“Tron” Review!

Because of the recent news that the Tron franchise is apparently still a priority at Disney and plans for franchise-expanding sequels or reboots are still underway, I thought it might be interesting to take a circuitous stroll back down memory lane and revisit one of the strangest movies from what is often considered Disney’s Dark Age, in the early 1980’s. This era of the studio’s long and storied history isn’t known for producing a whole bunch of timeless classics (if there are any hardcore fans of The Black Cauldron out there, I’d love to know about them), nor box-office hits – but how do you even begin to describe Tron? The needlessly convoluted sci-fi adventure flick about glow-in-the-dark humanoid computer programs fighting to overthrow their tyrannical leadership doesn’t seem to fit neatly into any box, and so of course it has acquired a kind of well-earned cult classic status over the years – even leading to the creation of a poorly-received sequel in 2010 which, while not a box-office flop, failed to recapture much of what made the original film so…bizarrely endearing.

Tron
looper.com

There are so many things wrong with Tron from a storytelling standpoint, and yet, despite quickly falling into the classic sci-fi/fantasy trap of trying to seduce the audience with incredibly complex world building instead of, you know, a particularly good story, or well developed characters (though, considering how badly the sequel’s attempts at character development went over, perhaps we weren’t missing anything anyway?), somehow it still works – or at the very least, it works about as well as a movie about warring sentient computer programs possibly could in 1982, at the very dawn of the age of special effects. Knowing some of the story about the cutting edge technology used to create the sprawling electronic landscape of The Grid (which, to the modern viewer’s eye, probably just resembles partly-completed digital artwork of Flatland) definitely helps to make the movie interesting from a cinephile’s point of view: its influence on CGI is far less well known than the influence of, say, The Little Mermaid on animation, but the two films are arguably comparable in terms of the lasting impact they made on the industry. The difference is that The Little Mermaid was a juggernaut that almost immediately birthed an unstoppable Disney renaissance – Tron was a financial disaster for the company that was snubbed at the Oscars for the Special Effects award it clearly deserved, apparently because Academy voters thought using computers was cheating.

That doesn’t make the work that went into designing Tron any less commendable, however. The film was born out of an idea to create a neon gladiator mascot for the fledgling Lisberger Studios, which felt that the character needed a starring vehicle to sell him to audiences and establish the studio’s brand – ironically, the cost of making the film became so high that Lisberger Studios had to turn to Disney for help with financing and marketing. In a classic case of studios being afraid to invest too heavily in something radically new, Disney allowed them to make the movie but decided not to give it the marketing push it also needed until too late in the game. Behind the scenes, the process of designing the world of Tron using rotoscoping and the even more grueling technique of backlit animation (which gives the movie its one-of-a-kind glow in the dark look) had to be fast-tracked to meet its release date, with director Steven Lisberger eventually having to hire a whole separate team of animators from Taiwan to ease the stress on his own employees. Miraculously, they managed to get the job done within nine months, a true credit to the power of teamwork.

Tron
mentalfloss.com

But on its own, separated from its later impact and the behind-the-scenes work that went into it, just looking at the finished film as a whole: does it hold up? That’s a bit of a harder question to answer. As I said, Tron has a lot of story issues – the audience gets handed a whole bunch of information about the cyber world right up front, and is then expected to retain all that information for the next thirty minutes, while we watch the Real World storyline play out (which itself is pretty complicated). Then the Real World completely ceases to exist as far as the movie is concerned, and we’re plunged into The Grid, where computers wage brutal warfare against each other: highly ritualistic warfare involving motor-bike/smart car hybrids, but warfare nonetheless. There are solar sailers to be flown, beacons to be lit, and electric blue water to drink (I bring that up because there’s one scene of the main characters drinking said water that seems to go on for way longer than it probably needs to). It’s all very confusing.

Jeff Bridges and Bruce Boxleitner lead the cast of mostly identical white men trapped in glowing outfits with ridiculously oversized helmets, most of whom wield Frisbees to complete the look (a look which somehow warranted an Academy Award nomination for Best Costume Design). Bridges’ character, brilliant programmer and arcade video game champion Kevin Flynn, is supposedly the star of the movie, though there’s no good reason for why that is when Boxleitner’s character (dissatisfied ENCOM employee Allan Ward in the real world, legendary hero Tron on The Grid) has his name in the title, has just as much if not more plot agency than Bridges’, and actually is the clear male lead for the first thirty minutes of the movie. It’s like if Star Wars: A New Hope started out being about Luke Skywalker and then changed to become Han Solo’s story partway through (interestingly, there’s actually several similarities between Kevin Flynn and Han Solo, particularly in the sequel). David Warner gives the best performance in the film as the sinister E. Dillinger, President of the ENCOM company (in his Grid form as Sark, he comes off as a sad Darth Vader ripoff). As a side note: whenever Warner’s Dillinger was onscreen, I was constantly distracted by the nagging thought that, if Disney ever reboots this franchise, they absolutely need Ben Mendelsohn for this villainous role. Lora Baines (Cindy Morgan), the female lead, shows a lot of potential as a spunky scientist, but of course this is the 80’s, so it’s not long before she trades in her intelligent and pro-active role for the part of demure, soft-spoken damsel Yori. In keeping with the Hollywood tradition of rebooting classic franchises with the original male leads but conveniently forgetting to bring back the female leads, both versions of Morgan’s character were dropped for the sequel, despite her repeated efforts to try and contact Disney.

On the flip-side, two women played an integral role in giving Tron the eerie techno vibe we know and love: composer Wendy Carlos, an openly trans woman best known for her work on A Clockwork Orange and The Shining, collaborated with Annemarie Franklin on the score – parts of which, unfortunately, were removed by Disney and replaced with songs by Journey: the rock band’s contributions to the film were honored in the sequel via a slightly random use of the song “Separate Ways”. But Carlos’ iconic score is still a lasting testament, like all her work, to the often underappreciated achievements of trans people in the film industry.

Tron
reelworldtheology.com

I, for one, am glad that Tron will be getting another chance at proving its value to modern audiences: moviegoers (or, quite possibly, Disney+ subscribers) deserve a chance to see more stories from The Grid, told with the best new technology available to the studio, and longtime fans of the franchise deserve a continuation of a series that has been pretty much dead for a long time. We all deserve a little more Tron in our lives.

End of line.

Movie Rating: 7.8/10

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“Encanto” In The Works At Disney!

Who doesn’t love a good old Disney animated movie? The studio’s recent mini-Renaissance has given us what are (arguably, I suppose) instant classics like Tangled, Frozen, Big Hero 6, Zootopia, Moana, and Frozen II, and hopefully we can soon add Raya And The Last Dragon to the list. But another film from the acclaimed studio is quickly upcoming, and now, thanks to reporting from The DisInsider, we have a title to tentatively attach to the project: Encanto.

Encanto Disney
nerdist.com

Encanto, the Portuguese word for “charm”, may only be a working title for the film, but it certainly feels appropriate considering what little we now know about the story itself: Encanto is supposed to center around the story of a Brazilian family who all possess magical powers – all, that is, except the protagonist, a young girl whose name is still unknown. Should this storyline survive into the final film, the heroine will join several other notable women of color in the Disney roster; though it is not known as of yet whether she will be considered for a spot amongst the Disney Princess line-up. Of course, there are several rules about just who can and can’t be an official Disney Princess, and we don’t yet know if the heroine of Encanto will pass the test.

As for other plot details, we simply don’t know anything yet. The Portuguese-language title means the film is probably set sometime during or after the 1500’s, when forces of the Portuguese empire first settled in Brazil. Most of Disney’s most popular animated films, from Snow White all the way to Frozen II, have been historical pieces, so I’d be a little surprised if this one isn’t – but a historical setting, in this case, might require Disney to tackle the issue of slavery: as a colony, Brazil was built on the suffering of Black slaves, who made up much of the country’s population. Brazil was actually the last country in the Americas to abolish slavery, in 1888. The easy solution, then, would be to set the film in modern day Brazil. The much harder, but possibly more rewarding, solution would be to try and tell a story that doesn’t gloss over this shameful period in Brazilian history, but instead addresses it with sensitivity and awareness.

Encanto Disney
Colonial Brazil | smarthistory.org

On that note, it’s interesting that the film is supposedly being directed by Byron Howard and Jared Bush: the duo behind the mega-successful phenomenon that was 2016’s Zootopia, a film with very cleverly written but family-friendly social commentary in a stunningly animated, entertaining package. Joining them will be singer/songwriter Lin-Manuel Miranda, who I guess isn’t ever going to get around to developing that Moana sequel we were all asking for at one point? Miranda’s involvement does, obviously, suggest that this film will be another musical – lending some credence to the theory that the heroine will be a Princess. Charise Castro Smith, a writer and producer on The Haunting Of Hill House, will co-write the script with Bush.

