghibli films, they tend to all have similar design aesthetics as well. This basically means that when a studio gets big enough, design becomes a branding issue. When your films at least look similar, it’s easier for the audience to recognize a studios work. Since it becomes about branding, it basically means your films are easier to sell.
In much the same way certain directors can have their own distinct, recognizable styles (Zach Snyder, Quentin Tarantino) so can studios. Why is this a problem? Simply put, the art of the medium gets pushed aside in favor of money. You can’t really fault anyone for this because after all, it gets movies made.
The real question is how can we we have both? A money making movie that still has a more unique look and feel. Maybe we can’t but, no matter what, it won’t happen until technology get’s a little further. What makes different styles easier in 2D rather than 3D is because there is no barrier. None. As a 2D artist, you take what’s in your mind and put it on paper. It’s literally that simple. The only thing standing in your way is your own artistic ability.
When it comes to 3D, you’re blocked by the level of technology and your own personal experience of the technology. Take hair for example. Hair is incredibly hard for 3D since you’re basically trying to animate millions if not billions of individual objects. That puts a tremendous strain on the computer and software. With 2D, you can get away with treating hair as one object. If you do that with 3D, you basically get a beanbag chair strapped to somebodies head.
So, what is the solution here? Frankly, there isn’t one. A reason, I suspect at least, why 3D has lost it’s distinct design aesthetics is because it’s more expensive. For 2D, you can change aesthetics on the fly. For 3D, there are a lot more steps between initial idea and final product. Plus, if you want to switch styles half way through, you pretty much need to start from scratch.
Until technology get’s more advanced where the barrier between artist and 3D gets thinner, we’re stuck. The best thing to do now is to enjoy the films being made and continually come up with ideas that push the technology.
In 2015 I made a very simple New Year’s Resolution. To watch every single Disney animated feature film in chronological order. That’s 54 films starting at Snow White and ending with Big Hero 6. Now if I had been a little stricter it would have been nearly one movie a week. This did not happen. In the end I ended up having more than a few double features.
The reason why I did this comes in two. Disney is by far one of the most influential studios in Hollywood, especially when it comes to animation. Not only that but Disney now serves as an umbrella that covers multiple different empires including and beyond Hollywood. So, I wanted to see just how far Disney has come with the films that got it all started.
Secondly, these films are a part of not only my own childhood but our cultures “childhood” at large. Some of these films I hadn’t seen in years and I wanted to see how well they still hold up. The short answer, you’d be surprised.
I’ll take you on my journey and the observations I made as I relived a vital part of my childhood. I’ll be separating the Disney filmography with my own divisions and disregarding other divisions such as The Golden Age.
The first section is what I’d like to call The Storybook Period. With Snow White (1937) on one end and Sleeping Beauty (1959) on the other. My reasoning comes from both the types of stories being told as well as the animation style. The stories were that of fairy tales, children’s books, and brightly colored musicals. The animation style was very bright and clean. Smooth edges and simple color palettes were everywhere.
What really stuck out to me is just how poorly these films had aged. Sure, they might still be classics but classics from a different era. This mostly comes in with its jarring and clear pictures of racism. The crows from Dumbo, “Why is the Red Man Red” song from Peter Pan, and the now missing black centaur from Fantasia. It’s these moments that really make you take a step back and you realize just how much things have changed. This would best be demonstrated in Song of the South which is the only film I was not able to watch since Disney has done it’s best to strike it from the planet. It’s that bad.
A big reason I call this The Storybook Period, largely has to do with the story style. The stories are simple and often of the more fairy tale variety. You have a villain and a hero with very little motivation for either to be so. Not only that but these stories generally don’t reflect our world much at all and end up being pretty hard to relate to.
Beyond the simple story structure, racist overtones, and animation style, this era does happen to be a great era for experimentation. Walt Disney began the tradition of experimenting with different styles and techniques to achieve different effects in his films. A tradition very much alive today, now with more computers and fancy programs.
This idea of pushing and trying new things is probably best encapsulated by Fantasia and the series of musicals in this era (The Three Caballeros, Make Mine Music, Fun and Fancy Free, Melody Time). If you don’t remember any of those four films, I wouldn’t blame you. They’re basically just a series of shorts or musical numbers that aren’t really connected, with the exception of The Three Caballeros. Watching these films, it definitely seems like they were trying different things and seeing what worked. Each film had different animation styles, aesthetics, and even effects. Each one was like a petri dish of animation to see what works.
If I were to choose two films that encapsulated this era, it would be Dumbo and Fantasia. Fantasia while kind of hard to get through, has some truly great set pieces that have, at the time, ground breaking effects. Dumbo, out of all these films, still holds up pretty well. Besides the crows of course. The animation style reflects the majority of the other films and the story itself has some emotional hills and valleys equivalent with today’s films. I still haven’t fully recovered from the scene of Dumbo’s mom cradling Dumbo through the bars of her cage.
I also want to take a moment and give a shout out to Timothy Q. Mouse from Dumbo, a better Jiminy Cricket then the bug himself. Timothy actually sets out to help Dumbo purely out of compassion and never abandon’s him. He’s a true friend and mentor to Dumbo who is a special addition to the film. I would even go as far to say he might be the best Disney sidekick. Period.
This next grouping of films is what I like to call Disney’s Blue Period. The reasoning here is that the films from One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961) to Oliver & Company (1988) are on average darker than what we’ve seen previously. This is seen in the same two aspects from the Storybook Period, animation aesthetic and story. Previously every film had bright colors, clean edges, dealt with fantasy, and were all around just brighter. Now we had much darker color palettes at play with rougher, almost sketch-like quality lines, and we largely step out of fantasy and into the real world.
