Moana (Movie Review)

Hello, fellas!

So in the spirit of my Top 10 Best and Worst Movies of 2016 (look forward to it!), I headed over to the local motion-picture house to get me some writing material. Among them was Disney’s most recent release (and a recommendation in this very blog last month), hailing straight from the Polynesian islands, new princess on the block, Moana.

Some Background ———-

Moana is not Disney’s first attempt at tackling a minority in one of their feature films (can somebody say The Princess and the Frog? How about Pocahontas?) and when they set up to do so, they normally do it with a vengeance. Moana is a film rich with the culture of Polynesian and Hawaiian islands, and despite much discussion, there is no doubt that effort was put into preserving and enhancing the traditions the film highlights. Cast and soundtrack take deep care to honor the movie’s main setting, with voice actors who all have some sort of Pacific Islander heritage, and songs that include intricate lyrics in a Polynesian language that is actually spoken in the American Samoan Islands.

All in all, Moana paints a really complete picture of the world it’s trying to offer the viewers. It opens a new, innovative and interesting setting for Disney to explore and audiences to enjoy and learn about, all while shedding some light over the rich oral traditions and stories of the Polynesian communities, too long ignored in mainstream film.The movie tells the story of Moana, a young girl who struggles with her place in life and the responsibilities her father and her tribe have put on her shoulders. Much of it we already know: the struggle, the self-doubt, the moment of truth when the heart finally tells the young heroine what to do… Pretty basic Disney stuff. It’s old and it has holes, but we love it. Like most of Disney animated hits, filmmakers make Moana’s struggles personal enough that you can relate and care for her, that you shed a tear or two when she crosses a milestone, and don’t feel guilty because of the simple gladness you get when she comes out victorious at the end.

Moana is a likable character. She is caring, determined and kind, and displays a level of maturity that is quite alien to regular Disney princesses and I believe is very refreshing. She has a dream yes, but she doesn’t let this dream overcome her own responsibilities to her people. And even when she does decide to pursue it, it is always with an optimistic but practical mind that is willing to learn and face the challenges that are sure to come. Her quest is somewhat reminiscent of Rapunzel’s in Tangled, but she lacks the sometimes annoying naivete, and her attitude brushes on Brave‘s Merida, but without the spoiled rebelliousness and selfishness of the red-headed Scottish lass.

The rest of the characters do a good job of complementing her, especially Maui, demigod extraordinaire, but it’s Moana herself who holds the weight of most of the movie. It’s a refreshing new trend by Disney:  a girl interesting enough that she can hold your attention throughout an entire film, without needing a love interest (or a sister) to help her. They first introduced this trend for Brave, and now for Moana it has definitely being perfected. Disney embracing the concept of woman empowerment after almost a century of damsel-in-distress-type heroines is definitely a plus in my opinion, so thumbs up for that.

The story, although simple, is well-thought and complete, with a surprising ending that is very moving and teaches about understanding and trust, all the time keeping the mysticism and subtle sense of surrealism of old oral legends.

Disney lovers will like Moana, and even those who are not avid fans of the animation giant will enjoy this movie’s well-crafted action and its clean, simple humor that leaves you chuckling all the way through. Will it stand beside its blockbuster princess predecessor, Frozen? Hard to say. Moana is an entirely different animal with entirely different aspirations. But what it’s obvious is that this brand-new Disney movie holds its own weight in the Disney universe, and hopefully it will become the gateway to many more exploring and voyaging to far lands and untold stories.

10/10!

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Look Forward to: Disney’s Moana

look forward

Third in the month!

See? I told you I would do three of these this month. You won’t be getting anymore juice like this for a while so enjoy it while it last, guys. 

So today in our Look Forward To… we go back to my geeky, less than mature roots and take on the newest princess movie by Disney’s very capable staff, a Polynesian 3D princess with some amazing powers of her own.

Enter: Disney’s Moana. 

Moana Teaser Poster.jpgOk, readers of mine, I like Disney. That’s not a secret to anyone. I know all the songs by heart, I have them on a playlist I put on when I’m taking a shower, and when I find a Disney movie while browsing through my cable channels, I normally leave it on (and make popcorn). So sue me!

Moana comes to take the place of the newest princess movie that Frozen last held, and does it with flair by taping into a culture that is both mysterious and familiar for Americans: the far-away cousins from Hawaii we all go to see whenever beach season opens up. I, for one, find it quite the interesting approach. Disney has been trying for a while to appeal to the minorities and portray itself as a multicultural company that respects diversity. Movies like Mulan, Pocahontas and The Princess and the Frog came to help set up that notion. Disney Channel’s series Elena of Avalor, the first Latina princess in Disney history, already started this year’s effort with its July TV premiere, and now in comes Moana.  

What is it about?  