The matter of a release date is still somewhat up in the air, like pretty much everything else in Hollywood right now. Assuming the coronavirus crisis doesn’t necessitate any more calendar-shuffling mayhem, we might expect to see Encanto around Thanksgiving of next year.

So what do you think? How excited are you to see this new Disney animated film? Share your thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

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For Pride Month 2020, Let’s Discuss The Year’s Biggest LGBTQ+ Moments In TV And Film!

SPOILERS FOR HARLEY QUINN SEASON 2 AND SHE-RA SEASON 5!

Happy Pride Month! As we begin to celebrate the history and culture of the LGBTQ+ community, I thought it would be interesting to look at what the community has accomplished already in 2020, through the mediums of TV and film. Though coronavirus has prevented many inclusive films from making it to theaters this year, there are still plenty that did get there before the world went on lockdown, and many more that have released on streaming. For this breakdown, we’ll be looking at the setbacks the LGBTQ+ community suffered early in the year, and three outstanding breakthroughs in representation that both occurred just last month which could signal big changes in the industry.

Of course, I should note that this is not, by any means, a comprehensive list of every film or TV series released this year that touches on any of these issues – this is merely a discussion of some especially significant incidents spanning the course of the past several months, which I feel present a fairly accurate depiction of the year’s many ups and downs as a whole.

She-Ra LGBTQ
She-Ra rescues Catra | tor.com

2020 opened on a promising note with Marvel President and head producer Kevin Feige boldly announcing that the Marvel Cinematic Universe would welcome its first ever transgender superhero in the very near future, at a Q&A where he used the words: “Yes, absolutely. Yes.” Unfortunately, the moment was irreparably tarnished when it was revealed that Feige hadn’t realized the question was specifically about transgender superheroes, and only meant an LGBTQ+ superhero was coming very soon. That doesn’t necessarily mean that transgender heroes aren’t going to appear in the MCU at some point (there are rumors that a transwoman superheroine, Sera, could appear in either the Loki Disney+ series or Thor: Love And Thunder), but it does cast doubt on when that will ever happen. It was a bad omen, heading into the new year.

Marvel LGBTQ
Marvel Comics’ transgender heroine Sera | mcuexchange.com

In February, Marvel’s rival DC had a golden opportunity to explicitly confirm that one of their most major characters was canonically LGBTQ+ – but instead, their hyped-up zany comedy Birds Of Prey danced around the issue of sexuality, giving only eagle-eyed viewers a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it nod to lead character Harley Quinn’s bisexuality in an animated sequence, while simultaneously hinting through stereotypical mannerisms that flamboyant, misogynistic villain Roman Sionis and his partner-in-crime were a gay couple. A lesbian character in the film, Renee Montoya, did play a large role and had an ex-girlfriend who also showed up, which makes Birds Of Prey something of a “one step forward, two steps backward” sort of situation.

Around the same time, the Disney+ streaming platform came under fire for a slew of reasons, most of which involved the service’s attempts to whittle down their roster of upcoming original content in a manner which many saw as discriminatory towards series’ with a focus on LGBTQ+ issues. While Disney+ didn’t do this with all of their shows (High School Musical: The Musical: The Series and Diary Of A Future President both featured openly LGBTQ+ characters), they did make the decision to move their hotly-anticipated Love, Victor (a spinoff of 20th Century Fox’s successful gay romance Love, Simon, obtained during the Disney/Fox merger) to Hulu, deeming it too mature for their own platform. One of the service’s most high-profile original series’, a sequel to the Lizzie McGuire Disney Channel series, was shut down entirely – with some sources saying that it was due to the way in which the story tackled matters of sexuality. It didn’t take long before the whole situation had raised a very interesting discussion about what is “family-friendly”, but that hasn’t saved Love, Victor from heading to Hulu, nor has it resurrected Lizzie McGuire.

Love, Victor LGBTQ
Love, Victor | deadline.com

In March, as the world started falling apart thanks to coronavirus, the Pixar film Onward was lost in the catastrophe, and moviegoers barely had any time to acknowledge the fantastic animated feature or its moment of LGBTQ+ representation – a moment that would have been great, had it not been leaked to the press by eager journalists prior to the film’s release and subsequently massively overhyped. In the film, a cop played by openly lesbian actress Lena Waithe briefly mentions her girlfriend in a single line of dialogue. Despite how brief the moment was, the film was still boycotted by conservative groups like One Million Moms and banned by several Middle Eastern nations.

Within a few weeks, the coronavirus had already caused major shifts in the film industry: films were being reshuffled across the board, movie theaters around the globe were shutting down and studios were hurrying to push all their upcoming or recently released content onto streaming. Unfortunately, one notable victim of all the release date rearrangements was Marvel’s The Eternals, a film already remarkable for its diverse cast. The superhero epic directed by Asian-American indie icon Chloe Zhao is set to feature the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first gay couple, and was supposed to release in November of this year. Sadly, the film has now been pushed back to February of 2021, meaning we will have to wait even longer before we can find out what Lebanese actor Haaz Sleiman was talking about when he said that there’s a gay kiss in the film that’s so emotional it made people on-set begin crying. Another Disney film, Jungle Cruise, was delayed an entire year, and will now be opening in summer, 2021: though it’s been invisible in the film’s marketing so far, Jungle Cruise is supposed to introduce Disney Studios’ first openly gay character – which is already somewhat controversial, as Disney couldn’t even be bothered to find an openly gay actor to play the role, rumors say that the character’s depiction is “hugely effete”, and test screenings apparently revealed that the character has a coming out scene in which he never actually states that he is LGBTQ+. Perhaps a delay for that movie wouldn’t be a bad thing, as it could allow them to do some much-needed reshoots.

But not everything has been all gloom and doom. The past month has introduced a wave of new representation: some of it from DC Universe, some from Netflix, some, most shockingly, from Disney+ – all of it through the form of animation.

In the first instance, DC Universe’s Harley Quinn animated series rectified Birds Of Prey‘s glaring omission by adhering to comics canon and having Harley Quinn and fellow Gotham City supervillain Poison Ivy begin a tentative relationship, which has even resulted in the two sharing a kiss. The duo now have to sort out their messy, complicated feelings for each other, and that’s great. It’s the first time the relationship, which was wildly popular in the comics, has been represented onscreen – and fans are already enjoying the canonization of the pairing, which they have labeled “Harlivy”.

She-Ra LGBTQ
Adora and Catra | polygon.com

However, something that sets Harley Quinn apart is that the series is exclusively for adults, meaning that its audience is necessarily limited. That’s not a problem that faces Netflix and DreamWorks, whose collaboration on the animated reboot of She-Ra And The Princesses Of Power is something that can be enjoyed by all ages – the fifth and final season premiered on the streaming service just recently, and made the hopes and dreams of the series’ many LGBTQ+ fans finally come true when lead characters Adora (a.k.a. She-Ra, Princess of Power) and Catra rekindled their friendship: which turned into a slow-burn romance, which culminated in the two confessing their love for each other in the series finale, kissing, and saving the world with the power of love. That, my friends, is representation done right – because as much as I enjoy seeing “casual” representation (such as the cop from Onward, who simply mentions her girlfriend without making it a big deal), I infinitely prefer seeing characters whose sexuality or gender identity is something that actually helps to define who they are. And with Adora and Catra, whose relationship has been at the heart of She-Ra for all five seasons, it made complete sense that their love would play a huge part in the conclusion to the story – and it did, because showrunner Noelle Stevenson is a brave, brilliant genius, who fought to make sure that she wouldn’t have to pull a Legend Of Korra on her fans and just have Adora and Catra hold hands and/or gaze platonically at each other.

Out LGBTQ
Pixar’s “Out” | nytimes.com

Finally, we have to talk about Out. Though Disney+ is still new and working out many of its flaws, they did just recently make a big step forward – or rather, Pixar did it for them and Disney+ gets to take the credit: Out, the newest of Pixar’s animated Sparkshorts which debuted exclusively on the streaming platform, follows a gay man in an interracial relationship as he struggles to come out to his parents. Even though the story involves an unpredictable magical mishap and a lot of dog humor, it never loses sight of its true focus, which is a heartwarming message of acceptance. The short, which clocks in at around nine minutes long, is an understated milestone, becoming the first Pixar story to star a gay lead – and much to its credit, enjoyed a spot on Disney+’s top trending section, which shows that audiences are curious and eager for more content like this.

And so, as we head into Pride Month coming off of small successes like Harley Quinn, She-Ra and Out, I must ask of all my readers that you keep fighting for change in any way you can: whether that means demanding more LGBTQ+ representation from Hollywood, or protesting police brutality because black lives matter – or, preferably, by doing both. One day, we will see that change, and it will come from people like you. 2020 is a wake-up call for all of us: to fight harder. To do better.

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Ranking The “She-Ra” Princesses Of Power!