Starting with the animation style, things had a very different and distinct aesthetic. While before Disney pursued realism, even tracing over live-action models, Disney films now developed their own unique aesthetics. However, just about each film had a distinct roughness to it. As if they didn’t go through the standard clean-up process and instead skipped it. In reality, Sleeping Beauty has a very similar aesthetic. I don’t include it the Blue Period because it’s story structure and elements resemble more closely those of the Storybook Period.
In the Blue Period, the stories took a very real turn. We no longer had evil step-mothers and witches as our enemies. Instead we saw fashion moguls (One Hundred and One Dalmatians), spurned butlers (The Aristocats), trigger happy neighbors (The Fox and the Hound), and kidnapping treasure hunters (The Rescuers). We still had our trips into fantasy (The Sword in the Stone, Robin Hood, The Black Cauldron) but largely we were in a world that was more similar to our own.
The point I’m attempting to make is we started to see more villains and stories more relatable than a fairy tale. We’ve all had that boss we thought was the devil, the angry neighbor, or heard stories on the news about mobsters and kidnappers. These were villains from our world recreated as cartoon caricatures. What also needs to be recognized in this period is some of the most hear-wrenching losses in all of animation. Whether it’s The Fox and the Hound or The Black Cauldron, we began to see true loss. Not the falling under a sleeping spell kind. The kind where characters sacrifice themselves for their friends to demonstrate the purest form of love.
This was my biggest takeaway from this period. We saw beloved characters give-up their life for their friends. While they always come back in the end, it’s never presented that way. It’s always a final sacrifice. For me, the two most hear-wrenching sacrifices are Baloo (The Jungle Book) and Gurgi (The Black Cauldron). It’s a combination of their willingness to die in the aid of their friends and how these scenes were drawn. When you watch them again you forget for a second that this is supposed to be for children. This idea of loss isn’t only relegated to life. It could be a friendship (The Fox and the Hound) or the characters own personal safety (The Rescuers). Loss is a big idea in this period that’s put front center.
One more thought, I’m not sure where The Black Cauldron came from. Sure it’s a pretty prolific book but it is vastly different from anything Disney has done or will probably ever do. It can best be represented by the films villain. An undead sorcerer with an army of demons who is attempting to raise an army of the undead to enslave the world. Who also happens to be voiced by John Hurt.
Now we enter into what’s most commonly referred to as the Disney Renaissance period. I like to call it the Glen Keane Period. This period includes every film from The Little Mermaid (1989) to Tarzan (1999). I call it the Glen Keane Period because Glen Keane was one of the head animators at the time and heavily influenced the designs of the characters from this period. This style is a big part of what sets this period apart.
During this time we get a throwback to the Storybook period. We return to the realm of fantasy stories of princes and princesses. However, these story structures are also applied to different kinds of settings and characters. During this period we go to Africa, France, Australia, China, and oh so many more. It also is a switch to have the princesses to have a little more agency in their own stories. The most notable would be Mulan, who pretends to be a man to save her father and ends up saving China. There is a little more to the story but if you need to be filled in, do yourself a favor and watch the movie.
What’s also important to note is the music during this period. In fact, this is probably the most notable aspect of this period. Music had always been a big part of Disney movies but here, each movie gained its own unique musical style and Disney solidified a winning strategy for a solid decade. Personally, I think the music of this period can best be exemplified by Hercules (1997). I am a little bias seeing as it is my favorite Disney film. However, putting that aside, I still think Hercules makes a strong case.
You have a distinct gospel style which sets apart each song. Not only that but this culture clash between gospel and ancient Greece helps to set the film apart as a whole. Like most other films in this period each informs the audience and propels the plot. This interaction between music and story is more direct than has previously been seen in past movies. In the past, we’d get some song that while captured the mood didn’t have much to do with the actual story. Or it would be a short little musical stanza rather than a full blown musical number.
I also need to mention that I almost called this set the Villain’s Period. After all, in each movie we were given a clear villain that had reasons for their villainy besides just being arbitrarily evil. What’s especially entertaining, is as you get older these villains actually gain more depth. Scar from Lion King (1994) was second his entire life and wanted to be king. Ursula from The Little Mermaid was obviously banished by Triton for some unknown reason and seeks her revenge. Gaston from Beauty and the Beast (1991) while superficially shallow also shows the importance of standing up and speaking the truth in the face of false accusation.
Not too mention each villain got their own songs. Each of which are some of the best out of each film. This focus on more complex villains lays the groundwork for the current period we’re in. However, we need to drudge through some mud first before the final period.
This next period is hard to classify. While at the time, it seemed Disney was on a downhill spiral after massive success in the 90’s. Consequently, this is right when Pixar was soaring with hit after hit. The reason this period is hard to classify is while it was largely a financial failure, creatively they had some of their most unique ideas. Many of which are still fondly remembered and have aged extremely well. That’s why I call this period the Meh Period. Including everything from Fantasia 2000 (2000) to Meet the Robinsons (2007). While there are a few gems, no film was as successful compared to their 90’s predecessor’s.
First, I want clarify what I mean by financial failure. Most films in this period made at least 250 million at the box office. At first it doesn’t seem too bad. However, when you look a little closer things get interesting. Let’s take the best from the Meh Period and the worst from the Glen Keane Period. Dinosaur made 349 million at the box office on a 127.5 million dollar budget. Hercules made 252 million on an 85 million dollar budget. A small note, I used the best and worst that also had info about their production budgets. Not taking into account marketing costs which can get pretty steep, Dinosaur made a total of 221.5 million while Hercules made 167 million. That’s a margin of 54.5 million. The best Disney could do during the Meh Period was only 54.5 million more than the worst from the Glen Keane Period.
