“Soul” Review!

After two decades in the business of making feature-length animated films that continually break new ground for the medium, Pixar has finally…tried to break new ground for representation, with Soul being the studio’s first Black-led film. And, in a pattern established by Disney Animation with their first Black-led Princess movie, The Princess And The Frog, Soul is at its very best whenever it’s illuminating the beauty and complexity of Black culture in America – and at its worst when it’s forcing an uncomfortable bodyswap (or, well, soulswap in this case) that in this case involves an awesome Black character being transplanted into a green blob/therapy cat for around 90% of the movie. That’s not to say that 90% of the movie is bad (it’s actually quite good, for several reasons), but it is deeply frustrating that we keep having to have this extremely specific conversation about the importance of allowing animated Black protagonists to remain in their own bodies.

Soul
Soul | variety.com

Soul dives headfirst into a conversation about the meaning of life, by following a middle-school band teacher named Joe Gardner (voiced by Jamie Foxx) as he…well, dives headfirst into an open manhole and is left in a coma, while his untethered soul desperately tries to find its way back to him. An accident leads Joe’s soul to The Great Before, a dreamy, pastel-colored landscape where young souls first have their personalities and various character quirks picked out for them before being sent off to Earth. Here, another accident leads to him being selected to mentor a rambunctious soul named 22 (voiced by Tina Fey, a casting error if ever there was one), who doesn’t want to leave The Great Before or live on Earth. Naturally, Pixar cranks up the tear-jerking dial to an 11 as Joe leads 22 on a fast-paced tour of New York City, giving them both a chance to savor the true joys of living.

What I truly love about Soul more than anything else is its unwavering focus on simple things: things we too often take for granted, but which keep us rooted in reality; things as small and seemingly insignificant as a pizza crust, a spool of thread, or even a helicopter seed. As a Tolkien fan, that message resonated deeply with me, and brought to mind Gandalf’s iconic quote from The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (I know, I know, a movie quote: but a good one) – “I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.” That’s what Soul is really all about: small things and kind deeds that get us through one day, and then another, reminding us of how much wonder and beauty this world still has to offer us at every turn. A sequence in the third act illustrates this beautifully, allowing Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ haunting New Age score to narrate a vibrant montage of small-scale city life that pulls back to become a sprawling picture of the cosmos itself – and our tiny place in it.

Music is (pun most certainly intended) instrumental to Soul‘s success, and there will be h-e-double-hockeysticks to pay if Reznor and Ross aren’t rewarded at the Oscars for their work here. Their delicate New Age compositions harmonize beautifully with Jon Batiste’s jazz tunes, making the entire film as irresistible to the ears as it is to the eyes. Music, specifically soul music, is at the heart of everything Joe Gardner does throughout the story: and the film makes that clear, lavishing plenty of time on the moodily atmospheric nightclub where Gardner performs alongside in-universe jazz legend Dorothea Williams (Angela Bassett), becoming so lost in the power of his music that he’s briefly transported to the astral plane, a mystical soundscape of shifting lights.

The animation is stunning, with all the levels of hyper-realistic detail you’d expect from a live-action film set – except in The Great Before, which has a quirky, abstract visual aesthetic, and The Great Beyond, a dark area comprised entirely of deconstructed geometric platforms, like the blank space outside the boundaries of a video game. But although I’ve heard complaints that animation’s goal shouldn’t be to mimic real life but to exaggerate it, I still preferred the sections of Soul that take place in New York City to those that center the spiritual realm. Firstly, because the entire film is clearly such a passionate and genuine love letter to every aspect of city life. And secondly, because of the character designs, which are among the most diverse I’ve seen in any animated film, ever. No copy-and-paste facial features here: Soul‘s New York is accurately populated by people of every race, gender, body type, height, and weight, each with their own individual character quirks. If the extras in your movie all look detailed enough to probably carry their own story, you know you’ve done something right (in case it wasn’t clear, I am in fact demanding that Pixar commission a series of shorts focusing on various extras from this film).

