Hey Disney, why were your Female Villains so much more Emotive than your Heroines?

Let me say this right up front: I am not accusing Walt Disney Animation of being sexist in the present day, not with this article at least. Instead, let us look to that happy period of between 1937-1959. Here it was possible to do a story like Cinderella, a tale of a woman being abused and denied any real right to exist until she marries a man, and people’s only reaction was “that’s outrageous! Mice can’t talk!”

Thankfully times have changed.

This article is going to examine an interesting discrepancy I noticed when re-watching these films (namely Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, and Sleeping Beauty). All of these films feature female characters in multiple roles. Specifically, in each film there is a positive woman character and a negative one. I’m stretching a bit for Tinkerbell but there you go. Let’s look at the levels of animation involved bringing their expressions to life, shall we?

Snow White and the Seven Dwarves

The first, the very first animated film done by Walt Disney and company: way back in 1937. For this film, there was no precedent, no manner to be like “just animate it like we did the one before.” So, they experimented, using a technique called rotoscoping for some of the animation. For those out there who don’t know, rotoscoping is essentially tracing the animation over preexisting live action footage. Specifically animator Grim Natwick used this technique for certain scenes involving Snow White. That helps explain how images like this exist:

Rotoscoping was called painting on film. It certainly leaves that effect.
Rotoscoping was called painting on film. It certainly leaves that effect.

It is worth noting that Natwick made his claim to fame by animating Betty Boop. So really, anyone who looks back at Snow White being like, “hmmm she seems kinda doe-eyed”

You don't say?
You don’t say?

Anyway, it is worth noting that his style of animation was not used for every character. Art Babbit was the man placed in charge of animating the Evil Queen. (also known as Grimhilde). Let’s see how successful his animation was at bringing a character to life:

A simple animation but it proves a point. Grimhilde (in both her forms) offers much more in the way of emotion than does Snow White. This could be chalked up to the restrictive use of rotoscoping (a process that is only restrictive in price) but… let’s look elsewhere.

Cinderella

Fast-forward to 1950 and times have changed. Walt Disney Animation was no longer a brand new company new to the art of animation. No doubt the characters benefited greatly from this increased knowledge and experience. Let’s look at the titular character:

Okay this must be happy.
Okay this must be happy.

Cool, one emotion down, what else she got?

Good, surpise! What else?
Good, surpise! What else?

Surely there are many other forms of emotion she includes. After all, she is the main character of the movie. Surely those aren’t the two primary… oh they are?

The weird combo of the two.
The weird combo of the two.

Cinderella does not do much besides smile and look pretty in her film. It took two people (Marc Davis and Eric Larson) to animate and… yeah, she smiles or cries – really only crying in one scene. It is worth pointing out that Davis also was involved in animating Snow White, another character who… smiled and cried a lot. Well, okay Frank Thomas had Lady Tremaine (the evil stepmother), let’s see what he did:

Disgust.
Disgust.
Shock.
Shock.
Incredible smugness.
Incredible smugness.

Starting to see what I’m driving at? Disney had their villains showing off a lot wider range of emotions. Cinderella is the good guy, so she never looks mischievous. Why is it that Lady Tremaine gets to showcase more emotion? Let’s look at one more. I know I mentioned five movies in the beginning but the repetitiveness of this is getting to me. Plus it’s my blog so I can do what I want.

Sleeping Beauty

Nine years after Cinderella, and of course I have to mention this one. SPOILERS! Here is the face that Princess Aurora makes throughout most of the movie:

You thought I was going to show her sleeping, didn't you?
You thought I was going to show her sleeping, didn’t you?

Yes, when she isn’t in a magically induced coma, Aurora is wearing a smile across her lips. Literally, it is the first and only emotion she forms after waking up. Someone needed to tell Marc Davis (who else) that “good” women did occasionally make different expressions. They enjoy the same freedom as their “evil” counterparts.

Case in point.

Of course, what I’m ultimately trying to say is nothing new. I don’t think any of the animators I just mentioned were outright openly sexist, but this was the norm of the day. Again, thankfully times have changed. It is very interesting to note that Ariel was the first (grown) female protagonist in a Disney animated film to really break this mold. That is kinda sad for two reasons. One: that film was released in 1989. Two: have you really examined the plot and lessons that movie is teaching? Oh well, at least it was better from an animation standpoint. Since then, Disney hasn’t been doing many films that feature both a female protagonist and villain, so it is tough to say.

The most recent attempt at this was Frozen, and script changes stopped Elsa from being the bad guy. Instead audiences were treated to this.

Yay progress!

The F*ck am I Watching? We're Back! A Dinosaur's Story

Everyone has that movie – you know the one I’m talking about. You watched it over and over again as a kid, loving every minute of it… and then you grew up. Said movie disappeared, either sold at a yard sale or recorded over (talking some VHS nonsense here) or just plain lost. Years passed and you forgot that this piece of your childhood ever existed, until one day it’s mentioned at a party or you see a clip on Youtube or flipping channels. Then it’s a joyful act of rediscovery! Right?

