(Welcome to The Soapbox, the space where we get loud, feisty, political, and opinionated about anything and everything. In this edition: why do modern Disney movie villains stink?)
Early in the new Walt Disney Animation Studios film Frozen II, our main quintet of characters plays a friendly game of charades. Queen Elsa of Arendelle, her goofy sister Princess Anna, their living-snowman pal Olaf, the ice-salesman himbo Kristoff and his reindeer Sven are just relaxing in the castle, with Anna trying to get the others to guess a challenging clue. Though they’re able to narrow it down based on her gestures to the long-gone Prince Hans of the Southern Isles, they don’t get the actual clue: “villain”.
That charade is a fitting word to see the characters struggle to guess, as it exemplifies a fascinating creative direction for Disney Animation over the past decade. Though many of the studio’s films have become bigger and bigger hits, they’ve become less defined by their antagonists, for both good and ill.
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(Welcome to The Soapbox, the space where we get loud, feisty, political, and opinionated about anything and everything. In this edition: Disney fandom has become a powerful tribe – how did we get here?)
It’s natural to seek out people who share our interests. Those are the people with whom we’re most likely to get along. But after a point, tribalisation becomes a negative force: when supporting your tribe comes at the expense of other tribes. We see that everywhere, from fandom to global politics. And this year has seen a dramatic and disturbing spike in pop-culture tribalisation – largely centred around the company that needs it least.
Fandom rivalries have existed forever. Star Wars vs Star Trek has more or less come to an equilibrium, with most fans admitting that they like both, to some degree. The Marvel/DC rivalry has been around for decades, though it’s become much more visibly unpleasant since the birth of the Marvel and DC Cinematic Universes. Now that superheroes are a dominant global cultural force, and not a niche for enthusiasts, the scale and fury of these rivalries has escalated to at-times horrifying levels.
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(Welcome to The Soapbox, the space where we get loud, feisty, political, and opinionated about anything and everything. In this edition: the future of Walt Disney World’s Epcot is big and bold, but is it true to the spirit of the park?)
Nostalgia is the currency of the Walt Disney Company, and it was on full display during the D23 Expo last weekend. This year’s Expo was, despite being just three days long, the biggest yet. The first day highlighted the upcoming streaming service Disney+, the second day talked about all of the various studio arms of the company and their upcoming releases, and the final day was all about the theme parks and their upcoming updates. Those updates ranged from the unsurprising — confirming a lot of rumors about what the Marvel-focused Avengers Campus would be — to the unexpected, like the announcement of a Mary Poppins attraction in Epcot inspired…by the sequel, not the iconic original film.
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(Welcome to The Soapbox, the space where we get loud, feisty, political, and opinionated about anything and everything. In this edition: is it still surprising when Quentin Tarantino decides to rewrite history?)
Sitting in the theater, waiting for the lights to dim, I couldn’t help but wonder how Quentin Tarantino would surprise me with his latest film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. (Tarantino, and the marketing campaign, would argue this is his ninth feature film, but I am firmly in the “Kill Bill is two movies” camp, so I’m calling it his tenth.) I’d heard the mostly positive reactions out of the film’s premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, and was generally intrigued not only by the cast, but the 1960s setting. I was a bit cautious, though, because I kept wondering if the movie would end with a mirror of the history it captures, or by revising it. In the end (and this is where I warn you about major spoilers), the movie revises history in ways that are unfortunately more predictable than I’d hoped.
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(Welcome to The Soapbox, the space where we get loud, feisty, political, and opinionated about anything and everything. In this edition: Mulan looks like the better approach for future Disney live-action remakes.)
I spend a lot of time going to bat for reboots, remakes, and relaunches. When done well, they bring a whole new wave of excited viewers to a property. They’re also pretty critical for keeping franchises alive. Yeah, we all have that purist friend who looks down their nose at anything that’s even close to a spin on something they loved growing up, but they’re super gatekeepy and we all avoid talking to them for a reason. Folks like that also get to enjoy all of the things that a new wave of fans help provide, like new merch, conversations, and renewed interest from old fans.
But what happens when the idea of a remake gets a little too literal? In the first trailer, Disney elected to do almost shot-for-shot remake of a key scene The Lion King. Now, it’s easy to see what they were going for. The original film is universally beloved and considered pretty close to perfect by a lot of fans. Don’t mess with perfection, right? Thing is, you probably just shouldn’t bother remaking the movie if that’s going to be the case. Heck, just re-release the original as a cinematic event and save yourself a few boatloads of cash!
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(Welcome to The Soapbox, the space where we get loud, feisty, political, and opinionated about anything and everything. In this edition: Midsommar is one of the most cathartic movies ever made.)
Cinema has always had a way of making the real world make more sense to me. Throughout the years, I’ve identified with the heroines of rape-revenge cinema and the women of Tarantino films. When reality prevents me from getting closure, I can sometimes find it in film. However, I didn’t expect to find catharsis in Ari Aster’s Midsommar, especially given how traumatic Hereditary was. I expected to leave the theater feeling disgusted and raw, but I left elated. By experiencing my own trauma again through the beautiful and twisted lens of Dani’s story, my years-old wounds were scrubbed clean. I left feeling as if I had just been through two and a half hours of intense therapy.