Trust me it only gets worse when you look at how well every other film did in the Glen Keane Period. There are a couple reasons why I believe this was a dark period for Disney Animation. First and foremost, Disney as a company was in a painful transition. There were a lot of internal power struggles occurring mostly involving Michael Eisner, the predecessor to Bob Iger the current CEO. These struggles had ripple effects that affected the company as a whole. If you want more information I’d suggest reading Disney War. On top of these internal struggles, Disney Animation made an abrupt departure from their musical centric stories and transitioned hard into more action-adventure fare. Plus, they had some growing pains when transitioning to CGI.
All in all, things were a mess. Their cookie cutter formula got turned on its head and it didn’t look like things were going to turn around. That is until Disney bought Pixar. Up until this point, Disney was the distributor for Pixar. Pixar had been owned largely by Steve Jobs and he was the one that made sure when Disney bought Pixar, Disney laid down some serious cash. At 7.4 billion dollars, Bob Iger was able to acquire Pixar. That’s nearly as much as they paid for Marvel and Lucasfilm combined.
Like I said, this period is all over the place. At best, you’ll have a film you remember being much better watching as a kid. The three exceptions to the rule I would say are Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001), Lilo & Stitch (2002), and Treasure Planet (2002). An argument could be made for The Emperor’s New Groove (2000) since it’s easily the funniest movie in the period and many others. However, it’s just not quite as emotionally deep as the other three.
These three highlights hold-up extremely well and are nearly as good as I remember them. They blend humor, action, and genuine emotion effortlessly. I would also nominate any three of these as Disney’s next live-action adaptations. It’s also important to note that the voice cast for Treasure Planet and Atlantis is made up of some of the most popular actors that have surged in popularity since then.
I would say the best of this period is Lilo & Stitch. From it’s portrayal of it’s sister leads to the true emotional weight that the films story has. It could easily hold its own with today’s animated films with just a few tweaks here and there.
This Pixar acquisition in 2006 kickstarts our next period, and we’ll call it just that. The Pixar Period starts with Bolt (2008) and goes through till today. A couple things happened when Pixar officially became a part of the Disney family. The first was John Lasseter and Ed Catmull became heads of Disney Animation as well as Pixar. In 2006, Disney was still early in their development of Bolt. As the story goes, they ended up doing a lot of story reworking and organization restructuring. Which apparently did the trick. While Bolt wasn’t a resound success it didn’t do half bad at the box office and scored pretty well with critics. Then we got Tangled (2010). A throwback to the Glen Keane Period if there was one and the first huge success at the box office. After that it’s been hit, after hit, after hit.
In many ways, the defining features of this period are still being defined. What is definitely most evident, is the villains are now more complicated and traditional conventions are being flipped. You don’t have to look further than Frozen (2014) or Big Hero 6 (2104) to see that. Since these features are still being developed, let me tell you what I hope to see.
I want villains that are empathetic. Take Robert Callaghan, the villain of Big Hero 6. After losing his daughter to an experiment gone wrong, Callaghan sets out to make the ones responsible pay. Frankly, Callaghan is almost a hero instead of a villain. The only reason he lands on the villain side of the line is because he is willing to endanger innocent people to get his revenge. If I had it my way, we would be able to not only clearly understand the villains motivations but even empathize with them.
Disney needs to go where it hasn’t gone before. Largely when Disney does a fairy tale musical, which is easily their staple film, they tend to go for germanic or euro-centric fairy tales. There’s a whole world out there filled with vibrant cultures who each have their own stories. By exploring those stories not only do they go into uncharted territory but they help to solve the diversity problem currently taking up headlines in Hollywood. And if Moana (2016) is any indication, we will be getting plenty more.
Lastly, I want Disney to do more sci-fi/action-adventure. They’ve already been exploring that with Wreck-it Ralph (2012) and Big Hero 6 (2014). But I want them to explore it even more and put out movies like Treasure Planet (2002) and Atlantis (2001). Sure, these may not have been their biggest successes but they are some of the most rich worlds they have ever made. I’ve written before about how Pixar aren’t the best world builders, but maybe with Disney they could come up with something really special.
Congratulations! You read through this incredibly long post that has little impact on the world! In all seriousness though, this was a very interesting experience. By watching all these movies in chronological order, you can clearly see the development. Where they tried new things, where those things failed, and where they succeeded. I liked it so much I decided to do something similar this year.
Instead of Disney I will be going through the filmographies of Studio Ghibli and Pixar. That’s just over 30 films and they are two of most influential animation studios in the world. So, I’d like to see what they’ve got. Until next time!
The screen opens to a desolate wasteland. Remnants of some great city can be seen in the background. Humanity is all but extinct with only a few bands of wandering humans scavenging the wasteland. If you’ve paid the smallest amount of attention to Hollywood, you may have noticed a trend in sci-fi. To blow-up the world and show what happens after.
Whether it’s in the form of a YA dystopian society (The Hunger Games, Divergent), dystopian sci-fi with humanity fighting a never-ending war against some threat (Terminator: Genisys, Oblivion), or a nuclear/environmental fallout (The Book of Eli, Mad Max: Fury Road). Right now, the popular thing to do is blow-up the world and see what happens. There are many theories you could come up with about why this is so. That’s not why we’re here today. I want to go in the other direction.
These dystopian sci-fi films like to put the protagonists in a world where humanity already lost. To showcase the struggle of living in a world that’s harsher and more savage than our own. At the same time, it showcases the inevitability that our world is going to die. At some point, Hollywood got very depressing about humanities future. So what happens when we aren’t?