Moana is a young, adventurous teenager who leaves in Montunui Island, in the Polynesian region. Her father is the chief of their tribe and descendant of a long line of navigator that three thousand years ago traveled around the Pacific, having adventures and discovering all the island of Oceania. So when her family is suddenly put in danger, Moana doesn’t hesitate to sail on a journey to find a mysterious island that holds the key to save them. She will get more than she bargained for, though. Aided by mighty demi-god Maui and her own affinity with the ocean and the creatures that populate it, Moana will live a thrilling, dangerous adventure, encountering scary monsters, impossible odds, and fulfilling the ancient quest of her ancestors while discovering the one thing she’s always sought: her own identity.   

Why you should give it a shot?  

As casting comes, Moana is hitting the little-known button for the most part. Disney tried to stay true to the film’s premise and featured a voice cast with strong Pacific Islander roots such as 15-year-old Auli’i Cravalho, making her debut with this movie, and Temuera Morrison, supporting actor from Star Wars Episode II and III.

Notable in the cast though it’s the addition of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, portraying demi-god and male lead Maui, who had to reconnect with his Samoan heritage for this part. The Rock has become a Hollywood regular for the last several years, and has won the hearts of the audience with his easy smile, warm humor and amazing charisma that brings a good dose of lightness to the hard action thrillers he normally portrays. It’s bound to be interesting to see how he uses those same assets to his full advantage in this new setting, where his impressive muscles and physical prowess is not even showcased.

 

With Disney there’s always the controversy of whether the newest movie is going to live up to the standard set up by its predecessors, and being a direct follower of Frozen, Moana has it tough, I must admit. It will take a lot for this new princess to beat the winter blockbuster of 2013 (which also premiered around Thanksgiving) and the almost 1.3 billion green bills it put into Disney’s pockets. However, there’s always hope, and even if it doesn’t manage to get as much traction as Frozen, Moana is sure to be an fun, endearing and exciting experience for the whole family.

Release date: November 23, 2016.   

Finding Dory (Movie Review)

 

Alrighty!

Well I’ve never done a movie review before but last Friday I spent a very good day at the movies, and so I thought I should spread the word about this particular film, Pixar’s newest motion picture, Finding Dory.

Some Background ———-

Ok, so those of you who’ve read some of my previous posts should know by now I am a big fan of Pixar. I think these guys manage time and again to combine awesome animation with superb storytelling, in a way that, for a fellow creator like me, is nothing short of awe-inspiring. Their catalog is filled with veritable masterpieces that are a joy to watch (and rewatch) regardless of your age.

Finding Nemo.jpgWith Finding Dory, they tackled one of their most successful projects ever and decided (in a very gutsy and risky move) to bring about a sequel. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that this could have been a monumental mistake. In fact, it had all the makings of one. Finding Nemo (Finding Dory‘s predecessor which we all know about) is one of Pixar’s most perfect, most endearing movies. It made history in the animation in 2003, by winning the Academy Award for Best Animated History and becoming the best-selling DVD title of all times, along with bringing almost 940 millions in box-office to Pixar’s pockets. Nemo became an undisputed cult classic and household name for people of all ages (it also ranked #3 in our very own Top 10 Best Pixar Movies Ever). 

With all this in mind, it wouldn’t have been weird in Finding Dory went the way of many other animated franchises in which the first movie was exceedingly good, but the overall quality dropped after that (I’m looking at you Ice Age and Shrek!). In fact, it was expected.Finding Dory.jpg

Well, friends… don’t let it be say I don’t apologize when an apology is due. And for once, I’m actually glad I’m lowering my head and saying “Sorry for doubting you, Pixar.” In fact, I am incredibly happy.

For the second time in my entire life, I’ve had the joy to experience an animated sequel that is as good (if different) as its predecessor. This phenomena only happened once before, more than two years ago, when I sat on a movie theater for 1 hour and 42 minutes and cried with How To Train Your Dragon 2. 

Finding Dory is a very similar experience.

Ok, so for starters, something to keep in mind: 

Finding Dory is NOT the same as Finding Nemo 

With this, I do not mean that it’s in any way inferior, just that it’s a different animal altogether. Finding Nemo captured our hearts with a story about yearning and learning to find the courage in your heart to do anything and go anywhere for those you love. Marlin’s journey and his determination, coupled with Nemo’s realization of just how much he truly loved his father, was heart-wrenching and heavy and wonderful. The happy ending made it great. However, Finding Nemo is not a particularly happy movie. It’s deep and heavy as the ocean itself. 

Finding Dory is different. From the very start, the movie is uplifting. I’ll say probably the saddest part is the beginning, when we meet Dory and we realize just what a toll her disability (short-term memory loss) has in her life and that of her parents. It’s sad to see her struggle with it, to see her try to comprehend it, with the innocence and helplessness of a child who doesn’t quite understand herself.

From then on, however, the movie starts to soar. The overall mood is ever rising, the story becoming lighter and lighter with every minute. Dory tackles her challenges head-on and with optimism, without overthinking, and her steadfast approach is successful and wins the heart of the audience with her almost childish wonder and love for life. Watching Finding Dory I was reminded of a couple of months ago, when I was asked to compare Zootopia to 2015’s Inside Out (which I’d declared Pixar’s Best Movie of All Times). At the time, I argued that Zootopia wasn’t inferior to Inside Out, it was just different, both in feeling and in objective.