Midsommar is a challenging film. It’s heavy – full of grief, death, pain, and genuine horror. There are moments of levity scattered throughout as the movie riffs on its own absurdity, but it isn’t an easy experience. Aster has said in interviews that the movie is protagonist Dani’s fairy tale, and in a way, it felt like my fairy tale. I identified with Dani (Florence Pugh) in several ways, and our shared name didn’t hurt. Like Dani, I have an anxiety disorder. I have a terrible fear of abandonment. At the age of twenty, I moved thousands of miles away from anyone I knew besides my then-boyfriend, whose behavior mirrored her boyfriend Christian’s enough to be eerie. It wasn’t Sweden, but it wasn’t home either. While our experiences obviously weren’t identical, the interactions between Dani and the people around her mirrored my own. Her trauma legitimized my own. (Spoilers ahead.)
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(Welcome to The Soapbox, the space where we get loud, feisty, political, and opinionated about anything and everything. In this edition: no one involved in Big Little Lies knows a single damn thing about how family law works.)
Now comes Jessica Mason, having served as a family law attorney for many years and being of mostly sound mind, and MOVES that Sunday’s episode of Big Little Lies be stricken from the record due to its flagrant disregard for courtroom procedure in the name of drama. In the interest of clarity and justice, petitioner will present her case going forward in lay terms in the hope of providing context and understanding of these offences for the Audience.
Also: major spoilers for the most recent episode lie ahead.
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(Welcome to The Soapbox, the space where we get loud, feisty, political, and opinionated about anything and everything. In this edition: Hollywood needs to get better about transgender representation.)
When the 2019 GLAAD Studio Responsibility Index was released in May 2019, the most disappointing news was that not a single major studio film featured a transgender actor.
While it’s true that there was transgender representation in mid-major releases, the same could not be said of the studios. The report examines the output of the following studios: 20th Century Fox, Lionsgate Entertainment, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures, Universal Pictures, Walt Disney Studios, and Warner Brothers, and four of their subsidiaries. Additional distributors include A24, Annapurna Pictures, Bleecker Street, FilmRise, Gunpowder & Sky, IFC Films, Magnolia Pictures, The Orchard, Orion Pictures, Samuel Goldwyn Films, Strand Releasing, and Wolfe Releasing.
While it’s admirable to mention those films from the smaller distributors, their releases just don’t have the reach as the mainstream studio films. Strangely enough, the blurbs on Annapurna nor Bleecker Street mention the casting of transgender actors in The Sisters Brothers and Colette, respectively. GLAAD rightly takes Colette to task for the casting of a cisgender woman as a transgender man let alone not using the preferred name.
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(Welcome to The Soapbox, the space where we get loud, feisty, political, and opinionated about anything and everything. In this edition: Jordan Peele’s Us explains itself too much and that’s a big problem.)
Note: Us hits Blu-ray and DVD today, but this article assumes you have already seen it. Spoilers ahead.
Mysteries are hard to write. A good mystery needs a compelling opening hook and a satisfying or shocking conclusion, but more importantly, it needs to parcel out the right amount of connecting information, at the right pace. Can the audience follow the story? Do they get ahead of the characters, or solve the clues right alongside them? Do they get confused? Is that intentional or unintentional?
Jordan Peele’s Us is horror first and social commentary second, but it contains more than a little mystery. Opening with young Adelaide discovering a “mirror” version of herself, it continues to puzzle the audience with the years-later appearance of Adelaide’s complete mirror family. Mirror Adelaide, labeled Red in the credits, calls these people the Tethered, and her exact origins and motivations are revealed over the rest of the film. Twists abound.
Us’ script is structured in a way that seems designed specifically for today’s age of YouTube explainer videos, “Things You Missed” articles, and Reddit fan-theory boards. And yet, even understanding that the film demands active, participatory thought from its audience, the film’s story is missing clarity. But Us’ issue isn’t that it doesn’t explain itself enough.
Rather, Us explains itself too much.
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(Welcome to The Soapbox, the space where we get loud, feisty, political, and opinionated about anything and everything. In this edition: the live-action Disney remakes feel ashamed to be musicals and that’s a problem.)
Indulge me in a bit of a thought experiment. Think, for just a second, of the films of the Disney Renaissance. Films like Aladdin, The Lion King, and Hercules. Leave aside what you think of these movies — maybe your favorite is The Lion King, or maybe it’s Beauty and the Beast. Think about these movies, and specifically conjure up one thing that these movies share, a common element that binds them. While the Renaissance-era films are quite beautifully animated (primarily by hand), what really unites them is their music. These films all feature memorable, show-stopping, Broadway-style songs. You may not love them all, but you know them.
Now think about the recent wave of live-action remakes. And think about the new Aladdin.
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