You get films like Tomorrowland and The Martian. One was a flop while the other is one of the biggest films of 2015. Let’s start with the flop. Tomorrowland had plenty of issues. These mostly revolved around the narrative and the often conflicting dialogue structure. However, while the ending could have been reworked to be less sappy, it gave us hope. It aimed, somewhat ambitiously, to demonstrate the power that one person has to change the world. Echoing many of the same sentiments that today’s scientist (see Neil Degrasse Tyson) tell the scientist’s of tomorrow.
Honestly, Tomorrowland works far better as an animated film in my opinion. It targets a broader younger audience that is quickly showing that positivity is the way to go. An audience that grew up during the golden age of animation plus the families that have young children that enjoy animation would be far more receptive.
The Martian has a different approach when it comes to optimism. Set in the near future (2035 or 2047) where the world is not only still in one piece but we have reignited our journey to the stars. Here you have one man stuck on Mars whose only goal is to survive. What is so engaging about this film is the display of the indomitable human spirit. Sure, there low times in the film where Mark Watney, our protagonist, hits more than a few setbacks. Things explode, fail to work, and just plain go wrong. However, he and NASA never give up.
Here again, you have a future where humanity isn’t on the way out but thriving. A story where humanity comes together for the greater good. Not only that but The Martian is more science than fiction. Any problem is solved with scientific know-how and the resources available. Where most movies might create some nifty plot-device to solve a problem, the characters are forced to use the resources they have available to them that would most likely actually be available on a similar Mars mission.
What I’m getting at is there is a place for the optimistic sci-fi drama. Where humanity is able to avert whatever disaster is looming regardless how big or small. An important distinction I want to make between this and say your superhero or run of the mill action adventure is the basis in science. You have regular people who have struggled and put in the time to learn something that inevitably saves themselves or even the world. It is much more of an earned victory.
Is this the beginning of a new trend for sci-fi? Maybe. I sure hope it is and look forward to more.
At this point in time Inside Out has received critical praise since before its premiere and has already smashed the record for an original opening weekend. This is for a good reason. Inside Out is everything we love about Pixar in one film. Creative ideas, new perspectives, memorable characters, and most importantly the emotional impact of a world shattering meteor.
As I watched Inside Out I was continually emotionally punched in the gut. Hence the “damn it Pixar” in the title. After all, I can only cry so many times in a film. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s first start with the cast assembled for this film. While there are numerous notable actors lending their voices, I’m going to focus on the five emotions. With comedy veterans Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Lewis Black, Bill Hader, and Mindy Kaling, you can’t really go wrong. Surprisingly, the film doesn’t seem to coast on the talent of its stars and is instead elevated to higher plain.
Amy Poehler channels more than a little bit of Leslie Knope (Parks and Rec) for Joy. Phyllis Smith absolutely nails Sadness and also seems to channel some of her character from The Office. Bill Hader plays Fear who could easily be replaced by Flint from Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. Mindy Kaling as Disgust is divinely inspired casting and a summation of all the cool people we’ll never be. Finally, Lewis Black as Anger is just about as perfect casting as you can get. With a solid voice ensemble, this film is definitely putting the right foot forward.
Beyond the voice cast, we need to talk about the story. Following the emotions of Riley, a girl moving with her family from Minnesota to San Francisco. Struggling with leaving her friends and old life behind, she is forced to adjust to a brand new life. Of course this is an emotional time and sends Riley’s five emotions into turmoil. This is a story that everyone can relate to. Whether it was a move or some other life changing event that occurred when you were a child, everyone can think of something.
Through this story, which takes about two or three days, we learn the importance of each emotion. Fear keeps us safe from dangerous situations. Disgust helps to ensure are social survival. Anger helps us to stand up for ourselves. Joy steers us towards what makes us ultimately happy. Sadness helps us understand pain and how to ultimately process it. These are slight simplifications but I only want to delve deeper into the two central emotions of this film, Joy and Sadness.
From the get go, Joy acts as the leader of the group. After all, if we asked what was the most important emotion, how many people would say happiness or joy? What Inside Out does so brilliantly well is accurately depict the importance of all emotions to our development, including sadness. They accomplish this most effectively by having two worlds. The outside normal world and the one where Riley’s emotions are. This create a unique cause and effect relationship that helps to showcase why Riley acts the way she does.
It is done so well that you will not be able to stop yourself from empathizing with Riley. From my own personal experience, I could see myself when I was kid acting out in the same ways. The pain and confusion felt by Riley was very real to me. This emotional conflict drives the narrative and leads to some of the most heartbreaking and heartwarming moments in Pixar’s history.
All of this to say, I do not think that Inside Out is Pixar’s best film. It is definitely in my top 5 but not the best. Not for any one big reason but more just little things that subtracted a few points here and there. Really though, it’s apples and orange. Inside Out has earned a spot in Pixar’s greatest hits and has helped bring Pixar out of a creative slump. Not too bad after a two year absence from the box office.
Disney is doing something very interesting with their intellectual properties (IP). I don’t know if there is a strict plan in place nor do I know if this is an actual thing. However, it’s a pretty smart move if Disney is basing movies off their past films and attractions..
What it comes down to is mining their already pre-established IP’s. This idea comes in two parts. First, is their return to their classics, mostly their animated classics, to make live-action adaptations. Second is their exploration of their Disneyland attractions.
To start off with their live-action adaptations, the least interesting of the two, is actually a very smart business move. Hollywood seems to run on remakes and reboots these days. I mean, wouldn’t you want a piece of a potential $12 billion dollar pie? When you go looking into this subject you begin to find numerous articles explaining why it seems there is nothing new in Hollywood. That’s because a) it is a safe investment and b) we as an audience want more of the same.