… Not always.

Stay dead, Street Sharks! You're the poor man's Ninja Turtles... and that is saying something right now.
Stay dead, Street Sharks! You’re the poor man’s Ninja Turtles… and that is saying something right now.

We’re Back! A Dinosaur’s Story was that type of movie for me. I loved it to pieces as a kid. This is the movie that came out in 1993 alongside Jurassic Park… but was more for the kiddies (not that we all didn’t watch Jurassic Park anyway – cause f*ck the police). As a young boy, I couldn’t get enough of this movie. There was a talking T-Rex, hot dog-eating dinosaurs, a wish radio… an evil screw-eyed professor (with an actual screw for an eye)… dancing dinosaurs on the streets of New York…

The movie also features this. I believe it speaks for itself.
The movie also features this. I believe it speaks for itself.

What the f*ck am I watching?

Yes, We’re Back! is incredibly creative, which is probably one of the things that made it so appealing to children – that and dinosaurs. Watching the film today, however, is a different experience all together. Is it still creative? Sure – but let’s get to the plot.

Okay so the movie opens with young birds in a nest. One of the birds is getting picked on by his siblings and wants to leave the nest (he’s going to run away and join the circus – a logical career move for a bird). Out he goes onto a branch and, regrettably, it’s not long before he topples off. But that’s okay because he’s saved by Rex (voiced by none other than John Goodman), a dinosaur who’s playing golf.

What?

He's one white dinosaur.
He’s one white dinosaur.

No no, we’re nowhere near strange yet. Anyway, so John Goodrex has some advice for the would-be run away. He tells him the story of another little boy who ran away to join the circus. But of course, he can’t start the story without explaining a couple of big questions – how did he get to present day New York and why is he so smart?

Are you ready for this?

Okay, so Rex was your average dumb T-Rex. He ran, ate other dinosaurs – all that good jazz. Then his alien named Vorb (voiced by Jay Leno) comes down and snatches him up into this flying ship thing. Vorb gives him “Brain Grain,” a breakfast cereal designed to make him smarter! It also makes him look more cuddly and gives him the ability to talk! Shortly thereafter, Rex is introduced to the other dinosaurs who have been genetically modified. There’s a triceratops, a pterodactyl, and a… an… a duck-billed thing (probably an edmontosaurus). They’ve also been given Brain Grain and now spend their days eating hot dogs… cause why not?

Anyway, that’s the basic introduction. One thing I will mention now (that I never noticed as a kid) is how much the pterodactyl hits on Rex. She seriously has several bizarre lines and seems to get off on him checking out her “wingspan.” Now, I wasn’t there in the days of the dinosaur but… pretty sure the Bible says something against inter-dinosaur romance – check Leviticus.

No means no, regardless of species involved.
No means no, regardless of species involved.

The Dinosaurs are introduced to Captain Neweyes (voiced by Walter Cronkite – not kidding), the man who invented the Brain Grain and the time-traveling flying spaceship that they’re all on. Captain Neweyes has also invented a “wish radio” that he uses to see what people want. What people want in the 90s is apparently dinosaurs (a way to solve world hunger would have been great too – Captain Neweyes is kind of a jerk when you think about it).

This man could stop Hitler if he wanted to.
This man could stop Hitler if he wanted to.

So, the Captain’s plan: bring dinosaurs to modern day New York and then air-drop them into the city. Tell them nothing about the world besides that they have to go to the Museum of Natural History and to avoid his evil brother, Professor Screweyes (a time traveler who uses his amazing technology to run a circus). Sounds like a great plan, what could go wrong?

Oh, right… dinosaurs in New York. Of course, the dinos meet up with two kids who want to go to the circus and get sidetracked with Professor Screweyes. The Professor possesses his own “Brain Drain” that can de-evolve people… why is he just running a circus again?

I won’t spoil the ending… let’s just say it involves a feast for crows.

See what I did there?
See what I did there?

What a weird movie. Seriously, I can understand an animated movie about dinosaurs. Who doesn’t love The Land Before Time? But… really? Why… everything else?

Turns out this movie is based off a book (so it wasn’t entirely the crazed director’s ideas), but the movie adds in characters like Captain Neweyes and Professor Screweyes.

To be fair, it’s not just the plot that’s strange. The cast is a bizarre collection too. At the time, John Goodman had never done animation before, and Walter Cronkite was never known for voice acting. Oh, Julia Child is in this too as the museum curator. Again: why not?

Fun fact: during the parade scene, there is numerous advertising for Jurassic Park. Parents objected to the material and were promptly ignored.
Fun fact: during the parade scene, there is numerous advertising for Jurassic Park. Parents objected to the material and were promptly ignored.

Is the movie good? It’s… hard to say. You’ll be entertained, I can guarantee that. It sure is creative. If one can ignore all the problems (and there are many) that come with time travel, there is fun to be had. It is an odd movie… a really odd movie, but one with a heart, even if that heart is lusting for inter-dinosaur romance.