The same happens with Finding Dory. It doesn’t reach the heights of feeling and depth of Finding Nemo, but then, it doesn’t have to. The movie is about personal triumph. About the certainty that you can do anything you put your mind to, that  you can be whoever you want to be, regardless of the obstacles or challenges.

It’s definitely another superb production by Pixar, and one I believe can definitely stand side by side with its predecessor and not fall short.

10/10!

 

Top 10 Best Pixar Movies Ever.

Last night at the Golden Globe awards, Disney/Pixar’s most recent blockbuster, Inside Out, took the accolade home for Best Animated Feature Film. Having seen the movie earlier this year, I have to agree with the decision 100%, but this also inspired me to create another of my famous (nefarious) Top 10 lists.

Pixar is a studio I hold great respect for. They have managed to dominate a growing market and deliver piece after piece of consistent quality and great storytelling, through movies that are enjoyable not only for children, but adults as well. So, in the spirit of homage such great work deserves, here we go:

Top 10 Best Pixar Movies Ever!

Film poster showing Woody anxiously holding onto Buzz Lightyear as he flies in Andy's room. Below them sitting on a bed are various smiling toys watching the pair, including Mr. Potato Head, Hamm, and Rex. In the lower right center of the image is the film's title. The background shows the cloud wallpaper featured in the bedroom.Number 10: Toy Story

The first Pixar movie ever made, Toy Story pioneered the concept of CGI animation and opened a new door for creators and viewers all around the world. The opportunities were unfathomable, and the potential something nobody could predict. Toy Story earned the heart of children all over with its array of cute characters and the childlike wonder of a world where toys actually come to life when their owner is not looking. As a debut, it clearly stated that Pixar would be a force to be reckoned with in the animated world. However, this movie failed to capture older audiences and, although entertaining, the characters where (pardon the wordplay) decidedly cartoonish. This mistakes landed Toy Story in our number 10, but for a training-wheels movie, it was indeed something.

A Bug's Life.jpgNumber 9: A Bug’s Life

A Bug’s Life is a simpler yet more developed piece than Toy Story. It presents viewers with characters that are more diverse, and introduces a profound message among all the comic relief and  silliness that crowds it. The simple content appeals to younger audiences, but the reference to the problem of bullying, physical and psychological abuse, and the notion that you can stand for yourself, and you can ultimately defeat your abusers, takes the story to a deeper level. It created a standard of hidden meaning that went on to become traditional to almost every other Pixar movie. This said, A Bug’s Life is simply too crowded at times. The story is all over the place, and still not developed enough as to go beyond the tag of “children’s movie.” The wide success of its successors in achieving that which this movie introduced sadly acts against it, and lands it in number 9 of our list.

The Incredibles.jpgNumber 8: The Incredibles

Action, comedy, older main characters and great special effects are the prize offered by The Incredibles. This movie is one of my Pixar favorites because it tackles the overused concept of superheroes, but spins it around to create something that is fun, yet endearing and appealing to all ages. You have the full package with this piece, complete with the crazy gothic lady and the supervillain bent on controlling the world. And yet, the creators make it so that, despite all the superpowers, fighting sequences and exploding things, the core of the movie remains paramount: a family that holds together against anything and everything, and faces all challenges by helping and supporting each other. Although the movie doesn’t delve beyond the “entertaining” level, with a story that is incredibly (couldn’t help it!) simple and a bad guy laughable in his lack of depth, it’s still a very satisfying “entertaining.”

Cars 2006.jpgNumber 7: Cars

Cars follows along the line of The Incredibles as another of Pixar’s attempts to capture more mature audiences. It works. With more developed dialogs and introductions of a sassy sarcasm on the main character’s side, the film is funny without being overly complicated, and it takes on a topic that is old but still relevant: not everything is about winning. Cars is one of Pixar’s many films that includes a character arc, but with Lightning McQueen, this is masterfully done. At the beginning, we have a person that is essentially not very likable, selfish, arrogant and self-centered. The story of his change and his learning curve about how to appreciate others and “slow down” a little bit is very compelling, and the fact that at the beginning he is not really “hero material,” give this story many thumbs up. Sadly though, whatever mastery McQueen enjoys is sorely lacking in the rest of the characters, who are pretty much one-sided complements to the lead, instead of complex entities by themselves.

Monsters Inc.JPGNumber 6: Monster’s Inc.

Monster’s Inc. reuses the concept introduced  and developed successfully in Toy Story, that of the main character and his sidekick/best friend. Mike and Sully are a great pair indeed, seeming to see eye to eye in everything. The friendship topic of this movie is slightly different than the one in Toy Story though. Monsters, Inc. puts the friendship to test when one of the characters questions his own beliefs, and at the same time introduces in the viewer the notion that not everything is right or wrong, and the grey areas are also important. The movie is all about compromising and the learning that sometimes, the things you take for granted are not quite so. It’s about growing and adapting, and this message is transmitted in a seamless way that makes it easy for children to understand and adults to appreciate. Overall, Monsters, Inc. is probably one of Pixar’s most educational movies and one both children and parents should pay attention to.