This is why actors who do well get payed more, because studio execs know that we want to see them. Nothing wrong with that but it is the reason why we suddenly have 3-4 Chris Pratt movies to look forward to in the coming years. Movies and IP’s work the same way. When there is a character or story that is largely liked by the majority, why would someone make a movie starting from scratch. To be honest, I am okay with this. You want to do a new interesting take on Winnie the Pooh, then go for it! As long as it is it brings something new, like make Christopher Robin an evil genius who goes up against Calvin and Hobbes. Never gonna happen but this has actually made the rounds on the internet.
While we don’t get that movie, which is a crime, we instead get the Transformers. It makes all the money, but for the wrong reasons. It’s colorfulness and explodieness (totally a word, you don’t even have to look it up) combined with its goldmine level nostalgia is a deadly combination. However, they are all literally the same movie. You could randomly mix and match scenes from all three (oh right there was a fourth) and still come out with a movie that made just as much sense. A lot of this also has to do with international markets but that’s no what where here to discuss.
The point is, Paramount has an IP whose last two movies each made over a billion dollars. Why would they say “well I guess we made all the money and should move on to that Winnie the Pooh bounty hunter movie”. That’s just a bad business move. They will keep making those movies until they stop making money and they will simply keep repeating the formula. That right there is where the problem is.
Instead of each movie expanding on the universe, we instead keep getting the same plot over and over again. The bad robots go after a robot artifact, the good robots partner with the humans to stop them, explosions happen, the good robots win. Instead of maybe making the bad robots win, killing off characters in a meaningful way, or anything inventive they just add more explosions and fight scenes.
On the flip side we have the Spider-Man franchise. Now before all 2 of you read this, hi mom, and begin to shun me just hold on. Each franchise has brought a new look at the character. While each entry has not been the best, each franchise has taken a different approach. We saw with Tobey Maguire a Spider-Man who was painfully socially awkward who transitions into adulthood. We saw him struggle with being a hero while still trying to be normal. That idea of trying to embrace our gifts to become something extraordinary.
Andrew Garfield gave us a Spider-Man who was always a hero, but who never had the tools to do something more. With his powers gave him the motivation to do more and be more. Not only that but he had to deal with the very real consequences of fighting deranged villains. The people he loves get put into danger and often die. Each iteration had its clear differences in style, metaphor, and plot points. I think where it all went wrong is they tried to go bigger than deeper. It happened at different points but they just tried to copy to a formula.
This is where Disney can succeed with its live-action adaptations. It is their own personal nostalgia gold-mine that they can now introduce twists on the very tropes they created. The best example is Maleficent. Instead of the prince bestowing love’s true kiss on Aurora, it is Maleficent herself bestowing a mothers true love to wake her up. It’s these kinds of things that Disney can do that other studios can’t, simply because they have been establishing their own tropes since Snow White. Now we just need a live-action Dumbo. (I am aware that this is now a thing but at the time this was a novel idea I swear)
Now the other side to this is the fact that they have more than just their animated films to draw from. They have Disneyland and Disney World attractions to also use. This is where the true brilliance comes in. Essentially, they have pre-made worlds to create stories for. Pirates of the Caribbean is the obvious one to point out. A simple ride that has spawned a series worth over $4 billion dollars. That’s a pretty penny for a ride that lasts about 15 minutes.
They have all of these rides and attractions that are nostalgic across a larger demographic that they are pretty much a blank slate. This is why Tomorrowland is particularly exciting. Sci-fi has been on the rise these past few years and has been turning very dark and gritty. Tomorrowland can bring us back to when sci-fi was about looking towards a bright future. A refreshing return to a more light hearted sci-fi. This would also compliment the original intention behind Tomorrowland‘s creation.
While it may have taken a moment for Disney to get their feet on the ground, we’re looking at you Haunted Mansion, they may have found their stride. The key I believe with these attraction based movies, is to keep exploring the world. In my mind, that was the big problem with At World’s End. It was merely a continuation of the last film using similar elements rather than bringing anything new in. Sure we got Calypso, but her presence felt largely shoe horned in at the last minute. With Stranger Tides, we got Black Beard, Mermaids, and ships in a bottle. Way more interesting stuff that left us wanting to know more.
This is what Disney needs to do with their attraction movies. Have some overarching plot but instead of just escalating each movie with established concepts, introduce new one to explore the world. The one that could have huge potential is the upcoming Big Thunder Mountain Railroad TV show. With a comic coming out this month based on the idea, they could go in a lot of different directions. The old west is usually presented as a place that has a lot of mysteries. Inherent mysticism that seems to infest the open plains. Only time will tell how it will turn out though.
What I am trying to get across is that Disney finds itself in fairly unique position. When remakes and reboots are the bread and butter of Hollywood, Disney has it’s own IP’s to pull from. As long as they update them with modern themes and keep things fresh with each installment, Disney can’t really fail.
In the past I have talked about world building and it’s benefits for creating a compelling story. Recently, this idea has come back into my mind for a number of reasons. Marvel’s announcement about adding Spider-Man to the MCU is chief among them. However, my new year’s resolution this year was to re-watch all of Walt Disney’s theatrically released animated films. I’ll detail the experience more when I have actually finished watching all of the 50+ films. As I watch these films, I get to thinking about world building and it’s use in film. Particularly with how Disney has handled it so far. Before that, let me tell you what I think is needed to build a truly wonderful world.
Most recently, one of the best worlds built from scratch has got to be John Wick. Originally seen as your basic B-level action flick, its masterful world building helped elevate the narrative to another level. What worked so well is that the directors didn’t bother spelling everything out. I’ll do my best not to spoil anything but they essentially introduced elements that obviously had a history but they didn’t tell the audience. They just introduced it as it should be and left it at that. How this helped them is it let the audience to fill-in the gaps.