SPOILERS FOR ALL FIVE SEASONS OF SHE-RA AND THE PRINCESSES OF POWER AHEAD!

Now that Netflix’s hugely successful She-Ra reboot has closed out its five-season run with an incredible finale, I think it’s high time we looked back at the series’ cast of complex, nuanced characters, and so I’ve decided to make a comprehensive list ranking the eight Princesses of Power who make up most of the show’s core cast, and whose alliance against the evil Lord Hordak (and, later, Horde Prime) forms the main thrust of the plot. Even when united by the magical link between their runestones, these Etherian Princesses are also compelling characters individually, and their unique personalities, powers and story arcs are what will be factored into my rankings.

Though it might be considered controversial, I’ve made the choice not to include She-Ra herself on this list, as I felt that the other Princesses are already overshadowed by her enough throughout the series: even though She-Ra is, strictly speaking, a Princess of Power, she’s so far beyond most of the others in terms of power and character development, it felt unfair to put her alongside them.

8: Spinnerella

She-Ra Spinnerella
kotaku.com

Voiced by series showrunner Noelle Stevenson, Spinnerella seemed like a one-off cameo when she showed up in the first season of She-Ra, and it’s largely because of her small amount of screen time that she comes in last on my list: even though I think her character design is charming, Stevenson’s voice-work is excellent, and Spinnerella’s ability to control spiraling tornadoes is visually striking, she’s the one Princess who we still really don’t know that much about outside of her marriage to Princess Netossa (which is an event that happened offscreen, presumably before the first season opens, and thus isn’t ever touched upon except through mentions of a wedding anniversary in Season 5). Towards the end of the series, Spinnerella finally got a couple of awesome moments – but those were while she was an unwilling villain, mind-controlled by Horde Prime. With maybe a few more scenes to highlight her personality or explore her background (for instance: where does she come from? What is her Runestone?), I think she would probably have made a much bigger impression.

7: Frosta

She-Ra Frosta
aminoapps.com

I honestly don’t know if I’m in the minority with this opinion, but I was not overly fond of Princess Frosta. She was massively overhyped prior to her introduction towards the end of the first season, with Adora even drawing up military strategies for how to talk to her, and the Alliance determining that, if they could bring her to their side, they could win over all the remaining Princesses due to Frosta’s various connections. I enjoyed the reveal that she was actually a child (and a petulant, bratty one at that), but I felt like everything after that has been more and more wheel-spinning for her character. Even with the power to control ice, and a wickedly cool castle isolated in the mountains, Frosta has never been at the forefront of any stories since her debut: in season 2, she slowly earns Glimmer’s admiration and respect after initially coming off as clingy and obsessive; and in the final season, she and the recently returned Micah have some fun interactions as he prepares himself for his reunion with his own daughter – but for the most part, even more so than Princess Scorpia, Frosta has only ever been “the muscle”, who comes in handy when the teams needs to punch something with a spiky ice-fist.

6: Netossa

She-Ra Netossa
twitter.com

Introduced alongside Spinnerella as the air-borne Princess’ wife and constant companion, Netossa seemed, if anything, even more vague and unnecessary – her power to throw magical nets at things was random, and her character had barely any dialogue or interactions with anyone besides Spinnerella. But in the fifth season, Netossa suddenly became the Princess Alliance’s MVP with an unexpected and mind-blowing upgrade: she became the first character to lose someone to Horde Prime’s mind-control tactics, but she never once gave up hope that her wife would come back to her when confronted with her unconditional love, and her quest to win back her “Spinny”, carried out over multiple episodes, was written beautifully. Her fight-scenes with the brainwashed Spinnerella were a delight to watch (though also heartbreaking), and convinced me that magical net tossing is actually a legitimate skill-set and can be used in plenty of creative ways. Her can-do attitude and relentlessly romantic spirit made her relatable in ways she hadn’t been before. Voice actress Krystal Joy Brown deserves much of the credit for transforming Netossa from a peculiar background-character to one of the Princesses I’d most love to know more about.

5: Perfuma

She-Ra Perfuma
buzzfeed.com

Perfuma was a slow-burn, as she took a while to find her footing among the other Princesses – after all, when she was first introduced, she was written to be pushy, overly demanding, and grating. As Princess of the forested region of Plumeria, Perfuma’s interests are purely in the gardens, trees and plants she cultivates using the powers of the Heart Blossom Runestone, and she is a peace-loving character, so she didn’t jump into the Alliance straight away: but when she did, and once she stopped pestering everyone about meditation and drum-circles, it turned out there was a lot to love about her – she still suffers from all her old faults, but she’s also done her part to work past them and develop more patience for others: in season 4, a surprisingly transformative moment for her character was when she had to work with the cacti dwelling in the Crimson Waste, much to her dismay. In season 5, she grew very close to reformed Horde soldier Scorpia and used her skills to help the shyer, more sensitive Princess nurture her own talents. Her character design (especially in Season 5, which saw her take on a cool new undercover alias and a new outfit to go along with it), voice work by Genesis Rodriguez (who also played a similar character, Honey Lemon, in Big Hero 6), and unique connection with Etheria’s nature have made her a consistently fun Princess to follow on her travels.

4: Mermista

She-Ra Mermista
tumblr.com

The Princess of Salineas has always been a mood: her sour attitude on life in general and her angsty, on-and-off relationship with the boisterous pirate captain Sea Hawk make her vastly dissimilar to the more positive Princesses of Power. But over the seasons, we’ve watched her develop and gain a number of character traits we couldn’t have seen coming – after all, who would have ever guessed she was an avid reader of mystery novels, or that her reading habits would ever help the team discover a traitor in their midst? Who would have suspected that she herself took up Sea Hawk’s pyromaniacal tendencies and tried her hand at burning boats? But her biggest opportunity for development was when the Horde, helped by rogue Princess Entrapta, invaded Salineas and took everything from her, including her throne, her Runestone, and her status. After spending a long time sulking in a bathtub (being able to turn into a mermaid is good for some things) and eating ice cream, Mermista got back on her feet and became a stronger fighter than ever – which turned out to be both a blessing and a curse, as she later became brainwashed by Horde Prime and briefly used her powers against the other Princesses. Once you add the magic touch from Vella Lovell’s voice acting, you get a well-rounded and complicated character who may be a bit of a disaster at times, but is still fun, competent and relatable.

3: Scorpia

She-Ra Scorpia
she-raandtheprincessesofpower.fandom.com

Scorpia had to embark on a long and difficult journey of self discovery before she could come into her own, and it’s no wonder – despite being the Princess of the Fright Zone, she had her connection to the magical Black Garnet severed while she was still very young, and the choice to relinquish the Fright Zone into the hands of Lord Hordak was made by her grandfather, thus abandoning Scorpia to a fate she had never asked for, as a soldier and later a Force Captain for the Horde. But Scorpia’s most defining character trait has always been her loyalty – without question, she did whatever the Horde asked her to do, which included turning on her fellow Princesses. It took her a long time before she had the courage to stand up to the Horde, and, in particular, Force Captain Catra, whom she had always considered her best friend. But when she did, and realized that she could still harness the electric powers of the Black Garnet, Scorpia never looked back: she is now defined not by the abuse and trauma she suffered, but by the action she took to make sure it would never happen again – not to herself, and not to anyone else. On top of all that, she’s also a great hugger and an amazing singer (and, of course, all the credit for that goes to voice actress Lauren Ash).

2: Glimmer

She-Ra Glimmer
tor.com

Glimmer has had the most screen time and development out of all the characters on this list, thanks to her unforeseen transition from princess to queen of Bright Moon, after her mother Angella’s death in season 3. That transition, though undeniably sad, was necessary to turn Glimmer from the reckless, impulsive character she had been up until that point into a more rational, strategical and calculating leader – though it wasn’t easy for her, as she proved when she fell victim to Shadow Weaver’s manipulations soon afterwards and chose to unleash the powers of the Heart of Etheria, even overriding The Beacon and invading the Fright Zone with Scorpia. Thankfully, in season 5, Glimmer had a chance to find her footing before she could be pulled any further down the dark path she had been walking – with the help of her friends and family, she was able to fix the damage she had caused. But even though she came back to the light with her morality intact, she did retain much of the knowledge she had learned from Shadow Weaver, including a talent for dark magic – a much-needed upgrade, since Glimmer had always been unique in that she had to recharge her own powers, derived from the Moonstone, in between battles. Ultimately, I’m putting Glimmer in second place because, while I love her character and Karen Fukuhara’s voice work, I still don’t think anyone compares to my favorite Princess of Power…

1: Entrapta

She-Ra Entrapta
aminoapps.com

I didn’t expect to like Entrapta at all: her debut episode in the series, early in the first season, felt like filler while I was watching it for the first time, and I had difficulty believing this geeky, purple-haired Princess, living in the mountains with an army of murderous robots and a squad of bakers specializing in miniature pastries, could be of any use to the Rebellion, or an interesting character in her own right. And for a few more episodes, I thought I was justified in thinking that – until the fateful moment when Entrapta made the choice to stay with the Horde because….they had cooler tech. By firmly moving her from one side of the conflict to the other in a way that was shocking but still felt completely logical (because Entrapta had already been established as someone who cared more about tech than anything else), the showrunners turned her into the series’ most fascinating character. Since then, Entrapta has battled her moral compass, she’s slowly learned how to develop friendships, she’s maybe even fallen in love with Hordak of all people – and through it all, she’s always been unabashedly herself. Even in season 5, she has to physically stop herself from joining Horde Prime because he has spaceships! Am I the only one who thinks that’s super cool? As voiced by Christine Woods, the nerdy, complicated Entrapta is far and away my favorite Princess of Power.