A house is hovering in the air, lifted by balloons. A dog, a boy, and an old man hang beneath on a garden hose. "UP" is written in the top right corner.Number 5: Up

Up is a movie that takes Pixar to another level, because is their first piece that introduces the concept of death and what death means in the minds of children. Up makes this concept not only an integral part of the film, but also the moving force that sets the whole plot in motion. The movie reaches a deeper level thanks to that, because, by telling about it from the beginning, it automatically sets the mood of the story as “not a happy one.” Up is about losing and yet, still being able to enjoy life at its fullest, and comprehending that, although those we love might not be with us any more, we still need to keep moving forward for their sake. Despite the seeming lightness of the rest of the film, Up is a very adult movie, not quite suitable for children to watch alone. It requires the presence of a parent to explain the message of it all to the child, and why the grasping of it is important.

A girl with long, curly red hair stares at the viewer holding a bow and an arrow. Behind her is the film's title while at the left shows a bear staring at her.Number 4: Brave

Princess Merida’s amazing special effect, soundtrack and unique fantasy plotline take up number 4. With Brave, one can definitely notice just how far Pixar has come in its story crafting. The arc in Merida’s tale is complex and human; it’s about making mistakes and fixing them, and not only doing whatever you have to do to protect your family, but also about understanding the motives behind their actions. It’s about maturing and realizing what is truly important beyond what you want or think you want. Brave is a great example of a teenage/coming of age story and the motives behind Merida’s and her mother’s actions are both believable and relatable. It’s first and foremost a story about family, and how, despite the fact that they may not always see eye to eye, family is forever, and they will always be there when you need them.

Finding Nemo.jpgNumber 3: Finding Nemo

Finding Nemo is most likely Pixar’s most successful movie of all times. We have a hero that has to learn how to be one in order to recover the son he’s lost, a sidekick that not only helps the hero but also carries a lot of the weight of his psychological stability on her (less than reliable) shoulders, and a full on quest of epic proportions, motivated by the strongest loyalty of all. Finding Nemo hits all the right buttons with their viewers. It offers stunning colors, great music, and fun characters to keep the kids happy, and for the parents, it gives them a story they can completely relate to, with a conflict that it’s scary beyond measure because it’s completely real: the fear and anguish of a parent that has lost his child, and the drastic lengths he would go to get him back. With a great arc, and main characters that are in no way “fishy,” Finding Nemo is a definite home run. 

WALL-Eposter.jpgNumber 2: WALL-E

For our silver laureate we have the greatest show-don’t-tell story of them all: WALL-E.     The concept of a silent character is one that is not uncommon in animation. However, this movie applies it with a mastery that is both enviable and awe-inspiring. With a main character that never speaks, and yet you always understand, WALL-E  is the most remarkable example there is of superb animation, and the good use of all literary resources and devices. Viewers of the movie never resent the lack of dialog, because the simple yet meaningful actions of this small robot are enough for the movie not only to be understood, but also enjoyed and be enchanted by. The sweetness, modesty, and quiet courage of WALL-E are traits not often found in science-fiction heroes. However, considering how much this Pixar classic touched the hearts of thousands upon thousands of viewers, one can’t help but ask if shouldn’t it be.

Inside Out (2015 film) poster.jpgNumber 1: Inside Out

First place goes to the winner of the night (or is it the week?), Inside Out. As I watched this movie, I remember myself thinking: this is the best movie Pixar has produced as of yet.            It is. During their acceptance speech in the GG ceremony last night, creators of the film commented that they had wanted to make a movie about growing up, and I have to say they achieved their objective superbly. Inside Out is not only fun and endearing, it’s also educational and deep. It’s about learning, and changing, and goes the extra mile to help children understand themselves and why they think or act the way they do. Back to that “shadows of grey” concept we talked about upstairs, Inside Out picks up where Monsters, Inc. left it and teaches viewers that there’s nothing wrong with feeling sad or angry or fearful, that life is complicated and that sometimes, it’s okay to cry. It teaches about maturity and loss, and coping with things that may be hard to understand. Inside Out takes on every other message introduced in every other movie before it, and brings it forward in a great, cohesive piece, that’s not only remarkable, but also a true work of amazing literature to be admired by all.

Top 10: Not another Disney movie (PART 1)

NOT ANOTHER disney movie

While our last TOP 10 was in favor of the Disney empire, this time we are going to tackle a different kind of animated movie.With this Not Another Disney Movie series we are going to look at the not-so-popular kids in the class: films by other studios, old cult classics and recent discoveries that are as good (sometimes even better!) as any Disney masterpiece, and yet, they don’t get as much attention.

Firstly, we’ll take a look at those dear films from our childhood that we remember well, but which were produced by other (Non-Disney) studios.