They introduce a concept such as a currency only mean’t for hitmen and assassins. Instead of giving us some sort of explanation as to how this currency works and its worth, they simply just use it. This currency then becomes this cool gimmick throughout the film that continually piques the audiences interest. It also allows the audience to speculate how these characters gained their varying levels of wealth with this currency. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. We are left to wonder how widely this currency can be used. Is it global? Can it be used as bribery for politicians? We are literally left with endless possibilities. To create a successful world, leaving a little mystery to allow your audience to explore is key.
What’s also important is having a distinct visual style. Take Big Hero 6. It’s a world where San Francisco and Tokyo have been merged. Here you get distinct combinations of iconic examples of American and Japanese culture. The visual style, as with just about any animated film, is also very distinct. Characters are more caricatures than realistic with features that support or clash with their personalities.
Go Go Tomago looks like a bicyclist or a sprinter. She has the legs of someone who was always pushing to go faster. I mean seriously, just take a look at what Olympic sprinters look like. Her mentality of a tough, fearless, speed demon is only supported by the way she looks. Wasabi on the other hand has an opposite relationship. He looks like your typical strongman, hulk, bruiser type. Broad shoulders, barrel chested, and just big all around. He looks like someone who is called in when someone needs a buddy to help them out in a fight. However, his personality clashes with this perception. Out of the entire group, he is by far the most neurotic and least likely to want to jump into a fight.
These visual cues, whether directed at characters or scenery, are key to develop a world that the audience can get lost in. It allows the audience to fill in the gaps of what else could be going on in the world.
While having a sense of mystery and a clear visual style is important, nothing can be more important than your question. Every successful world can be boiled down to one question that the world gets shaped around. How would an underground assassin network operate? What would it look if the most advance technologies we have, were accessible and affordable to the entire public? What would the world look like if dragons were real? I bet you can figure out which movies I’m talking about here. This question may not be your starting point, but I believe it is a sign of a well crafted world.
After Earth, while terrible, had a single nugget that piqued my interest. What would the world look like if humans were suddenly at the bottom of the food chain? Starting there I can see a story forming. What if one day we found that the various species on Earth suddenly seemed to turn on humanity. Where not only animals are no longer afraid to actively defend against humans and their machines, but hunt them down. Amazon forest crews would find themselves fighting off hordes of monkeys who have developed poisonous saliva. Cities would find themselves overrun by the natural wildlife as they refused to be scared away. Throw in plants growing more aggressively and you have yourself a situation that would cause humans to want to flee earth. That right there seems to be a start of a more compelling story than what we got in After Earth.
My observations are not an official, peer reviewed basis for a theory that required months of research. I have simply watched a lot of movies and started to to piece these things together. Most films can be observed this, especially that of the animated genre, and I find two ways to break them down. They either have a strong narrative or a well-built world. Not to say they can’t be both, it’s just that they tend to favor one or the other. For instance, most of the Pixar films would land in the narrative category. This makes sense since they have essentially built their company around how to tell a story. On the other hand, the better Dreamworks films tend to have stronger worlds.
Why I bring this up is because Disney tends to ride the line. Sometimes it works out well, other times it doesn’t. It seems they have tried both and mostly have had average success on either side. However, those that do the best are usually those that have a stronger narrative base (Frozen, Lion King). What I find interesting though, is that they have created many worlds that are truly unique. Big Hero 6 is the most recent while Treasure Planet is a place I eagerly want them to revisit.
So in conclusion, before this piece gets out of my hands, Disney has tried many different story-telling styles. From world building to strong narratives they, more than most, have tried both. Recently, they are getting their groove back with John Lasseter at the helm. I can only wait in anticipation to see which side of the line Moana and Zootopia fall on.
If you haven’t seen it yet, then stop whatever you are doing invite those around you to gather around to watch the first Star War VII: The Force Awakens trailer. Now, watch it again just because. Done? Watch it a third time just to catch up. Okay so I don’t know about you but I startled pretty much everyone around me when I started to giggle like a hyperactive child because that is what this trailer reduced me to. It looked fantastic and too be honest that Millenium Falcon shot was all I really needed in life.
This trailer is our first full official glimpse into J.J. Abrams vision for the next chapter in a galaxy far, far away. The secrecy surrounding the production of Star Wars VII has been so iron clad that anything short of aerial photos taken by an accidental flyover is the most we got. Otherwise we have simply been getting vague photos and tidbits of information from J.J. Abrams. Even though we got a decent look from this trailer, we are left with even more questions.
Now before I get into my own hopes, dreams, and theories lets delve into the most popular theory so far. I have a more complete breakdown of a supposedly confirmed script rumor over at The Disney Blog. However, I will give you the highlights here. One more note, Oscar Isaac has come out and said that apparently he hasn’t heard any rumors that are close to the actual story. While possible, I would be surprised if these were completely off base:
POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD!!!!
- Daisy Ridley and John Boyega are going to be the two main protagonists of the film
- Daisy is a scavenger on the sands of Tatooine who rescues John’s storm trooper character after he crash lands
- One or both of them will discover that they are Jedi
- They discover something (potentially a severed hand holding a lightsaber) that they take to Daisy’s mentor/boss, Max Von Sidow
- Max is a cyborg that has been around since the clone wars and could possibly have fought on the side of empire
- Max may also have some connection to the Sith, possibly being an Inquisitor or Jedi Hunter
- Max sends Daisy and John to someone who may know more
- This somehow lead them to Han and Chewie
- Whether or not hey were the original destination is unclear
- Han reveals that Luke has been in exile nearly since the Death Star was destroyed the second time
- They go on a journey to find him
- It is revealed that Luke has unleashed some kind of force power that could alter the course of the galaxy
- He is worried he will give in to the dark side
- He has gone crazy and wild due to his self-imposed exile
- The final battle will see our new heroes face off against new villains, very likely the Inquisitors and a new Sith Lord
- Luke will join in the battle and by the end we will know whether he is good or evil
That right there is the largely rumored plot. A series of events that seems to quite naturally tie in old and new characters. Now the trailer for the most part doesn’t confirm any of this. It does seem to confirm how Daisy and John will meet up and that Han and Chewie are on Tatooine. Beyond that, nothing else really has enough information to confirm much.