Soul
Joe Gardner | nytimes.com

Of our two leads, Joe is by far the more interesting: tall, lanky, middle-aged and bespectacled, he isn’t anything like the usual Pixar protagonist, or even the usual Pixar “hot dad” character (yes, that’s a real thing). He’s also sometimes Black, which makes him pretty unique for Pixar simply by default. I say “sometimes” because, well, he’s not Black for most of the film. And the worst part isn’t even that he gets turned into a wispy, featureless, pale green orb ten minutes in. The worst part is that the film gets a chance to remedy its mistake soon afterwards – and instead doubles down on its original bad choice, placing Joe into the body of a therapy cat while inserting 22 into Joe’s body. You can claim this is much ado about nothing, because 22 is just a disembodied voice in a green orb: but Pixar made the choice to have them voiced by a white actress, and even commented on it in the script, with Joe asking 22 why they prefer the voice of a “middle-aged white lady” when they can adopt any voice they want. This is all played for laughs, but it’s not funny. Just like it wasn’t funny when Tina Fey, 22’s voice actress, wrote blackface performances into four episodes of her series 30 Rock – something for which she only finally apologized earlier this year. Pixar giving this opportunity to her is a clear sign that the studio needs to do better when casting: because there is nothing in the script that requires 22 to have a white woman’s voice…unless it is the belief that the soulswap will somehow be made funnier because of it.

And unfortunately, all this comes about at the expense of Joe, who, as previously mentioned, gets stuck in the body of a cat. If you’re not familiar with the strange phenomenon of Black animated characters being transformed into animals, this probably seems like just another joke I’m not getting. But it’s an unfunny joke that’s been driven into the ground at this point: one that relies on the notion that audiences won’t relate to a Black protagonist, but will happily laugh along if that Black protagonist is usurped from their body and placed in an animal – or really anything else but themselves. Soul, by keeping Joe’s body hanging around, seems to think it’s doing the right thing: but it’s not Joe we’re seeing onscreen – it’s Tina Fey’s white-lady voice, using Joe’s body as a mouthpiece for their own agendas, at one point even hijacking and running off with it (apparently, Joe’s body didn’t suffer a single bruise, cut, or broken limb during his coma-inducing fall) like a shoplifted costume. There are other instances worth noting, but I will leave it up to individual Black critics and audience members to decide whether and where Soul crosses the line exactly. I am nonetheless certain that many – if not all – of these issues could have been easily avoided by casting a Black voice-actress in the part.

The other major issue with the film, less severe than the ones I’ve already mentioned, is a problem with pacing: as the first two acts meander all over the place. There’s no clear point at which the action really starts, either – eventually, you just have to accept that the story is moving along ever more swiftly, and there’s not much time to slow down or take a breather before you’re swept up in it. I feel that all of this may have been intentional, to mirror the hurried pace of real life and the need to savor the few respites we get from daily hustle-and-bustle, but while that sounds like an intriguing concept, it makes for a strange viewing experience. Still could win over some Academy voters, however, if it was a conscious choice.

Soul
Joe’s soul | denofgeek.com

In the entire history of the Academy Awards, only two animated feature-length films have ever been nominated for Best Picture – one being from Disney (Beauty & The Beast), and the other from Pixar (Toy Story 3, somehow). Soul, if it hopes to be the third, may therefore benefit from the COVID-19 delay that forced it to debut free of charge on Disney+ this Christmas: a date that puts it firmly in the middle of awards season. I personally doubt the film will score a Best Picture nomination, but it’s certainly the early frontrunner for Best Animated Picture, to nobody’s surprise. Onward never stood a chance.

And speaking of Onward, the lighthearted fantasy adventure remains my favorite Pixar film of the year (and my second-favorite Pixar film of all time), believe it or not. But fear not: Soul‘s decidedly Tolkienesque messages and simple delights will ensure it a safe place in my affections, though perhaps never a spot at the top of my Pixar tier-list.

Movie Rating: 8/10

“Anastasia” Review!