Not Another Disney Movie 1:

TOP 10: INDEPENDENT ANIMATED MOVIES (1990’s)

Space jam.jpgNumber 10: Space Jam (1996)

Hilarious and irreverent, this movie brings us basketball idol Michael Jordan opposite the sarcastic, unadulterated charm of Bugs Bunny. Even though Space Jam is actually one of many crossover movies that the Warner Bros has spawned over the years, this cocktail seems to never get old, as this movie brought home $230 – $250 million in box office, against its $80 million budget. Sounds like a slam dunk from where I’m standing. But aside from the monetary success, the childish charm of this comedy cannot be denied. When the famous Looney Tunes characters team up with a basketball legend, you are sure to get at least a few laughs out of the equation.

Space Jam was produced and Distributed by Warner Bros.

Ferngully.jpgNumber 9: FernGully: The Last Rainforest. (1999)

Following the environmental awareness trend of the 1990s, this Austrailian-American film introduces us to a society of fairies living in a secluded rainforest, whose home is threatened by deforestation in the form of a group of lumberjacks. The veiled environmental message of this movie is one we are quite familiar with from other animated works ( remeber Captain Planet?) but it’s nonetheless still valuable, and FernGully manages to deliver it in a somewhat artless way, providing a twist when it’s not the humans, but an ancient black magic being who actually threatens the forest, and the fairies team up with the humans to save it. Same old, same old, but still remarkable in its message and the feeling behind it (which I guess it’s what counts).

FernGully was produced by Kroyer Films, Youngheart Productions and FAI Films, and distributed by 20th Century Fox.

Prince of egypt ver2.jpgNumber 8: The Prince of Egypt (1998)

Even those who look at Religion with an objective academic approach (like me), have to admit that some of the most remarkable pieces of fiction are compressed in that big, fat, controversial book that is The Bible. Creators of The Prince of Egypt saw the potential and decided to bring to animated life the journey of Moses, with quite the impressive success. The already epic content, good soundtrack and the hundreds of thousands of Christians lining up to put their kids through an animated movie that is actually “appropriate” are some of this movie’s advantages. Regardless, it was impossible for The Prince of Egypt to end up out of this particular list, and while I personally wasn’t too enchanted by it, I can definitely see the merits of the project. The Prince of Egypt was produced and distributed by Dreamworks Pictures.

The Iron Giant poster.JPGNumber 7: The Iron Giant (1999)

Following on ET: The Extra-Terrestrial’s example, The Iron Giant is another story of human kids befriending aliens. And just like ET, it delivers an expressive, heart-wrenching ending to a very nice story. Those who saw it will remember the gentle giant, programmed for war, who instead chooses peace and friendship after meeting a human boy that teaches him to play and dream. The anti-war message of this movie is very clear, but that doesn’t detract of what it’s an intrinsically sweet and heroic story, where the unlikely hero is recognized not because he comes on top of its enemies, but instead, because he sacrifices himself to save the same people that wanted to destroy him.

The Iron Giant was produced and distributed by Warner Bros.

Balto movie poster.jpgNumber 6: Balto (1995)

True stories make the best fiction, and this animated version of a true feat accomplished by a siberian husky in 1925 Alaska is an example of that. Balto taps into the animals-are-always-a-hit philosophy that Disney used when it created successes like Bambi, Dumbo and Lady and the Tramp. Add to that an endearing true story and the possibility of dying children, and there you have it: nice and fluffy.

Regardless, I have fond memories of this movie, in which we get an unassuming, humble lead who doesn’t care for recognition or praise and only wishes to help those who are in need. I must say there’s something very canine about Balto, which I think is a great success for a movie with talking animals. The essence of it is retained, and the beauty of the story is preserved.

Balto was produced y Amblin Entertainment and Amblimation, and distributed by Universal Pictures.

TheKingAndIAnimated.jpg

Number 5: The King and I (1999)

This movie remains one of my favorite animated movies even after more than 10 years. Based on the homonymous musical about the British teacher that goes to teach the children of the King of Siam, this movie has a certain Regency charm to it. The lovely colors, beautiful songs and the star-crossed lovers subplot in an exotic country make for quite the enticing combination not very often seen in a “children’s movie.” But then again, the fact that most animated movies are labeled that way is also the reason why some of the best films out there end up failing in the box office. Who the heck came with the idea that animation couldn’t be for adults? Too bad Saving Nemo, Wall-E and How to Train your Dragon came later on, but we’ll discuss those another time.

The King and I was a group project by Morgan Creek Productions, Rankin/Bass Productions, Nest Family Entertainment and Rich Animation Studios, and it was distributed by Warner Bros.

DonBluthThumbelina.jpgNumber 4: Thumbelina (1994)

Based on the Hans Christian Andersen classic, Thumbelina is a story that many should remember. The tale of the tiny girl and her fairy prince riding a bumblebee, and the thousand and one troubles they go through to be together again could rival any Shakespearean tragedy. And while story depth might not be Thumbelina‘s strong suit, the story definitely deserves praise for its entertaining quality and the endearing simplicity and loving nature of its heroine.

Thumbelina was produced by Don Bluth Entertainment and distributed by Warner Bros. Family Entertainment.