So there you have it: all eight of She-Ra‘s Princesses, ranked. What do you think of my list? Which rankings do you agree with? Who is your favorite Princess? Share your own thoughts and opinions in the comments below!

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“She-Ra” Season 5 Review! No Spoilers!

Would it be too much of a hot take to say that everything Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame did, the fifth and final season of She-Ra And The Princesses Of Power did just as well – if not better in several instances? I’ll let you decide.

Now, to be fair, She-Ra has the advantage of being a Netflix series, with up to thirteen-episode seasons, so it’s probably not entirely right to compare it to any movie, even ones that are three hours long. However, considering that She-Ra‘s final season, whether intentionally or coincidentally, lifts a great deal of material straight from the closing chapters of the Infinity Saga, it seems fair enough to compare the two storylines, and how they are executed, and how the Netflix/Dreamworks cartoon sometimes gets it right where the Marvel Studios blockbusters falter.

She-Ra
ew.com

But first, a little background. I was not a She-Ra fan until Friday morning, when I decided it was high time I watched the entire series as quickly as possible, in order to catch up with the final season which had just dropped on Netflix. I had tried once before, several months ago, but I never even got past the opening credits. I forced myself through on this occasion, however – and before the first episode was over, I was already very thankful for that decision, because….wow. But don’t even get me started on the four previous seasons. This is strictly a Season 5 review.

Though I do think a little bit of Season 4 finale recap is in order – if you haven’t caught up, be warned: SPOILERS for that season up ahead! In the aftermath of Queen Glimmer (Karen Fukuhara) recklessly deciding to use the Heart of Etheria – a magical superweapon which lies embedded deep within the core of the planet – a great many things have changed in the status quo: first of all, Etheria itself has been carried through a portal out of its empty pocket-dimension and back into the larger universe; Adora (Aimee Carrero) has lost her connection with the ancient warrior She-Ra, and the Sword of She-Ra is broken and useless; and Hordak (Keston John), once the greatest enemy of the Princesses of Power, has been revealed to be nothing more than the puppet and defective clone of a far greater evil – Horde Prime (also Keston John), an alien overlord who has now launched a massive invasion of Etheria, and has simultaneously captured Glimmer, Hordak, and Hordak’s former second-in-command, Catra (AJ Michalka).

She-Ra
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Season 5 picks up after a small time jump. Horde Prime’s invasion is well underway now, and Adora, the archer Bow (Marcus Scribner), and all the remaining Princesses of Power are leading a futile rebellion against him. But on Horde Prime’s flagship, Glimmer and Catra are forced to establish a delicate trust bond with Prime and with each other as they plot a way to escape from imprisonment. Prime is essentially Thanos, and with less clever writing he might just have been that: his agenda (to destroy worlds across the universe in order to achieve cosmic balance and bring about a lasting peace) is much like the Mad Titan’s plan to end world hunger by wiping out half of every planet’s population; even more specifically, he too is the long-awaited mastermind behind the plans of an earlier antagonist in the franchise, who arrives on a gargantuan starship from the depths of space, whose army of mindless bodyguards start almost all their speeches with the word “Rejoice”, and who also has a tendency to meaningfully snap his fingers. Like Thanos, he has arrived on Etheria with the intention of claiming a superweapon that just so happens to come in the form of a magical link between a set of multi-colored crystals.

But unlike Thanos, Horde Prime has time to elaborate on his plans, and the characters have time to get to know him, to witness firsthand his strengths, and to begin to understand his weaknesses while they wander his ship. His special abilities, cloning and mind-control, aren’t anything we haven’t seen before, but they do also differentiate him from Thanos. And in one of my favorite scenes from early in the series, we get a chilling look at the devastation Horde Prime has wrought when he serves Glimmer and Catra a dinner consisting of various rare delicacies from worlds he destroyed in the past. Being the last person in the universe to know an entire planet’s recipes may not seem too dramatic, but it instantly makes the fight to save Etheria more personal, and conveys the horrors of Horde Prime’s conquests far better than any war-torn planet or battlefield.

She-Ra Catra
etonline.com

And that’s the thing: whenever She-Ra strays dangerously close to imitating the Marvel films, it immediately veers away again with the help of some clever, quirky twist that makes it feel fresh and invigorating. The final season may have all the same scope, scale and – occasionally – story-beats as Endgame, but it puts its own unique spin on that story. There is only one instance I can think of where this isn’t the case, when several of our heroes (I won’t say which) are left stranded in space on their way to Etheria, but the fuel they need for their own ship is actually crystals in the exact shape of Captain Marvel’s eight-pointed star – Captain Marvel being the one who rescued Tony Stark from being stranded in space after his ship ran out of fuel – so they touch down on a desolate planet only to run into a motley crew of space pirates led by a woman called Starla (Melissa Fumero) and a bald purple cyborg woman with trust issues, in an interaction that plays out almost identically to a similar meeting between Tony Stark and Star Lord’s motley crew of space pirates – which also includes a bald purple cyborg woman with trust issues – in Avengers: Infinity War.

But there’s a not-so-secret weapon at the heart of She-Ra, and that’s the series’ core cast of characters and the relationships between them, which are constantly evolving in new, unpredictable directions. Avengers: Infinity War‘s greatest problem, in my opinion, is how it sacrificed character for plot: it’s a problem that unfortunately carries over into parts of Endgame – but She-Ra doesn’t have that problem: every major character has room to grow, and all their development happens onscreen, so it doesn’t need to be exposited to the audience. The cast is also small enough already that everyone can get a meaningful role: whereas in Endgame, it sometimes felt like certain characters had only survived the Infinity War snap so they could provide comedic relief.

She-Ra
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The story’s focus is still on Adora and Catra, as the couple navigates their fragile relationship with some difficulty. But for the first time, it’s not Adora putting in all the effort: Catra, for her part, is finally trying to stop pushing people away from her every time they show her any affection – though, much like Marvel’s Loki, she still plans on exploiting the current chaos for her own advantage, even if it means hurting others. Their relationship goes through some very surprising ups-and-downs this season. Separately, they’ve both changed as well – Adora is busy over-exerting herself as she tries to match the strength and stamina she possessed when she could turn into She-Ra, while Catra is a quieter, less aggressive shadow of her former self.

Catra’s reluctant interactions with the imprisoned Queen Glimmer are also surprisingly fun to watch, as Glimmer too has to make an effort to trust her former enemy, the woman responsible for her own mother’s death. Glimmer has had a rough time these past couple of seasons, losing people she loves and watching as her close circle of friends gives up on her when she needs them most – something which is partly her own fault, as her stubbornness manifests itself in increasingly dangerous decisions. Much like Catra, she is descending into a dark place, and it’s both thrilling and scary to join her on that journey.

Back on Etheria, Bow has also made some changes to his own lifestyle – though not quite enough to make him give up crop-tops, which he still wears proudly even in circumstances where one would think it impossible: such as the crushing void of space. His arc in this season is more understated than others, but it gives him a number of deeply satisfying revelations about his purpose in life, and also briefly reunites him with his two dads, who are still just as charming and witty as ever.

She-Ra
syfy.com

My personal favorite character in the series, the geeky tech-genius Entrapta (Christine Woods), is given plenty of material to work with (quite literally) this season. Lost and lonely without her lab partner Hordak to turn to, she once again has a hard time reminding herself that she can’t just join the bad guys because they have cooler technology.

The other Princesses each get more time to shine, especially now that She-Ra herself isn’t around to steal the spotlight from them in action sequences. Shy, sensitive Scorpia (Lauren Ash), having just recently regained her Princess status after living her entire life severed from the powers of her Runestone, is the most compelling to watch – but then, she’s always been compelling. To no one’s surprise, she gravitates most toward Princess Perfuma (Genesis Rodriguez), who is battling her own insecurities and finds a kindred spirit in Scorpia’s gentle personality. The two more brusque Princesses, Frosta (Merit Leighton) and Mermista (Vella Lovell) have smaller roles this season: though the latter does get some very interesting development later in the season, and, as always, has adorable banter with the boisterous pirate captain, Sea Hawk (Jordan Fisher). A pleasant surprise is the upgrade of guest stars Spinnerella (Noelle Stevenson) and Netossa (Krystal Joy Brown) to recurring characters: they’ve come a long way from the time when Bow couldn’t even remember what their powers were.