So…this isn’t really a Christmas movie, or a holiday-themed movie in general. In fact, most of Fox Animation’s Anastasia takes place in the spring or summer. But just as the film has often been mistaken for a Disney Princess movie ever since its release in 1997 and is now even being categorized under the Princesses section on Disney+ (where it arrived on the 4th of this month), so to has Anastasia acquired a lasting reputation as a winter movie thanks to its iconic theme, Once Upon A December, one of only three memorable songs in the entire movie; and its early scenes in frigid Saint Petersburg during the Bolshevik Revolution.

Anastasia
Anastasia and Rasputin | eonline.com

Obviously, and to the surprise of absolutely no one, this movie has glaring historical inaccuracies. As many, if not more than, Disney’s Pocahontas: which is saying something. And look, I get it. The mystery of Princess Anastasia Nikolaevna’s “disappearance” is timeless and alluring, and in 1997 still technically unsolved…but even then, most people had already come to the logical conclusion (confirmed in 2009, after DNA testing) that Anastasia, like the rest of her family, was murdered by a Soviet firing squad. The long line of impostors who famously claimed to be the lost Romanov Princess were just that, impostors: most of them vying for the family’s fortunes rather than the throne of Russia. There’s even reason to believe the rumors of Anastasia’s survival were circulated by the Soviets themselves as a harmless distraction from the violent truth. Over the years, she’s become an almost mythical figure: whether she’s mythic enough to warrant a romantic fairytale about her life is a question for the ages.

But the film doesn’t just paint an inaccurate depiction of one historical figure’s life. More offensively in my opinion, it also makes the laughable decision to portray all of Anastasia’s family as heroes, whose opulent existence is justified because of how elegant and righteous they are. The truth is that the Romanovs (specifically Tsar Nicholas, Anastasia’s father) were tyrannical aristocrats who unknowingly orchestrated their own destruction. And in reality, the Bolshevik Revolution was spurred by Russia’s poor and battle-worn citizens, who rose up in protest of the Tsar’s crimes against his people – they were not inspired by demons under the control of the mystic Rasputin, a controversial and fascinating figure whom history has remembered as a devilish villain for reasons unfathomable to me. Even today, films like The King’s Man still rely on that trope. Obviously, movies are going to mess around with the truth: animated family movies especially. But who makes an animated family movie about a brutally murdered Tsarist princess to begin with?

Don Bluth, that’s who: and his talent shines through in the finished work, because Anastasia‘s stunning animation is among its strongest elements, blending the traditional hand-drawn style with bits and pieces of vivid CGI – still quite new at the time, and alarmingly beautiful even today, after 23 years. The character design is marginally more interesting than Disney’s formula, with Anastasia (voiced by Meg Ryan) in particular having a more mature face than many of her teenaged equivalents over at the House of Mouse.

Anastasia
Anastasia and Tsar Nicholas | themarysue.com

Meg Ryan and John Cusack are both well-cast, and perfectly likable as Anastasia and the con-artist Dimitri, who initially tries to pass off the unassuming amnesiac girl as the lost Romanov princess before realizing that she’s the real deal. Anastasia, despite bearing little more than a passable physical resemblance to her real-life counterpart, is actually a really compelling character in animation: confident, capable, and pro-active, taking the lead when she’s in trouble and fixing problems on her own. She’s not a damsel in distress, and it’s she, not Dimitri, who takes on the villain in the third act and defeats him. When this movie was released, no Disney Princess could boast the same claim (Mulan would become the studio’s first, a year later). Additionally, the movie puts a fun little twist on the classic “happily ever after” trope, which for most Disney Princesses means marriage, by having Anastasia and Dimitri elope and run off together instead (a minor scandal in comparison to the political crisis that Anastasia’s reappearance probably should have sparked in 1920’s Europe: something the film never addresses).

But as Disney demonstrated time and time again during the height of its Renaissance, a good animated movie needs a good animated villain – and by animated, I mean both literally and figuratively: the best of Disney’s villains are the big, bold, campy caricatures who leap off the screen thanks to their eccentric mannerisms, comedic vocal performances, and eye-catching designs. Think Ursula, Scar, Captain Hook, Jafar, or Cruella De Vil. Anastasia‘s villain, the mystic Rasputin (voiced by Christopher Lloyd), is a half-baked imitation of these and others. He’s cool in theory, a turbulent evil spirit trapped in Limbo, with limbs and appendages constantly popping off and scurrying away: but he’s also just…trapped in Limbo for most of the movie, relying on his minions to do his dirty work. He’s a big, bold, campy caricature that’s got nowhere to go and nothing to do until the third act. And whereas most Disney villains interact with the protagonist at least once or twice before their final confrontation, Rasputin doesn’t. So he nears success, but falls short of true greatness.