 

 

Quest for Camelot- Poster.jpgNumber 3: Quest for Camelot (1998) 

It’s not about the two-headed dragon, the Arthurian legend or the fact that the male lead in this animated movie is blind (and rocking it!). Well, at least, is not only about that. Bringing to life an amazing adventure of Excalibur’s time, Quest for Camelot is definitely an animated jewel. This movie has one of the most interesting stories and developments I’ve ever seen. The array of characters is also very impressive: a tomboyish, stubborn heroin, a blind but proud and powerful hero, and a villain that can give you goosebumps, not to forget the two-as-one sidekicks to provide the comic relief. This story has it all, including a surprising plot twist at the end to keep it real, and a moral that, no matter the bad situation you find yourself in, there is always something to be done if you try.

Quest for Camelot was produced and distributed by Warner Bros.

Swanprincessposter.jpgNumber 2: The Swan Princess (1994)

Who says princesses only come from Disney? Anyone who remembers this animated rendition of the Swan Lake ballet will agree with me in that Odette and Derek’s story is far more interesting than Cinderella’s love-at-first-sight-with-guy-I-haven’t-even-talked-to story. The simple plot and comicality of it don’t detract from the beauty of the love story, and The Swan Princess offers us a princess willing to say no to marriage without love (hurray!), a prince having to conquer her beloved’s affections and an array of secondary characters that add a touch of freshness and humor to the whole thing. Not to mention the superb soundtrack, and the dramatic plot twists taken right off one of the most beautiful and enduring pieces of art in the history of humanity. The Swan Princess was produced by Nest Family Entertainment and Rich Animation Studios and released by New Line Cinema.

Anastasia-don-bluth.jpgNumber 1: Anastasia (1997)

Who’s up for a story once upon a December? Those who don’t remember Anastasia should go back to their trauma-ridden childhood and resent their own lack of animated glory. This movie, tackling the mysterious disappearance of the youngest Romanov Grand Duchess can make anybody’s heart melt. In this case, we have a princess lost, an ambitious hero and a zombie villain (a real zombie, people!), tangled together in a journey of discovery. The lessons given in Anastasia about finding oneself and getting out and making our own destiny (not sit down and wait for prince charming to come) cannot be taken lightly, as they are at the very core of human society. The beautiful art and endearing soundtrack are only the icing on this cake. Anastasia was produced by Fox Animation Studios and distributed by 20th Century Fox.

Bad guys: Top 10 villains hits and misses from Disney movies. (PART 2)

And our Top 10 Disney Hit and Misses continues!

In PART 1, we discussed 10 through 6 of Disney’s most disappointing to not-so disappointing villains. This time, we are going to look at our top 5, and who the most elaborate and complex disney villains are.

“Top 10 villains hits and misses from Disney movies”

# 5: Frozen – Hans. 

Coming in place #5 we have Hans, Disney most recent prince-charming-turned-villain endeavor. I must say, I was pleasantly surprised by the development of this character as I was experiencing the Frozen phenomenon for the first time 2 years ago. Nowhere in the movie (including the cheesy love song between him and Anna) did I find any clue that this guy was going to be a villain, until it actually happened. At first, I thought Frozen was going to be a self-discovery movie for the girls with only a fill-in, inconsequential villainous character (Lord Weselton or whatever his name was)  and no real good vs. evil drama (picture Mulan, Pocahontas and Brave). I was fine with that. For me, this guy Hans was going to be the prince that would be left behind when Anna discovered there was more to a girl’s life than marrying the first hunk she meets on the streets (literally!). Hans sneaked up on me instead. He is manipulative, intelligent and unscrupulous. He has a goal and a plan to achieve it. I have to say I felt a certain admiration for this character, because he developed quite well, he commandeered the entire story to his favor and managed to look like the good guy everybody could trust (even the viewers!). He had one basic flaw, though, that landed him in #5 and not any higher in this list: The villain’s monologue. He could’ve given Anna a precious farewell and remain on top until the very end (when he would of course reveal himself as a villain by trying to kill Elsa), but instead, arrogance got the better of him and he ruined it. From then on, all characterization went to hell and he just lost it.

 

# 4: The Little Mermaid – Ursula. 

The sea witch Ursula is a very convenient villain. Unlike other Disney movies, in which villains are completely evil and heroes are completely good, The Little Mermaid presents us with a new and interesting twist: the hero (Ariel) is not so heroic.

In this case our hero has a selfish desire she wants to realize no matter the consequences. She is the one who contacts the villain directly, she is the one who sets the drama in motion. Compared to the other movies in which the heroines are almost always passive to their bad guys’ active advances, in the Little Mermaid, Ursula works as a necessary complement of the story rather than a detriment. She is not just “a villain,” she is the fundamental element that moves the story forward and it makes sense. Her and Ariel’s objective do not contradict but rather go hand in hand, they connect. Ursula needs Ariel’s desire in order to fulfill hers. Basically, without Ursula, there is no story. In a good plot, the villain should be as necessary to the plotline as the hero, and this is achieved in The Little Mermaid masterfully. Ursula, thus, is a character that makes a lot of sense, literarily speaking.