What the f*ck am I watching: We’re Back! A Dinosaur’s Story.

OH – BEST PART: the whole thing is on Youtube. Enjoy!

Sequels We Didn't Need: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2

In 2009, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller brought Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs to the screen. The film told the charming story of Flint Lockwood and how his weather-to-food invention changed his life and the lives of those around him. Using visual, vaudeville-style humor and endearing character development, Lord and Miller were able to bring a soul to Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs that elevated it beyond a mediocre 3D effects fest. It is a great little movie and worth a watch to anyone out there who hasn’t seen it (and still has enough of a child’s wonder left to appreciate food falling from the sky). Fast-forward to 2013 when Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs returned to the screen. The aptly named Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2. It is a sad realization to understand that Hollywood’s response to anything successful is this: make more until it isn’t. Sequels are just an inevitability these days. As audiences, we can only hope that they’re good. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2… is not such a sequel.

Wait, what went wrong? It is such a dynamite concept! I mean, food falling from the sky – that’s at least eight films right there…

3 could be about the evolution of food people and 4 could be about them leaving Earth to find their own planet! And then you have a trilogy of fighting food aliens! Brilliant.
3 could be about the evolution of food people and 4 could be about them leaving Earth to find their own planet! And then you have a trilogy of fighting food aliens! Brilliant.

Yeah, for anyone who hasn’t seen the first film, I will just say that it ends without the feeling that there is something more to tell. Certain movies, like Back to the Future and the Incredibles, close with a tease: the promise of more exciting adventures to come. Flint Lockwood’s story was done at the end of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. He had grown up, realized that he didn’t need to prove himself to everyone when the people who mattered already supported him. The weather-to-food machine (yes, I’m aware it has a more creative name) is destroyed and life returns to normal. There and back again: adventure complete.

Things literally ended with sunshine and rainbows.
Things literally ended with sunshine and rainbows.

That is not to say that all sequels to complete stories are bad. Look at the Toy Story trilogy: each one of those is a complete adventure on its own. Yes, they use the same characters but there is no overarching plot. It is just three separate toy stories that work really well together. So Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 was not dead in the water. It even gained a fun life in its new idea: a Jules Verne-style island of living food. Sort of a next mutation phase to Flint’s invention.

Where Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 falls off is its continuing character development. Here in lies one of the greatest pitfalls for sequels. You can always tell if a sequel is driven by writing or by marketing. For instance, in a sequel driven by writing (Toy Story 2), not every character returns from the first movie. There is no desire to create a “hey, do you remember how cool this was last time?” moment, since the story has enough to tell on its own. In a sequel driven by marketing, everyone comes back regardless if they have anything to contribute to the current story. Case in point:

This guy.
This guy.

Brent was a character who had a purpose in the first movie: he was the guy Flint Lockwood wanted to be. He was popular and people liked him. The first film was also clever enough to showcase the failings of Brent’s type of “popularity” (no one really cares about him as a person, just about one thing he did) and use it to teach Flint what true acceptance was. In the sequel… he’s just there. Really, there isn’t anything that he does that is vital to the plot. I love Andy Samberg but… yeah could have done without him.

The real failing though is with Flint Lockwood. Like I said, his journey in the first film was one of acceptance. He felt like he had to prove himself and didn’t realize that he was already cared for. There was an evil mentor figure (the Mayor, voiced by Bruce Campbell) who led Flint along: pushed him to do more than he was comfortable with, to betray his own instincts just to satisfy others. Luckily by the end of the movie, Flint knows better. He is not looking for acceptance from the wrong places anymore and knows that there is more to life than pleasing everyone. Well, good thing that’s over and done with… right?

Certainly this will never happen again.
Certainly this will never happen again.

Wrong. The sequel re-does that same character growth. The new villain, Chester V (voiced by Will Forte) is essentially the Mayor from the first movie. Wait, no: he’s Flint Lockwood’s childhood inspiration… wait, I thought that was his mom? No matter, rather than evolve Flint – the film regresses him back to a place of insecurity that is well, boring. We already saw that movie.

And it happened again.
And it happened again.

This writing decision prevents any of the other characters from growing as well and basically keeps the movie in an unnatural holding pattern that exists solely to move the plot along. There was potential here as Chester V comes off in the vein of Steve Jobs. A more clever film would have examined the idea of selling scientific advancement for profit vs. knowledge for the good of all mankind. Sadly, this is what we got.

So if you haven’t seen the first Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, do yourself a favor and give it a watch. If you have, liked it, and want to see more: watch the original again. The sequel is just the same story… that, like a joke, isn’t as great the second time that you hear it.

Also Sam is a non-character in the sequel. I mean, to be fair she's already been a love interest so what more is there... right? Sigh...
Also Sam is a non-character in the sequel. I mean, to be fair she’s already been a love interest so what more is there… right? Sigh…