The other key ingredient in a Disney movie is a collection of hit songs that drive the plot forward and allow characters to reveal their motivations and goals to the audience in a dynamic and engaging way, rather than just unloading it all in a series of exposition dumps. Anastasia emulates the best of the best, but its songs – apart from “Once Upon A December” – don’t really match the film’s grandiose subject matter. “Journey To The Past” is probably the most effective song in the movie, being the next step up from an “I Want” song, in that Anastasia isn’t just singing about something inaccessible she yearns to have; she’s already singing about how she’s going to get what she wants, and simultaneously setting off on her physical and emotional journey (and interestingly, in recent years, Disney Princesses have begun to follow suit: “Almost There” from Princess And The Frog, “Let It Go” from Frozen, and “How Far I’ll Go” from Moana are all songs about and accompanied by action). One has to wonder how much of the film’s progressive attitude is the result of Carrie Fisher, an uncredited screenwriter who apparently lent her talents to helping craft the entire “Journey To The Past” sequence.

Anastasia
Anastasia | ew.com

It’s deeply ironic that Anastasia, which shamelessly followed the tried-and-true Disney formula and battled Disney’s Hercules for box-office supremacy in 1997, is now a Disney movie thanks to the Disney/Fox merger, and is already being ranked among the studio’s legendary princesses – although she’s still unofficial, and is unlikely to ever retroactively become an actual member of the line-up. When Anastasia released, Disney concentrated all its efforts on trying to sabotage the film’s marketing strategy, even re-releasing The Little Mermaid on the same day, and banning the film’s corporate sponsors from advertising on ABC’s Wonderful World Of Disney program. Now, the official Disney+ Twitter account has been busy promoting the movie as if nothing ever happened. That’s what I call character development (or typical capitalism: you decide).

Movie Rating: 8/10

The Buzz Lightyear Prequel Is The Next Best Thing To A Pixar Theory Movie

The Pixar Theory took the internet by storm when it was first formulated: essentially, it posits that all of the Pixar movies exist in one massive, interconnected universe – a theory supported in-universe by cross-references between films and recurring characters and objects, like the Pizza Planet truck. Lightyear, one of Pixar’s newly announced upcoming feature films, could be the closest thing we get to the Pixar Theory crossover movie that some fans have been dying to see for years. Because unlike other traditional Pixar prequels and sequels, which usually just follow characters from the first film, Lightyear isn’t really the origin story of the Buzz Lightyear toy we met in Toy Story – it’s the story of the man upon whom the toy was based, a “real-life” hero in the wider Toy Story universe. And, in a particularly weird twist, Lightyear may confirm that a Disney World Resort theme park ride also exists in the Toy Story universe?

Lightyear
Lightyear | comingsoon.net

Announced at the Disney Investors Meeting on Thursday and set for a June 2022 release date, Lightyear will star the Captain America franchise’s very own Chris Evans as yet another clean-cut, All American, hometown hero: but this time, rather than fighting Nazis during World War II, he’ll be paving the way to the stars during the Space Race. Although it was very clear during the presentation, Evans clarified in a tweet that he is not playing Buzz himself, but that his character is supposed to be the basis for the popular action figure and his merchandise. In Toy Story and its sequels, Lightyear’s origins have been fleshed out (and some of his future missions were explored in the short-lived and probably non-canonical Disney Channel series, Buzz Lightyear Of Star Command), but as far as I know, there’s never been any indication prior to this that an actual human named Buzz Lightyear existed once upon a time in this universe.