 

# 3: The Lion King – Scar. 

Lion King’s Scar actually has the same rather boring motive than our villain #9, Hades. However, what in Hades looks like petty sibling rivalry, Scar takes to a whole new level. A machiavellian intelligence, astounding manipulation abilities and a gift for opportunity make of Scar a rather successful bad guy. He secures a kingdom for himself, the alliance of an entire army, and the disappearance of not one but two enemies all through mind games alone. Scar never gets his hands dirty, unless he positively wants to. He always has a plan B, he never gets caught with his hand (paw) in the cookie jar. His psychological manipulation of Simba gets the young cub to actually believe himself responsible for his father’s death, and even after Simba is an adult, Scar keeps on managing him successfully till the very end. However, there are some characterization inconsistencies to Scar that cannot be overlooked. For instance, as greedy and narcissistic as he is, he would’ve never let his hard-earned kingdom go to ruin. He would keep it flawless and perfect-looking, pretty on the outside as a symbol of his own magnificence. Corruption might be rotting his reign in the inside, but it would still be beautiful and awe-inspiring. Disney writers, sadly, don’t care much about those subtleties. Since their audience is young, they have to tread carefully with their topics. Inconsistencies and being too big a character for his role land Scar in #3 of our list.

 

# 2: Tangled – Mother Gothel. 

Give it up for the Mommy Dearest. Mother Gothel is a great example of a villain. Like when we were discussing Hans, Gothel doesn’t seem like a villain at the beginning. I remember the first time I watched Tangled I missed the first narrative part and started it with the first song, I didn’t know of the flower or the kidnapping, all the while believing Gothel to be a loving, yet overprotective mother. While her moving force is supposedly the same as Snow White’s Queen (#7), Gothel is far smarter about her goal. Rapunzel is her tool basically, but a tool in good condition and cared for lasts longer. While she could be like Lady Tremaine (#6), treating Rapunzel badly, and still achieve the same results, she rather secures her position in Rapunzel’s heart and makes sure she would never think to leave her. Mother Gothel takes the Stockholm Syndrome to the category of art. She is subtle, she is intelligent, she understand that you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, and she never loses sight of her goal. She might do whatever is necessary, but she rather it be easy to handle.

In terms of Disney villains, Gothel is the most sophisticated one. She is not greedy, she doesn’t bite more than she can chew on, and she is wickedly intelligent. She is also one of the few Disney villains who is not actually evil. Her intention is not to hurt anyone, but rather to improve herself, and her vanity asks that she tries to do this in any available way. Gothel is probably the most humane Disney character that we have in history.

 

# 1: The Hunchback of Notre Dame – Claude Frollo. 

 

The Hunchback of Notre Dame is nobody’s favorite Disney movie, which is probably why the studio decided using actually good plotline and character development for their films was a bad idea. From the entire Disney catalog, THofND is probably the most masterful film, which brings us to our #1 best-crafted Disney villain: Minister Frollo. While every character of this particular movie is worth their praise, Frollo is, I believe, one of Disney’s greatest achievements. He is a villain who believes himself to be the hero, a crusader of Inquisition out to rid the world of the filth that corrupts it. In his mind there is no greed or arrogance, instead, he believes it’s his God-given mission and privilege. The fact that Frollo’s motives are far deeper and more complex than any other Disney villain’s ever is just part of it all. He also has a second layer to him. A desire that torments him and is the root of his downfall: he wants one of the same heretics he should hate and burn. He sees Esmeralda as a temptation from Hell, because were she a “righteous” woman, he wouldn’t want her so. He is torn between having her on his terms or not having her at all. And if he can’t have her, he’ll destroy her.

Frollo’s complexities steer just a little too close to home for many people’s comfort and are a little “too adult” and “too complex” in the opinion of many. The fact that religious fanaticism is the cause for his mental degradation it’s also a complicated topic to discuss. These undoubtedly controversial topics are what makes Frollo’s character so rich and multifaceted, but also the main reason THofND never went as far as its fellow Disney films.

A pity, a pity indeed.

Bad guys: Top 10 villains hits and misses from Disney movies. (PART 1)

Almost as important as the heroes (sometimes even more), a good villain can decidedly make or break a story. Experienced readers know that the only way their beloved heroes can shine is by having a well-crafted bad guy enhancing all the good qualities about them. To be successful, a villain needs to be as complex psychologically as the hero. He has to have his own human motives for acting, as well as both good and bad qualities to his character.

Today we are going to analyze the characteristics of this generation’s most famous bad guys: Disney villains.

Although the children entertainment giant is certainly not famous for their overly clever plot lines, there is no doubt that Disney movies have had an impact in the creative mindset of young artists around the world. And even though the hero characterization (Save me! Save me! I’m a poor damsel in distress!) and overall plot development (pretty girl meets handsome guy, kiss, kiss, HEA) leave a lot to be desired, Disney has actually had some quite successful attempts at villain crafting. And some others not quite so successful.