Several villains find themselves joining with the Rebellion against Horde Prime’s power – the Horde itself has dissolved, while Hordak is trapped between his loyalty to his maker, and fidelity to his friend Entrapta (is there something more to their peculiar relationship? You’ll just have to watch and find out). Shadow Weaver (Lorraine Toussaint), meanwhile, still maintains that she is loyal to Queen Glimmer, even though her meddling with dark magic, which resumes early in the season as the Rebellion runs out of other options, makes her vulnerable to the temptation of evil.

She-Ra
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The dark magic itself is still fairly vague, but it is used in a greater capacity than ever before, and there are several fights which utilize it very well – especially those which also involve Glimmer’s father Micah (Daniel Dae Kim), who has had a little time to regain his strength since his decades-long sojourn on Beast Island. All in all, the action has been upgraded significantly this season: in particular, the fight scene which closes out Episode 5 is appropriately epic, and another fight soon after has one character literally leaping across an asteroid belt and blowing up starships with their bare hands. That’s all thanks to the incredible animation, of course.

A She-Ra review wouldn’t be complete without a shout-out to the series’ commitment to diversity – an area in which it wipes the floor with Endgame. While that film mustered up one nameless gay background character, She-Ra ends queerbaiting critiques once and for all with definitive, powerful LGBTQ+ representation.

For me, She-Ra beats out Endgame because of how undeniably right the payoff for every story thread and character arc is in the end. While Endgame leaves room for argument and debate over several characters’ fates, She-Ra ties everything up neatly, in a way that is brave but satisfying – at least for me. There’s no room for the sort of unending, roundabout discourse that plagues other fandoms. This feels like a conclusive, fitting ending for characters I only just met yesterday and for whom I would already sacrifice everything.

Series Rating: 10/10

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“Soul” Second Trailer Review!

The second trailer for Pixar’s upcoming feature film Soul gives us our first good look at what really awaits beyond life – and more importantly to protagonist Joe Gardner (voiced by Jamie Foxx): what came before.

When the middle school teacher and fame-seeking jazz musician stumbles through a manhole and is knocked unconscious, his baffled soul finds himself stuck on a slow-moving escalator towards the Great Beyond (which isn’t shown at all in this trailer: presumably whatever lies beyond will either be a major plot point of the movie, or kept completely offscreen to prevent conflict with various religious groups). But Joe’s soul doesn’t want to die, because he isn’t done living out his glorious life. So, in a desperate attempt to escape, he flings himself off the side of the escalator and falls even further into empty nothingness – until he lands in the Great Before.

Soul
denofgeek.com

Just as the Great Beyond takes us all when we die, the Great Before is where we all came from: with a few eye-catching visuals, the trailer explains how all souls live here in a vibrant lavender paradise before being assigned to various newborn humans and sent to Earth to live their lives, die, and go on to the Great Beyond. Here, Joe meets another soul, voiced by Tina Fey, whose entire goal is to never have that happen to her: she already knows everything about Earth, and has decided it’s just not the place for her. “Is all that living really worth dying for?,” she asks.

Yikes. From the looks of it, this may be one of Pixar’s heaviest films yet, and it’s going to take a lot of silly jokes (of which there are plenty) to lighten the mood in the theater. Joe’s mission to get back to his body, which currently lies in a deep coma at a hospital, is already going to be tough enough: now add on a subplot where he tries to convince Tina Fey’s soul that life is worth dying for. The end of the trailer has the two hurtling through a vortex towards Earth, which I’m hoping isn’t a spoiler. Could it really be as easy as Joe returning to his body, waking up and living out the rest of his life? Or could he end up taking that final path to the Great Beyond?

And is there a point to the strange little stinger that has two vague stick-figures counting the number of souls heading to the Great Beyond and noting that “the count is off”. Do they have a purpose? Are they heroes or villains? We have no idea.

So what did you think of this trailer for Soul? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

Trailer Rating: 8/10

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“Frozen 2” Spoiler Review! Villain Explained!

SPOILERS FOR FROZEN 2 AHEAD!

There’s a lot of movie to talk about in this post. Frozen 2 is completely different from its predecessor, which avoided controversy by sticking to more traditional Disney fare: true love, family bonds, embracing your differences, etc, etc. Frozen 2 takes risks by leaping into the thick of some of the most heated discussions of this century – there’s commentary on generational divides, nationalism, and environmentalism, among other things. And since this is a spoiler review, we can talk about all of it.

Frozen 2
thepopinsider.com

While the subject of nationalism would seem the most foreign and shocking in a family-friendly Disney movie about two princesses and a lovable snowman, it was actually the topic that I most strongly suspected Frozen 2 would touch on, in some way or another. Back in September, I speculated that Elsa and Anna’s peaceful city-state of Arendelle had some dark secrets they wanted to keep hidden: namely, their persecution of the Northuldra peoples. This persecution has its roots in the very real, very tragic story of the nomadic Sámi peoples of northern Scandinavia whose culture and history was almost wiped off the face of the planet by the governments under whose “protection” they dwelt. Mostly, the governments of Norway and Sweden – the two countries whose cultures have informed the creation of the peaceful sea-port of Arendelle, with its majestic fjord and majority-white population. The Northuldra tribe in Frozen 2, on the other hand, are very clearly stand-ins for the Sámi – to the point where the film even hired Sámi consultants. I guessed at once that Elsa and Anna might be in for a nasty surprise if and when they discovered that their country had actively worked to massacre an entire race of people.

But while I had worked out the basic framework of the story, I was unable to guess how important the Norway vs Sámi/Arendelle vs Northuldra conflict would be to the entire plot of Frozen 2. And that’s where the parallels to 1995’s Pocahontas, a film I referenced in my non-spoiler review as an unlikely contrast to this one, come in.

Both films deal with the interactions between a majority-white nation and a peaceful indigenous people. But while the early flashbacks in Frozen 2 indicate that relations between the two peoples were just that, peaceful, it turns out later in the movie that those flashbacks lied to us – or was it just that Elsa and Anna’s father, King Agnarr, was an unreliable narrator, leaving out the bits where his people turned on their friends and tried to kill them all? Yes, Elsa (Idina Menzel) discovers in the third act that her revered grandfather, King Runeard of Arendelle (Jeremy Sisto), attempted to wipe out the Northuldra by building a huge dam across the fjord which threatened their way of life – why, you ask? Well, the film does somewhat gloss over the notion of racial prejudice, but does touch on a form of bigotry – if not one we’re accustomed to seeing in the real world: Runeard’s fear and hatred of people who use magic (such as the Northuldra). Runeard’s plan to subtly undermine the Northuldra with his dam goes awry when the leader of the Northuldra sees through his deception and tries to stop him, leading to open conflict between the two peoples, one in which Runeard and the Northuldra leader were both killed by falling over a cliff.

Elsa never actually meets him personally, but she does have a brief encounter with…well, it’s not exactly his ghost, but I don’t know what to call it: ice-sculpture moving photograph? Confronting him over his fears and prejudices, Elsa wonders out loud what her grandfather would think of her, a brave young woman who controls all of the four elements of magic, in one of the most powerful moments in the movie. Unfortunately, Runeard is kind of dead, so it’s hard for Elsa to have any sort of meaningful interactions with him – but she doesn’t have to, because as I said in my non-spoiler review, Frozen 2 isn’t about clinging to the past, it’s about moving forward into the future. Runeard, the film’s only real villain, represents an older, more backwards-thinking generation who prevent change and progress: Elsa and Anna, representing millennials, are the change and progress, and they have better things to do with their time than get into arguments with the ghosts of bitter old racists. And so both Anna and Elsa turn away from the crimes and dark secrets buried in their family’s past and walk into the future hand-in-hand, helping to right Arendelle’s wrongs by destroying Runeard’s dam (even if it does nearly leave Arendelle drowned under a whole new fjord in what I can only describe as the Fords of Bruinen scene from The Lord Of The Rings multiplied tenfold), breaking the magical enchantments that separate Northuldran territory from Arendelle, and commissioning memorials to the Northuldra people. By acknowledging the crimes that white colonizers did to the indigenous peoples of Scandinavia, Frozen 2 is already a step ahead of Pocahontas, which blithely pretended that after Governor Ratcliffe was locked up in chains, everything was fine and dandy in the New World. By setting the story long after the violence occurred, Frozen 2 allows its young protagonists to learn the mistakes that their ancestors made, and do their part to try and fix them, since it’s too late to avert them – that’s a story that many young people can relate to, as they too inherit a world damaged by the actions of previous generations, what with wars, climate change, etc, etc.