Lightyear
Zurg | superheroes.fandom.com

But what we do know about Buzz (mostly thanks to Toy Story 2, my favorite film in the series, and my favorite Pixar film, period) makes me very excited to learn more in Lightyear, which will almost surely feature the return of one of the studio’s most memorable villains, the towering Lord Zurg. And not as an action figure, but as the real deal this time, complete with his spinning machine gun arm and everything. Zurg’s story never felt properly concluded in Toy Story 2, at least not to me, especially since we still don’t know if he actually was Buzz Lightyear’s father, or if that was strictly a Star Wars parody and nothing more. I want answers, Pixar.

While the film will probably match up pretty closely with the sleek, streamlined, glowing green-and-blue design aesthetic established in Toy Story 2 for Lightyear’s sci-fi video game world, one theorist noticed that the concept art for the upcoming film may also include a reference to Space Mountain, an eerie science-fiction theme park at Disney World; where visitors travel through an orange-and-black striped tunnel similar to that reflected in Lightyear’s helmet. This would actually make a lot of sense – Space Mountain was also the inspiration for the Star Command headquarters in the Buzz Lightyear Of Star Command series I referenced earlier. A Space Mountain movie is also in the works over at Disney, so this could be foreshadowing for that.

I personally can’t wait to hear from theorists like Seamus Gorman and the Carlin Brothers about how Lightyear fits into the grand scheme of the Pixar Theory, where it falls in the Pixar universe timeline, and how it relates to the other films in the rapidly expanding animated universe. And most of all, I can’t wait to see Pixar tackle another epic sci-fi adventure for the first time since Wall-E. This one, judging by the probable 50’s or 60’s setting, seems like it could have more of a pulp fiction sci-fi vibe, which is something I’m very interested to see.

So what do you think? Are you excited for Lightyear? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

Ahsoka Among 9 New Star Wars Series Titles Revealed!

Lucasfilm had plenty of new Star Wars content to offer fans at the Disney Investors Meeting on Thursday evening, including multiple series heading straight to the Disney+ streaming service: one returning favorite (the third season of The Mandalorian, which will drop near the end of 2021), and nine new titles. As has long been reported, characters like Ahsoka Tano, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Lando Calrissian will each be getting their own spinoffs, although there were several big surprises among the new reveals – and a few notable absences. Star Wars also seems to be setting up a mysterious (but presumably massive) crossover event between some of these upcoming series.

Star Wars
YouTube | @NewBite

First up we have Kenobi, which will follow the titular Jedi Master during his time in exile on Tatooine. A beautiful new, desert-inspired logo for the series was unveiled, and a sizzle reel was played for Disney investors but hidden from general audiences. But what captured the internet’s attention was the reveal that prequel trilogy star Hayden Christensen will be reprising the role of Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader in the series. How this will work is currently unclear: between Revenge Of The Sith and A New Hope, Kenobi and Vader never had any interaction with each other – but Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy promised fans that the Jedi and Sith will take another crack at each other, in the “rematch of the century”. My theory is that some sort of Force projection or vision will make this possible, but who knows? This is Star Wars: canon has been rewritten countless times before.

Ahsoka, based on the adventures of former Jedi Knight Ahsoka Tano, will presumably follow Rosario Dawson’s version of the fan-favorite character after her brief appearance in The Mandalorian‘s second season. The title logo, which features a star-chart similar to the map of the World Between Worlds, seems to indicate a connection to the Star Wars: Rebels animated series, where the World Between Worlds first debuted. This probably means that Ahsoka will travel through the World Between Worlds on her journey, and she’ll likely team up with Rebels heroine Sabine Wren on her quest to locate the long-lost Jedi Ezra Bridger (fingers crossed Rahul Kohli plays him in live-action) and Grand Admiral Thrawn.

Rangers Of The New Republic is a bit more vague. Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni, the creatives behind The Mandalorian and Ahsoka, will work on this series too – its existence probably explains the reason why New Republic characters have been popping up frequently throughout The Mandalorian: particularly X-Wing pilot Carson Teva, played by Kim’s Convenience‘s Paul Sun-Hyung Lee. Unfortunately, New Republic marshal Cara Dune will likely also return, putting bigot and anti-masker Gina Carano in a lead role in Star Wars. This is among the series’ I’m least excited for (partially because of Carano, partially because the New Republic is pretty uninteresting to me; especially without Carrie Fisher around to reprise the role of Leia Organa), but it’s apparently one of three that will lead into a massive crossover event including characters from The Mandalorian and Ahsoka. I expect this crossover to focus on the return of Grand Admiral Thrawn and Ezra Bridger; the final showdown between Din Djarin and Moff Gideon; and the rise of the First Order. Strangely, a Boba Fett series rumored to be in the works was not included among the new title reveals.