Now the big thing that caused a lot of fans to question J.J. Abrams vision is the new Sith lightsaber. The internet instantly latched onto this detail and a slew of parodies began. It really divided the fans down the middle about whether or not having a lightsaber cross-guard is functionally effective. Most worry that the Sith might cut of his hand or that it’s usefulness is infinitesimally small. Bantha Fodder to that I say! I thought this was a really cool design and is actually much more telling than you might think.
First, we are talking about a fictional weapon that can cut through nearly anything with little resistance. It’s a miracle that most padawan’s don’t dismember themselves on their first use since the tiniest nick would over no pressure and no resistance. So from this we know that any lightsaber requires training to use. This lightsaber would be no different and if Jedi and Sith can learn to wield two of these death blades at once, they can avoid the cross-guards. Not to mention that having a smaller lightsaber attached is not unheard of in the extended universe. Many Jedi and Sith throughout this universe have used a similar attachment to aid in battle.
Some naysayers might say that Disney has gone on record to say that they do not count the expanded universe material as canon. Well lets look at the facts presented by the films then. The Sith are gone. The closest we get at this point are the Inquisitors (think of them as force empowered servants of Sith), who are in hiding at this point. So here we have a new force user who has no one to turn to for training. Maybe he comes across an older lightsaber (more on that later) or he puts his own together. Not having any proper training he creates what he imagines a sword to be. Complete with cross-guard and everything. Even looking at the blade, it seems to not be as clean as a regular lightsaber. In the extended universe it is known that Sith generally prefer a different type of crystal for their lightsabers. A synthetic one that offers more power but less focus. Maybe this Sith-to-be finds a crystal, puts the saber together, and uses the cross-guard to divert excess energy.
Earlier I said he might come across an older lightsaber. Well, since the title is The Force Awakens what if he stumbles upon an old Sith tomb of sorts? The Jedi and Sith have been around for awhile so it wouldn’t be too unusual to have ancient tombs. Not to mention that in the expanded universe, there is one Sith is asleep in a tomb only to be awoken. Arden Lyn is that Sith. I think the whole idea of a “mummy” Sith is a little far fetched. Having an old Sith tomb is a little more believable. This would also give our new villain a starting point for his new belief, worldview, religion, or whatever it’s supposed to be called.
The last thing I want to talk about is Luke’s new found power. Supposedly, he unleashes a new force power that forces him to exile himself. In the expanded universe there is this power called “Oneness“. Basically, the force user becomes a physical representation of the force. Think Super Saiyan for Jedi. This could very easily be adapted some how into the film. Luke unlocks a new power that allows him reach whole new levels of powers, ones that could affect the whole galaxy.
Again, none of the expanded universe is going to be considered canon. I think this is a smart move by Disney since it narrows a very, very large pool of content. However if they were smart they would still pool from it. By denying the expanded universe it allows them to draw inspiration from it instead of adapting stories. All in all I have no idea what to expect. Everything I know is based on rumors and leaks. It could all change or it could be similar to my ideas. Whatever happens, I’m excited to see the return of a galaxy far, far, away.
Big Hero 6 released about a week and half ago and has earned a global 148 million box office gross. It’s sure to continue its upward trajectory and inspire more than a few kids to pursue science. Being the first Disney superhero film, it was a little rough around the edges but is definitely a continuation of what Frozen began with its positive messages. However, this isn’t the first animated hero film we got from the Disney family. The Incredibles which came out ten years ago on November 4th was our first hero treatment from the House of Mouse. The Pixar film was a story about a superhero family with a particular focus on the mother and father. Robert Parr, the father, was experiencing his mid-life crisis and was eager to take up the mask and tights again. His wife, Helen Parr, was ready to put their past exploits behind them to try and live a “normal” life.
After watching Big Hero 6 I was struck with the similarities while at the same time realizing their stark differences. With The Incredibles, we get a group of heroes that are bound together by family. Coming from a big family myself, their household disputes where pretty accurate, accept for the addition of superpowers of course. It expressed to me what a family should be, they are the people that will always have your back no matter what. Not only that but a family is a team. One person can’t carry the family, no matter how strong or flexible they may be. It requires cooperation and shared responsibilities. You see this in the struggles and conflicts throughout the film.
For Mr. Incredible, trying to go back to his golden days instead of creating new ones with his family works for a time. He eventually loses his control though, putting himself and his family in danger. Taking this to a metaphorical level, Mr. Incredible’s lack of family focus and his attempt to be as incredible as he was causes him to shirk his familial responsibilities. That he can keep his family a float on his own marginalizes not only his wife but his kids as well.
Elasti-girl on the other hand has different set of problems. She is ready to begin a normal life, where super villains and spandex are nowhere to be seen. She wants to hide her family’s gifts so that they can appear normal or to fit in. When it comes time to rely on her families gifts, they fail since they have seen them as something to hide.
The big conclusion of course is the family coming together to defeat Syndrome. We see each character shed their insecurities and failings realizing that their family is their to cover what they can’t. With The Incredibles 2 now coming our way I am extremely excited to see where they go next.