Frozen 2
comicbook.com

The film also, somewhat more controversially, gives Anna (Kristen Bell) and Elsa a personal stake in the fight by revealing that they are…bear with me here…mixed-race. Their mother, Iduna (Evan Rachel Wood), was actually a Northuldran woman who danced with flying leaves in the wind before rescuing a handsome young blond man from certain death, falling in love with him and returning with him to his kingdom…hold on a moment, this movie really is mirroring Pocahontas. Anna and Elsa are still very much white, however, and that fact actually shouldn’t be a problem, since many of the Sámi peoples of Scandinavia are, in fact, white. However, Frozen 2 takes the liberty of interpreting the Northuldra as darker-skinned, with dark hair – probably in an attempt to make the diversity look more clearly diverse. In the end it somewhat backfires by making Anna and Elsa into the sole white women among a group of people of color, coming in to save the day and free them from their captivity in the forest…in other words, they get a bit of the white savior treatment, and it’s not a good look for either character, or for Disney.

Frozen 2
etonline.com

In the end, though, Elsa actually goes to live with the Northuldra, feeling her true calling among her mother’s people. Having discovered at the end of the movie that she is the “fifth spirit” who can control the four elements of fire, water, earth and wind, Elsa has become a shimmering goddess of the tundra, resplendent in an Aurora Borealis-inspired gown, riding a water-horse and carrying a fiery salamander as her animal sidekick. And, um, yeah, the movie never really does anything to explain why she got stuck with ice powers specifically. Instead, it spends a lot of time focusing on Elsa’s environmentalist journey: abandoning the trappings of modern (okay, well, late 19th Century modern) civilization, Elsa goes back to nature and finds peace there, among the splendor of the Norwegian wilderness. Whether or not she learns to paint with all the colors of the wind, we won’t know until Frozen 3.

Speaking of Frozen 3, it’s time to talk sequels. The film actually leaves off rather conclusively – Elsa is living her best life in the far north as a magic guru goddess, Anna is the progressive new queen of Arendelle, we’ve learned pretty much everything there is to know about Elsa’s magic (I think), and there’s peace at last in fantasy Norway. But is that peace destined to last? Looking at the progression in Elsa and Anna’s stories over the last two films, a pattern emerges: in the first film, we saw them brought together by the power of true love, risking their lives to save each other; in the second film, their journey takes the two sisters in different directions, leading them to finally separate and lead separate lives. What’s left for a third film to explore? Frozen: Civil War, in which Team Anna and Team Elsa face off against each other in the most brutal snowball-fight ever animated? Well, I don’t expect it to get that extreme (though I wouldn’t complain if it did), but something along those lines wouldn’t be a bad idea. We’ve seen them together, we’ve seen them separate – now would be a good time to show them on opposite sides of a conflict, eventually realizing they have to work together once more to solve a problem. As for what that problem could be: well, I’d recommend an actual villain. Runeard’s legacy of evil worked for Frozen 2 because of the message it was trying to send, but a third film would be a great place for an actual enemy to arise and threaten fantasy Norway. There might even be some opportunities to play with the concept of Dark Elsa – after all, she was originally written to be the first film’s villain.

Some things I wouldn’t expect to see from the third film would be any more revelations about the sisters’ past – Elsa and Anna literally found out everything we could possibly care to know about the history of Arendelle. We even discovered exactly what happened to their parents, the good King Agnarr and Queen Iduna, when the sisters found their wrecked ship washed up onshore. Thanks to Elsa’s magic, the sisters were able to see exactly how their parents perished – turns out, they were on their way to the far north to try and find answers about what Elsa was when they ran into a storm and drowned, holding each other one last time as the waves swallowed them up. So any mystery about them and their fate has been conclusively laid to rest, in the saddest possible way (in case you’re wondering, this scene is one of the three I referenced in my non-spoiler review as being absolutely soul-crushing: the others being Olaf’s temporary death and Elsa’s aforementioned confrontation with her grandfather).

On the bright side, most of the characters get happy-ever-after endings in Frozen 2: Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) finally proposes to Anna and she accepts; Olaf (Josh Gad) is dead, but then he isn’t (something I also predicted back in September); Elsa maybe-sort-of-kinda-subtly has a thing going on with fellow Northuldran woman Honeymaren (Rachel Matthews), though Disney being Disney, it’ll probably only ever be in subtext, despite how fervently the internet clamors for Elsa to get a girlfriend; Sven gets a whole bunch of new reindeer friends, and presumably isn’t excluded from all their reindeer games. Frozen 2 is darker than this franchise has ever been, and it could be the darkest it’ll ever get – but then again, maybe in six more years we’ll be treated to a third and final installment of the story of the two sisters. At which point in the timeline Kristoff and Anna will probably be parents, Olaf will be older, and Sven will be…well, Sven should be dead at this point considering the average lifespan of a reindeer, but somehow I don’t expect Disney to go in that direction unless they’re feeling particularly dark.

Frozen 2
popsugar.co.uk

How would you feel about the possibility of Frozen 3, and what would you like to see Anna and Elsa do next? What was your favorite Frozen 2 moment? Share your thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

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“Frozen 2” Non-Spoiler Review!

The franchise that began with one great song, a few boatloads of in-your-face Disney Magic (read: Olaf-themed merchandise), and a couple of warm hugs along the way has grown up significantly over the past six years, and will presumably continue to grow as it evolves – Frozen 3 isn’t exactly inevitable, but it’s far from implausible. To reflect the fact that its audience has matured both physically and mentally, Frozen 2 branches off in an unexpected direction: at a time when it feels like every franchise is trying to cash in on nostalgia, Frozen 2 has a different message for kids and adults alike, one that is more interesting and more powerful: the past informs our future, but it doesn’t define it.

"Frozen 2" Non-Spoiler Review! 1
eonline.com

You might be tempted to laugh, and in the confines of a non-spoiler review I won’t be able to give sufficient evidence to back up my claims, I know. After all, Disney has teased a similar message before, and then walked it back – wasn’t it Star Wars‘ very own Kylo Ren who told us to let go of the past, “kill it if you have to”, not long before Disney introduced the world to the thrilling story of a Boba Fett-lookalike and his Baby Yoda sidekick, and started promoting The Rise Of Skywalker, which reveals that characters like Lando Calrissian and Emperor Palpatine are all on their way back to the big screen? Yes. But in Frozen 2, change and progress are real, obvious, and important to the story, whereas in franchises like Star Wars it sometimes seems like more of a charade.

Almost as soon as the movie opens, this theme is being foreshadowed – while everybody in the cheerful Norwegian city of Arendelle is getting together to sing “Some Things Never Change” (told you it’s obvious), only Queen Elsa (Idina Menzel) is feeling out of place and isolated among her own people: her realization, that things do change – and, in fact, need to change – is at once startlingly relieving. I would say Frozen 2 is all about change, transformation, the metamorphosis of the soul: basically if the hit song “Let It Go” from the first Frozen was an entire movie – speaking of which, Elsa has a few more power-ballads to belt out this time around, and all of them are extraordinary. At the same time, there are frequent, if mostly humorous, ruminations on the concept of mortality and permanence. Even Olaf (Josh Gad), the happiest snowman in Scandinavia, is feeling the passage of time and gets his very own song about the subject, “When I Am Older”, that sums up his feelings on the matter in a funny, philosophical way.

But change isn’t something to be afraid of – it can also make the world a better place. It’s the change we see happening both onscreen and behind the scenes all the time: for instance, the stark contrast between movies like 1995’s Pocahontas and Frozen 2 (which deals with a very similar concept at its core, surprising as that may seem), is only made possible by decades of change: slow, sometimes, but steady.

Some things really don’t change, though: for one, the fact that Elsa and Anna (Kristen Bell) are still two of Disney’s most emotionally complex characters, despite being denied the official Disney Princess title (though, depending on how long some of Frozen 2‘s most significant developments have been in place, I can almost identify a very good reason for why neither woman was given that honor. Let’s just say, both Elsa and Anna have much bigger things in store for them. Elsa continues to be a relatable role model for people of all walks of life, but especially members of the LGBTQ+ community (who have identified with her and embraced her since 2013): while she’s never given her own “exclusively gay” moment, she is still Disney’s most undeniably queer-coded heroine. Her journey in Frozen 2 takes her from being an outcast (and the sole introvert in a city where apparently everybody gets together for group singalongs on the weekend), to being, well, something else entirely. Her younger sister Anna is still as lovably optimistic and chipper as she was in the first movie, but also more understanding of Elsa’s struggle, more capable of handling her own problems, and more aware of the world around her – up to a point. There’s a running gag in the movie about Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) trying to have a romantic moment with Anna, which keeps going south when she misconstrues his intentions and thinks he’s trying to break up with her: but it only keeps happening because Anna herself jumps to the weirdest conclusions, to the point where I had to wonder if she was making excuses to get away from Kristoff intentionally.