Star Wars
Rangers Of The New Republic and Ahsoka | theverge.com

Lando has the potential to be a great series, thanks to the involvement of Dear White People‘s Justin Simien. Little else is known, and the sizzle reel played for investors was hidden from general audiences: but there’s a possibility that both Billy Dee Williams and Donald Glover will reprise the role. The colorful logo for the series and the party music played during the sizzle reel interval hopefully reflects the show’s playful, groovy bent – I’d gladly take a break from Star Wars‘ doom, gloom, and darkness, if it means exploring the glittery upper echelon of galactic society. Explicit confirmation of Lando’s pansexuality (teased by the Solo writers prior to the film’s release, without payoff) would also be nice.

One of the few Star Wars series’ to reveal new footage at the presentation, Andor will explore the backstory of Rogue One antihero Cassian Andor, as a fighter and secret agent for the young Rebellion. Spanning twelve episodes and featuring a cast of over two-hundred named characters (!), the series also stars Adria Arjona, Stellan Skarsgård, Fiona Shaw, Denise Gough, Kyle Soller, and Genevieve O’Reilly, who will reprise her role as Rebel leader Mon Mothma. For Star Wars: Rebels fans who were let down by the lack of a Rebels animated sequel series announcement, Andor is a must-watch: I thoroughly expect some characters from the animated series to pop up in live-action, with General Hera Syndulla being the most likely candidate in my opinion. This series will drop in 2022.

An animated series titled The Bad Batch will premiere next year – a trailer dropped, which I reviewed yesterday. The only other animated series revealed was one simply titled Visions, which will explore new corners of the Star Wars galaxy through the perspective of anime – and produced with the help of some of Japan’s leading anime studios. This seems likely to be an anthology of standalone episodes, much like another newly revealed Disney+ project which is being called an animated series by most outlets: A Droid Story, which will star C-3PO, R2-D2, and a new droid character.

Star Wars
The Acolyte | comicbook.com

Finally (and most excitingly, to my mind), we have The Acolyte, an original series from Leslye Headland, one of the visionaries behind Netflix’s brilliant dark psychological comedy, Russian Doll. The Acolyte is set further back in Star Wars‘ timeline than any existing live-action property, during the mysterious era known as the High Republic: which will be further explored in a series of novels and comic books set to release next year. Said to be female-led and featuring martial arts elements, The Acolyte focuses on the Dark Side of the Force, and sounds like it might be our most in-depth look yet at the hierarchy of the Sith, and their heyday. The logo – with a prominent lightsaber gouge slashing the title – also hints at something very new, unique, and cool.

So what are you most excited for? The Acolyte is my most-anticipated Star Wars series, but maybe you’re more interested in Ahsoka, or Lando…or A Droid Story? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

“The Bad Batch” 1st Trailer!

Lucasfilm’s animation department had only a little to offer longtime fans last night during Disney’s crowded Investors Meeting – and unfortunately, what we did get wasn’t an announcement of the Star Wars: Rebels sequel that many of us have been hoping for. But The Bad Batch, currently the studio’s only major upcoming animated series, will surely unite fans of Rebels, The Clone Wars, and even The Mandalorian, as it explores a unique time period at the intersection of all three series.

Bad Batch
The Bad Batch | syfy.com

The Bad Batch might sound familiar to you, and that’s because they’ve been around for a while: even before they officially showed up in the final season of The Clone Wars on Disney+, earlier this year. The small, loyal team of defective clones (each of whom has heightened abilities thanks to individual genetic mutations) first appeared in drafts for the final season that were revealed to fans back when The Clone Wars was off the air and a revival seemed impossible. Everything turned out well in the end, though: showrunner Dave Filoni was able to complete the story he had planned, and the Bad Batch did appear as expected. But when their season arc was completed, fans wanted more – and so, early next year, we’ll be treated to a new series following the Bad Batch as they navigate the rapidly changing political scene in the aftermath of the Jedi Purge and the rise of the Galactic Empire. This is a time of upheaval across the galaxy: and so far we haven’t seen it properly fleshed out in the new, Disney-approved canon.