What chiefly sets The Incredibles a part from Big Hero 6 is the perception of powers. With The Incredibles we have a world where super powers are a bad thing. Using one’s individual and sometimes extraordinary talents is seen as a bad thing. Even Syndrome uses this concept as his big evil plan, to make everyone reliant on an external force to make them feel “super” which in turn makes them not. Which coincidentally could be the focus of another article, “Syndrome’s Social Media Plan”. Anyways, the point I am attempting to get at, which at this point feels like I’m stumbling through, is that The Incredibles is all about family and how they help to shape who we are by encouraging us to embrace are individuality.
Big Hero 6 takes a slightly different approach. It shows that sometimes family can let us down. Before you decide to click away just hear me out. Yes, Hiro’s family did not intentionally let him down but they weren’t there when he needed them. Hiro’s aunt was still present sure, but she was still very much a secondary character in the grand scheme of things. Instead, it’s Hiro’s friends that handle the brunt of the emotional support.
The differences don’t stop there. While the world of The Incredibles sought to surpress individuality and talents San Fransokyo encourages individuality. Each character is unashamedly themselves. They follow their passions and use their talents to make their dreams realities. The important bit in this film is that using our gifts selfishly is just as bad as not using them at all, which we see with main villain almost destroying the city by selfishly using his gifts. This message adds responsibility not only to those close to us but the rest of the world.
The best way I can describe my thoughts about these two films is that they are a continuation of each other. The Incredibles teaches us that hiding our gifts and trying to be Superman will only lead us to failure. Big Hero 6 showed us that we need to encourage each others gifts and that friends are family. While these two films are different, the do compliment each other very well and teach us a valuable lesson on respecting our own gifts along with others.
Big Hero 6 premiered this weekend and is already pulling ahead in the box office, beating out Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. To say I was looking forward to this movie is a little bit of an understatement. Being a self described Disney and comic book geek, having a Marvel inspired Disney movie was a dream come true. So, going in with a set of established expectations I was pleasantly surprised at the outcome.
I was expecting a pretty straight forward origin story involving the typical loss and an eventual rebirth of our main characters. While our main protagnist, Hiro (Ryan Potter), did go through that traditional arc there was something else going on within the film. Leading up to the premiere, there were many articles pointing out that Big Hero 6 was set to be one of the most diverse Disney films to date. With a group of characters that seemed to break every mold, there was truly a character for everyone to relate to.
There was Hiro, who was struggling with the loss of his parents and his brother. A genius who was unchallenged in everyday life and simply needed a place that fit him. Go Go (Jamie Chung), one of my favorites, is the Wolverine of the group who just does her thing, always looking to go faster and not getting hung up on others perceptions. Wasabi (Damon Wayans Jr.) who at first you’d expect to be the big, rough and tumble member of the group is actually the type-a OCD team member, Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez), the “girly-girl” of the group who would be just as excited going shopping as designing a new chemical concoction to aid in her crime fighting. Lastly, Fred (TJ Miller) is the simple enthusiast, he might not be able to build these incredible inventions but he will be the first volunteer to jump in and test it.
Combining their varying geeky styles with the cultural diversity of each character, you see how anybody from any background could be anything. A clear lesson in diversity and about forming judgments based on a persons appearance. So, how does geek culture fit into this? Simple, every single member of Big Hero 6 is a geek! A geek is, at least by modern definitions, a person who is enthusiastic about a subject. Most often these interests lean more towards pop culture and academic pursuits. However, you can still be a football, shopping, marketing, or even a cooking geek.
Big Hero 6 takes this approach of having multiple passions that interact with each of its main characters. Instead of making each one of Hiro’s friends a stereotypical one dimensional geek, we get a variety of characters with different interests that help shape them. Go Go is all about racing and she is hard at work creating mag lev suspension. Wasabi is a neat freak who borders on having OCD whose plasma swords cut with such precision that it would make even Monk proud. Honey Lemon has an eye for fashion and embodies that in her power purse that she uses to combine chemicals into crime fighting pods. Fred who while not scientifically inclined is a science enthusiast with a passion for superheroes is unashamed of letting his geek flag fly. Each character has their own quirks which clearly show through each one and makes some of the most unique characters in Hollywood today.
We have established that we are dealing with a superhero team comprised of geeks. What this all means about geeks and geek culture is something any self-described geek already knows, everyone is a geek. I mentioned up above that being a geek is about being excited about something so much that you can’t help but tell others about your passion. For me, it’s film and comic books with a particular focus on those people or companies that tell great stories. I have had many brain dumping sessions involving coworkers and friends who asked just the right question to kick off an hour lesson on a particular subject. If you think about it, I’m you yourself probably have one or two subjects that people would have to physically stop you from talking too much about.
Disney shows that this is okay. That being passionate about anything is okay. Fashion, science, robotics, chemistry, racing, kids, superheroes, everything is open to geek culture and that’s okay. Big Hero 6 does a lot of things well, showing diversity, showing how cool science has always been, superheroes are fun, friends are important, and while losing someone hurts we have to keep moving forward. What is most important is that it’s okay to be passionate about things and to surround yourself with people that fan the flames either through support or participation. This is what Big Hero 6 does the best. My favorite scene is when Hiro first meet his future teammates. You see the joy and passion they have for their individual projects that just brings a smile to your face.
Big Hero 6 may not be the best Disney film out there. I certainly still have my favorites and few criticisms. What is so special about Big Hero 6 is it presents its message in a very clear distinct way both actively and passively. Representing diversity passively by just having a wide range of characters that are different by being themselves. From backgrounds, to physical appearance, and even their little quirks, it’s easy to see how each character is there own person. The dialogue actively presents their messages of togetherness and support. From Fred’s science enthusiastic comments to the teams words of comfort and advice as Hiro struggles with the loss in his life.
Disney has made a huge step in terms of stepping into the modern era with their story telling and character diversity. We’ll just have to wait and see if they continue the trend with Moana and Zootopia in 2016.