But even though a couple of jokes here and there don’t land quite as well as they might have, the movie is, overall, very funny. Much of the humor is based off making fun of the previous movie, just as Frozen itself made fun of other Disney Princess movie tropes: here, we have gems such as Elsa cringing at the sound of her breakout hit “Let It Go”, and Olaf hilariously recapping the first film’s events – not to mention several humorous references to Frozen‘s despicable villain, Prince Hans of the Southern Isles – in this movie, despite never actually appearing in person, he gets mocked, made fun of, and turned into a snowball. But at the same time, Frozen 2 reaches Pixar levels of sad – as in, there are three heart-crushing scenes, all of which we will discuss in the spoiler review.

What about the music? What is most shocking about the film’s soundtrack is that, while the songs vary greatly in style, they are all consistently great. Elsa gets a very gay, very sparkly anthem of empowerment – it’s amazing. Kristoff has his very own melodramatic, angsty 80’s rock ballad with reindeer backup singers – it’s weirdly wonderful. There’s no “Fixer-Upper” on this soundtrack: almost every song feels like it has the potential to be a new “Let It Go”. Strangely, though, it is “Into The Unknown”, the film’s most hyped-up musical number, that made possibly the least impression on me in the theater.

In conclusion, Frozen 2 is very much worth seeing – it’s a movie full of heart and real emotional weight that arrives at a time when Disney and all film studios are under attack for supposedly worshiping the past, never making original content, blindly rebooting, remaking and redoing dead franchises without concern for art form. Frozen 2 is an ode to progress and substantive change, and a clear message to embrace the future with open arms. If you can take a moment in between musical numbers to go into the unknown on a spiritual journey of your own, I encourage you to do so.

"Frozen 2" Non-Spoiler Review! 2
animationmagazine.net

But…if you’re just there for the music, that’s great too, and I don’t blame you. Let It Go, dear reader, and may you have a wonderful time at the movies. Just don’t expect to be entirely unchanged by your film-going experience.

Movie Rating: 9.5/10

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“Onward” Trailer Review!

Pixar is going all out on the sob-factor in their new, humorously quirky, vaguely unsettling trailer for Onward, a film about two brothers trying to resurrect their deceased father in a world full of magic, mischief, and angry unicorns. And it’s a good thing they are, because it’s all they’ve got so far.

As in the first trailer, I’m still not seeing much about the actual concept that feels entirely unique – yes, it’s turning common fantasy tropes upside-down and giving them a funny twist, but…it’s been done. The unicorns raiding trash cans, the biker gang of fairies, the pet dragon: I mean, maybe it’s just because I read a lot of Terry Pratchett’s work, but “mundane magic” doesn’t feel extremely high-concept anymore. But, of course, Pixar isn’t relying solely on setting to sell this story – no, they’re relying on human tears to fuel this movie at the box-office.

In this new trailer, we watch Ian and Barley Lightfoot, our Elven protagonists, as they attempt to use a magic staff to bring their father back from the dead for a single day – but, this being Pixar, the plan backfires, and what they’re left with is a pair of sentient ghost legs that will probably make us all cry ourselves to death in the theater, but for the moment just look…kind of creepy, to tell you the truth. That situation is not alleviated when the brothers attempt to disguise the legs by giving their dad a fake body composed of several sweatshirts, jackets and a pair of glasses – am I supposed to stifle a sob at the sight, or tremble in terror? Honestly, I’m not sure.

Yeah, and then, um, I think somebody gets decapitated? And also burned to a crisp? I’m not entirely sure what to think of that, but the impression I’m getting is that, for all of Onward‘s yoga trolls and casual cyclops (cyclopses? cyclopsis?) this world is actually quite dark and dangerous: after all, it wouldn’t really be Pixar without somebody dying or getting killed in the opening sequence – though, as we recently learned from Toy Story 4, even some of the studio’s most nightmarish villains get served up justice.

The trailer gives us a bit of humor, mostly resulting from the highly awkward scenario of having to travel around with a pair of legs, searching for the top half of a ghost. But the actual jokes are pretty weak – probably because Pixar is saving their best ones for the movie-going experience. The studio has often been accused of having weak trailers for great films, and I hope that Onward is no different: sure, it might look a little derivative right now, but who’s not going to see this film at some point, whether in theaters or on streaming? Are you?

What do you think of the trailer, and what are your thoughts on the genre? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Trailer Rating: 6/10

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“Frozen 2” Trailer!

Disney is preparing two last box-office juggernauts for the end of this very profitable year – but in the event that Star Wars is a wildcard disaster, there’s one franchise you can always count on to turn in a profit, whether through ticket sales, accompanying merch, and Olaf waffle-makers: Frozen.

This new trailer finally delivers some of the classic hallmarks of the first film, including, of course, Olaf himself. As someone who intensely dislikes Olaf (when I’m not secretly laughing at all his jokes) it gives me great joy that this trailer ends with a brief scene of him running through a forest being pursued by every imaginable danger. Melt, you over-commercialized snowman! Melt!

There are no songs to be heard, which is something of a disappointment, but in place of that we get lots of action, epic visuals, and an interesting little mystery. Finally, we have some idea of what the film’s plot might be – Queen Elsa is being called to an enchanted forest far away in the north, somewhere her father once visited, before war broke out, and some sort of tidal wave of Autumn leaves drove everyone away. Now, those Autumn leaves sweep through the city of Arendelle, threatening to….um, well, I can’t actually think of why leaves would be so terrifying, but then again, Stephen King has a horror novel about killer grass, so what do I know? Maybe these leaves refuse to be raked. That would be evil.

To understand the calling, Elsa, her sister Anna, along with Kristoff, Olaf, and the reindeer Sven, travel north to the magical woodlands. They immediately run into some high-stakes danger: we see Elsa leaping over ice pillars through what might be a cave; the whole team getting picked up by a tornado; Anna and Kristoff on the run from a stone giant; Elsa surrounded by a raging pink wildfire in the forest. But we also get to see them fighting back – and the visual spectacle is wild. Elsa’s underwater battle with the ghost-horse from the second trailer, for instance, here leads to her literally rising above the waves in what looks like an ice-chariot before looping electric-blue reins around the horse in a stunning display of sparkle and shadow, before riding off across the surface of the ocean.

Oh yeah, and apparently there’s people who want to take over Arendelle for some reason? They might be connected to the attack of the Autumn leaves, so maybe they’re the ones who drove everyone away to begin with – or maybe they want Elsa’s powers for themselves? Do they have anything to do with Elsa’s powers? That bit is still a little unclear. I guess we’ll have to find out when Frozen 2 hits theaters this November.

So what do you think? Are you prepared to go into the unknown with Elsa and Anna, or does all this sword-fighting and epic magic miss the point of Frozen? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Trailer Rating: 8/10

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“The Dark Crystal: Age Of Resistance” Review!

Right up front, I’m going to express my disappointment that my review of Netflix’s new original series is not quite as glowing as certain others are. Not only do I disagree with Rotten Tomatoes’ 89% Fresh rating, but I don’t understand it. I do notice, though, that the series is not rated Certified Fresh, which is some relief to me, writing this ballad of a sadly underwhelmed audience-member. Audiences across the world seem to be greatly enjoying The Dark Crystal: Age Of Resistance, but it’s rather hard to figure out whether that excitement comes from hardcore Dark Crystal fans or mainstream Netflix-watchers. I’m going to guess the former, because this show seemed, at least to me, to have very little mainstream appeal. Let’s discuss.

Firstly, puppets. Puppets can be wonderful fun, and, if done right, with charm and humor, they can even be fun to watch onscreen: countless Muppet movies (great Muppet movies, at that) and the huge success of Sesame Street prove that. But unfortunately, charm and humor are two noticeable absences in the Dark Crystal franchise, which is both grim and serious, and incredibly macabre – even nightmarish, but we’ll get to that. Where Jim Henson’s other movies had fun and dance, musical numbers, cameos from human actors and a general atmosphere of carefree recklessness, his original Dark Crystal was an attempt to pivot away from that image. It deserves praise for the fact that it was one of the first big fantasy epics, and its creation was a huge undertaking. However, when it released in 1982, it was not the massive success that Henson had hoped for, receiving a mixed response from both critics and audiences. Those who did fall in love with it, however, never fell out of love, and so the new Netflix prequel has a small, but loyal niche fanbase that it wants to attract. As for me, I have never loved the original movie: I hated it, in fact. The puppets, with their strange, glassy eyes and grotesque rogues gallery of bird-like Skeksis, all living on what was supposed to be a barren alien planet – not my thing.