Bad Batch
The Bad Batch | starwars.fandom.com

One of the most fascinating events during this dark age is the seemingly abrupt shift from well-trained, skilled clone armies to fallible, clearly inferior, stormtroopers. In Rebels, we learned a little bit about this: how it was Emperor Palpatine that gave the order to disband the clones and abandon them. Real shocker there. By the time that Rebels rolled around, about a decade after the fact, almost all the clones had disappeared – and the few stragglers that were left (like Rex) were homeless and destitute, just barely getting by. Needless to say, it doesn’t seem that the Empire had any plan to compensate veterans for their sacrifice. The Bad Batch seems to be focused primarily on this event, and hopefully it will clear up the question of why stormtroopers (whose universally faulty aim is a running gag in Star Wars at this point) were viewed as more practical to the Empire than clones. Was it out of fear of betrayal? Or simply for cost-effective purposes, since the cloning facilities on Kamino can’t have been cheap to operate? Whatever the case, it looks like the Bad Batch will pull a classic “you can’t fire me! I quit!” move on the Empire, because we can see them fighting stormtroopers at several points during the trailer.

The scarred and weather-worn faces of clone troopers Echo, Hunter, Tech, Wrecker and Crosshair won’t be the only ones familiar to Star Wars fans. A shocking reveal was that Fennec Shand, the ex-Imperial sniper played by Ming-Na Wen on The Mandalorian will be returning (voiced, I presume, by Wen, a longtime Disney favorite and the voice of Princess Mulan), although here she’s not a scrappy, desert-dwelling rogue with a bounty on her head: she’s new on the scene and backed by the full might of the Empire. I assume she’ll be one of the series’ villains – though we already know she outlasts the Empire’s fall and eventually softens up a little, becoming Boba Fett’s partner in crime on Tatooine.

Bad Batch
Fennec Shand | comicbook.com

Presumably, the show will include cameos from many other Clone Wars characters (Grand Admiral Tarkin, who appears in the trailer, is obviously a lock; and wherever he goes, Wullf Yularen can’t be far behind), and even some from Rebels – though it’s still too early for the Rebellion itself to exist, except as a far off hope. Appearances from either a young Hera Syndulla or Kanan Jarrus (or both!) would blow my mind. Who knows? Perhaps we’ll even witness some of Grand Admiral Thrawn’s secretive backstory, as he rises to power in the ranks of the Imperial Navy.

Trailer Rating: 6/10

“What If?” 1st Trailer Review!

Whereas the Star Wars franchise long ago learned how to span multiple mediums, with a strong foothold in the crowded field of animation thanks to series like The Clone Wars and Star Wars: Rebels, the Marvel Cinematic Universe hasn’t ever been quite as successful at that. But that’s all about to change, with the upcoming What If…? series that explores unbelievable alternate realities branching off from the main MCU timeline. What if T’Challa took Peter Quill’s place as Star Lord and traveled the stars? What if Peggy Carter, not Steve Rogers, took the Super Soldier serum and was transformed into Captain Britain? What if Stephen Strange…well, actually, I’m not entirely sure what it is we see Stephen Strange doing in this first trailer for What If…?, or how it’s much different from what he actually did in Doctor Strange, but it’s cool: whatever it is.

What If
T’Challa as Star Lord | comingsoon.net

What If…? will have episodes corresponding to each of the current MCU movies, though so far we’ve really only seen footage from a handful, particularly the Peggy Carter as Captain Britain episode (which, of course, correlates to Captain America: The First Avenger). Linking all the stories in this massive anthology is the mysterious character of The Watcher, voiced by Jeffrey Wright: a cosmic being composed of starlight. It’s unclear if The Watcher only exists in this show, or if he’ll make an appearance in the MCU movies as well. For now, though, he’s just a really cool voice.