Let’s take a look:

“Top 10 villains hits and misses from Disney movies”

# 10: Beauty and the Beast – Gaston. 

Those of  you who remember this “charming” character (insert sarcasm here) would probably agree with me that he definitely belongs at the bottom of the list of all the significant Disney villains. Illogical reasoning behind his actions, lack of intelligence, overall rotten-for-the-sake-of-rotten demeanor, and seriously have you seen that chest hair? Gross! Almost parodic in his portrayal, Gaston is a terrible example of what a villain should be. He’s more like a spoiled little boy, used to always have his way, who gets mad when his toy of choice is snatched by somebody else. The fact that he turns out to be nothing more than a whiny coward at the end of it all, only make things so much worse. Definitely a miss for Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.

 

# 9: Hercules – Hades.

Who doesn’t remember the rather offensive Disney version of the God of Tartarus? Of all of Disney’s villains, Hades is probably the only one you can’t really take seriously. With his temper tantrums, cheesy jokes, and inefficient minions, Hades is a hair short of laughable on his part as the bad guy in Hercules. Backfiring plots, lack of planning, a deep-seated ineptitude and a tendency to complain and whine make this bad guy all the more unlikable. The fact that his only moving force is an overcompensated sibling rivalry also gives his actions a rather pathetic outlook overall. Sad end for a character with great exploitable potential.

 

# 8: Aladdin – Jafar.

In number 8 we have young Aladdin’s wicked counterpart, Agrabah’s Grand Vizier Jafar.

Stepping slightly up his game from his predecessors in this list, Jafar concocts an evil plot that actually works (for a while). He seems to be more of the intelligent sort, and definitely far more skilled than either Gaston or Hades at the being-a-villain business. However, the sheer clichédness of his actions and motives is far more offensive than the crass ineptitude shown by the other two. The “loyal” servant eager to take his master’s place as king (and get the pretty girl, since we are at it), it’s such an overused excuse for villains that the whole thing crumbles remarkably fast. Jafar doesn’t have a personal motive. He can’t pull off a convincible personal reason, and as such, he looks more like a bad caricature than an actual complex character. The greed he supposedly displays is shallow, because it has no objective whatsoever. He doesn’t want to be king or powerful, he only wants “more.” This empty concept does not cut it as a good driving force. While Gaston and Hades are just plain stupid, Jafar is a victim of the laziness of his creators, who thought that they could get away with murder (of the literary genre!) with the excuse that they were writing for children.

 

# 7: Sleeping Beauty and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs – Maleficent and The Evil Queen.  

For number 7 we have a tie: Sleeping Beauty’s Maleficent and Snow White’s The Evil Queen. These two ladies share a spot because the are basically two versions of the same character. They are both powerful witches, they both shape-shift towards the end of their movies, and they both act against the heroes without any kind of explanation. In Snow White’s case, we have the Queen’s vanity that makes her want Snow White dead (because she is prettier), but the basic definition of a villain is: the person that stands between the hero and what the hero wants. Following this line what would Snow White want? Nothing at all. The poor stupid child is happy cleaning the floor of her own palace, for God’s sakes! This basically means that the Queen’s motives for killing her are not those of a villain. If she were the hero of it all instead (now there’s a thought!), the whole thing would make more sense: What does she want? To be the fairest of them all. Who stands in her way? BANG! Now that’s a story.

The exact same thing happens with Maleficent. There is not real direct confrontation happening between hero and villain, which means there should be no conflict whatsoever.

The fact that they are not nice people (everyone is entitled to their opinions!) doesn’t automatically means they have to carry the part of the bad guy, my fellow writers. The only reason why these two are in this list at all it’s because they do a good part being scary and mysterious, but they should definitely be out of commission here!

 

# 6: Cinderella – The Stepmother, Lady Tremaine. 

Now we are getting somewhere!

Manipulation skills, good poker face, sharp intelligence and a clear objective make Cinderella’s Stepmother a worthy #6 on our list. Probably the most successful of Disney villains motive wise, Lady Tremaine is a very good example of simple yet effective bad-guy-crafting. She is a cold person, greedy and arrogant, she has an objective and she seeks to achieve it. Once the hero gets in her way, she becomes the villain. The Stepmother is also the first villain we see of Disney that it’s not one-dimensional. She might be cruel or cold to Cinderella, but she is not an overall evil or hateful person. She is a doting mother to her daughters and would go to great lengths to ensure their future. She has a particular character and she carries it through, but she is basically just trying to make the best of her situation by manipulating Cinderella into doing whatever she wants. She is not excessively cruel or spiteful of Cinderella at the beginning, she just basically doesn’t care about her, and sees her simply as a servant. While this very much puts her in an unflattering light, it’s not necessarily a villainous light until the conflict actually arises: Cinderella, prettier and kinder than her daughters, trying to take the place Lady Tremaine feels her daughters deserve. As I say, basic conflict development, but it works. In a Disney universe plagued with far too many black and white characters, the Stepmother is our first shade of gray, and thank God for that.

—— Click here for PART 2