That’s probably at least partly why this new series just wasn’t for me. The puppets haven’t changed in the decades since the original movie was released. I am not an expert on puppet technology, but as far as I can tell, an effort has been made to use the same sort of techniques as Jim Henson did all those years ago: over-zealous loyalty to a project is not unheard of, and can be understandable, if said project doesn’t really require major changes for modern audiences to enjoy it. Dark Crystal, however, is outdated, and makes no effort to change that: the story is still a huge, intricate mess of mythology, religion, philosophy and fantasy cliches; the puppets are still obviously puppets, and their glassy-eyed stares remain their signature feature.

I intend no disrespect to the series’ puppeteers, who do an excellent job: their work is incredible, and I can’t imagine how difficult it must be. I also have huge respect for the amazing voice cast: many of the actors are quite good in their roles, though there are more than a few who only show up once or twice and have barely any dialogue: Alicia Vikander, Natalie Dormer, Hannah John-Kamen and Mark Strong are some of the latter – of the former, we have Taron Egerton, Anya Taylor-Joy, Nathalie Emmanuel, Donna Kimball and Lena Headey to thank, for making this show ever so slightly more entertaining than it would otherwise have been. I’ll spare some praise for Sigourney Weaver, who gets to narrate the opening of the first episode.

As for the characters these hugely-talented actors and actresses are voicing, well…watching their individual stories isn’t always quite as interesting as playing Who’s Who with the voice cast, but there are a few I can think of: Mother Aughra (Donna Kimball), the benevolent but cranky guardian of Thra, is especially fun to watch, and the puppeteers gave her enough quirky little traits, from facial movements to her distinctive style of dancing, that make her seem like an actual character, rather than some of the thin, underdeveloped cardboard cutouts that pass for protagonists in this series. Tavra, Seladon and Brea, the three sundered daughters of the All-Maudra (Helena Bonham-Carter), are also especially interesting, and the way that their stories diverge and reunite is imaginative. But of these, only Brea (Anya Taylor-Joy) is a main character: for the most part, we’re stuck watching Rian (Taron Egerton) either walking from place to place, or stopping to share his memories with literally everybody he meets (after the third or fourth of these long, redundant, dream-sharing encounters, I was ready to turn off the show). Deet the Grotten (Nathalie Emmanuel) is somewhat more interesting, but her story takes a bizarre and unexplained twist in the last few episodes. As for Maudra Fara, she’s actually quite likable, which is somewhat conflicting, considering that she speaks with the villainous voice of Lena Headey, who portrayed the evil Cersei Lannister on Game of Thrones.

Talking of villains, it’s time to discuss those which dwell in Thra, and present the main threat to our Gelfling heroes. The Skeksis, repugnant vulture-people from another world, who have subjugated the Gelfling people and enslaved the Crystal of Truth to their will. I want to take a moment to point out that, somehow, the Gelflings, who are shown to have vaguely-human aesthetics and personalities, are completely oblivious to the fact that gigantic, hulking anthropomorphic vultures living in a claw-shaped Gothic castle might be evil. The Skeksis are absolutely revolting and repulsive, with zero redeemable qualities, and no actual personalities to speak of – so why, then, do we spend about fifty percent of the show’s screentime watching them squabble pointlessly, in a boring parody of Game of Thrones‘ layered dynastic rivalry and wars for the throne. There are so many pointless scenes of Skeksis eating, I thought I might lose my mind: if not my appetite. This is a personal preference, but I cannot stand two types of villain: (a) the CGI-construct with no personality who yells “Kill them all!” and dumb stuff like that (Azog from The Hobbit fits the bill), and (b) pompous, swaggering, disgusting buffoons (such as the Master of Lake-town from The Hobbit). The Skeksis combine the worst elements of both of these villain cliches, and take them to the next level. Only The Hunter even came close to being an intimidating antagonist, but his supporting character-status was undeserved and infuriating.

All this is truly saddening, because the Skeksis could have been excellent. If I had been the showrunner, I would have probably changed their appearance, first of all: wouldn’t resplendent peacock-feathers or gaudy, glorious plumage have done the trick of showing Skeksi greed and avarice just as well as bald, wrinkly faces and harsh, raspy evil laughter? This is a prequel, for Thra’s sake – they could have done anything with the Skeksis! The possibilities were endless. There were themes and shades of some of the great fantasy villains at work here, but none ever reached full potential: the Skeksi fear of death and their desperate attempts to evade it, for example, resembled the actions of Tolkien’s Numenoreans, clinging to life at all costs, warring on the earth and the gods in the faint hope of winning immortality.

It’s not the only Tolkien theme glimpsed in Age of Resistance: in the very first episode, while a Skeksi narrates about the inevitability of evil and how the strong will always conquer the weak, we watch a montage which proves otherwise, showing various Gelfling heroes starting out on their individual quests for justice and truth, in a reverse of Sam Gamgee’s “stories that really matter” speech at the end of Peter Jackson’s The Two Towers (which is also on Netflix, now, by the way). The series has very Tolkienesque ecological messaging, and the Gelflings, bound up with the fate of Thra, are nothing if not a hybrid between Tolkien’s hobbits and elves. But sadly, these themes get buried under so many fantasy plot points (magic sword! prophecies! mystic arts!) that it’s hard to find them at first.

All in all, the series is far too long. I flew through the first three episodes, even if they were rather weak, and the fourth through sixth episodes were actually quite good: seven through ten, however, drag the story out far too long. The eventual finale lands with a resounding thud: a more disappointing climax, I could not envision. That might be because the series tries too hard to make you want to go watch Dark Crystal after it’s finished, which is something I do not want to do, and don’t ever want to do again. So many things are left unanswered, and the final showdown between Gelflings and Skeksis is so underwhelming – was it because full-out puppet war is rather hard to manage? Did the budget not allow for it? I don’t know: all I can say for certain is that I was hugely disappointed.

It’s unfortunate. I really wanted to like it. The trailers showed off stunning visual beauty, Gelfling heroics, and epic warfare: unfortunately, in the actual series, these things are few and far between. If you’re a puppet nerd, a hardcore sword-and-sorcery fan, or a Henson completionist, I urge you to watch this series, since you might enjoy it far more than I did. But all that I’m left with is the feeling that I wasted time on this series, when I could have been…oh, I don’t know, watching The Two Towers instead. It’s all the same stuff, but it doesn’t have creepy vulture-puppets.

Series Rating: 5/10

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“Mulan” First Trailer!

Typically, the Marvel Cinematic Universe dominates all the movie industry headlines, but these last few weeks it’s been all Disney live-action remakes, all the time. Probably no coincidence that this comes right after the huge success of Disney’s Aladdin, a film for which fans have already begun eagerly demanding a sequel. Now, after a whole bunch of “controversy” about black Ariel and Melissa McCarthy playing Ursula the sea-witch, Disney is back on track, releasing the first trailer for their upcoming remake of the animated classic, Mulan.

Let me warn you, I’m a big fan of Mulan: it’s my all-time favorite Disney movie. I was actually planning to watch the film before the trailer dropped. But it’s a little too late to do that now, so here we are: the trailer has arrived.

It’s beautiful: it opens with a shot of Mulan riding a horse through the grasslands of central China, and goes wild from there, with spectacular scenes of our heroine preparing for her ill-fated meeting with the matchmaker, leaping across rooftops in the Imperial City, and wielding a sword in the heat of battle. It doesn’t look like any of the remakes Disney has been turning out recently: there are none of the original film’s songs (though there are nods to them, such as when Mulan says “I will bring honor to us all”, and the instrumental music takes the shape of that classic tune); it has action, rather than dreamy romance, such as we saw in the trailers for Beauty & The Beast or Aladdin; it’s intimate, and dramatic, and the focus is largely on the characters and their story, presented as if it’s brand new, rather than filtered through the “nostalgia-factor” that Disney has traditionally indulged in when marketing their remakes.

In large part, it is brand new – we already know that this movie will be very different from the animated film, but this trailer highlights some of these changes. We see Mulan fighting as a woman, even though in the original film she never fought on the battlefield unless disguised as a man. There’s a lot more martial arts prowess on display here. There’s no sign of the new character said to be taking over the role of Mulan’s former love-interest, Shang. There’s absolutely no hint whatsoever of Mushu, or the phoenix which will apparently replace him. What we have here is something almost like an entirely original movie, one that looks much more epic: there’s no jokes either – though that’s something Disney seems to do, where they hide all the humor until you actually get to the film and realize that it’s a hilarious comedy. They did that with Aladdin too.

Oh, I’m nervous: I don’t know what to say. Mulan has such a special place in my heart, and I really want this movie to live up to that. And it looks really good, but it looks so…so new. I don’t know how to judge it when everything is so subtly different from what I’m expecting. Mulan herself seems very tough, very determined, and incredibly skilled: I’m not sure exactly how she’s able to do all these amazing backflips and twirls and whatnot – in the original film, she was resourceful and quick-thinking rather than being invincible. There I go again, comparing the two: but I have to. This trailer is confusing me. At least it has the avalanche.

You understand, don’t you? What do you think of the trailer? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Trailer Rating: 8?/10

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