What If
Captain America as a zombie | slashfilm.com

Speaking of voices, perhaps the most exciting thing about What If…? – apart from its intriguing premise – is the fact that it’s compiled the voice talents of almost all the actors in the MCU, even those who have since departed the franchise…or, tragically in the case of Chadwick Boseman, passed away. Boseman’s performance as an alternate Star-Lord (in either the Guardians Of The Galaxy or Black Panther episode: it’s still unclear) will quite possibly be the last of his brief but glorious career, and we hear just a snippet of his voice work in this first trailer.

I do hope that we soon find out more about this series, since thus far we still only know the basic premises of two or three episodes. There are quick shots of Iron Man, Hawkeye, Thor, Captain Marvel, and, for some reason, The Collector from Guardians Of The Galaxy – all of them just look like how we remember them from the movie. There’s also that one tantalizing clip of Bucky Barnes fighting a zombie version of Captain America that we’ve seen before, but which still looks very interesting – and which I have to assume comes from an alternate Winter Soldier where it’s Steve Rogers, instead of Bucky, who was brainwashed by HYDRA: though why he got turned into an undead corpse is anyone’s guess.

What If
Peggy Carter as Captain Britain | geektyrant.com

What If…? also seems to have beautiful 2D animation, which is pretty rare these days and gives the series a unique look – nothing like the 3D animated Star Wars shows that we’ve seen before (and which, to be fair, look stunning and are proven successes). Whether What If…? fits into the great big jigsaw puzzle that is the MCU, or whether it’s just an awesome way to explore endless possible outcomes, I can’t wait to watch it, and I would rank this among the most exciting new reveals from the Disney Investors Call.

Trailer Rating: 9/10

“Blood Of Zeus” Is Fun – But Deeply Flawed.

As someone who has been an avid fan of Greek mythology ever since I read Edith Hamilton’s Mythology as a kid, I was admittedly a little wary of starting Netflix’s newest anime series, Blood Of Zeus: the series tells a wholly new story unlike anything from the myths themselves, but embellishes it with all the trappings we know from the Greek legendarium. I’m not much of a stickler for accuracy when it comes to adapting the ancient myths, but I find it…vaguely frustrating whenever adaptations mess up and try to Hollywood-ize a mythology that is already so incredibly exciting and engaging that it has survived in the public consciousness for millennia. Blood Of Zeus is at least trying to create something more in line with the tone of the ancient myths, although it too falters more often than it succeeds. In the end, I regard the series as fun, deeply flawed entertainment that just takes a little too long to get to the really good stuff…but once it gets there, dangerously close to the season finale, it gets so good, so briefly, that you’ll be hooked and probably left hoping for a second season.

Blood of Zeus
digitalspy.com

The first few episodes of the series, unfortunately, are so slow-paced that you might be tempted to opt out long before you reach that point – and I wouldn’t blame you. There are extensive interludes between the action and drama that are filled to the brim with exposition and meandering flashback sequences. We have to flesh out our hero’s backstory, you see, and then we have to do the same for our main villain. It’s only after Zeus (Jason O’Mara) personally enters the fray and our protagonist Heron (Derek Phillips) finally assembles his rag-tag team of heroes – somewhat spontaneously, to be honest – that things start to heat up, with a visit to the heavenly haunts of Mount Olympus, a mystical encounter with the three Fates, and a journey through a section of the Labyrinth all packed into about a single genuinely thrilling hour.

What these three events have in common is their roots in ancient Greek myth – and Blood Of Zeus is at its best when it’s putting a cool, dark twist on the Greek legends and not trying to stray too far from the extremely solid source material. Whenever it begins to move in any other direction or tries to build up its own deep lore, it feels jarringly dissimilar to the rest of the series and a bit generic. Heron, the illegitimate son of Zeus, is only one of several major characters who don’t really have much in the way of a personality or motivation (partly due to all of the interesting and exciting bits of his backstory only pertaining to his infancy, leaving adult Heron with…not a whole lot). Alexia (Jessica Henwick), the series’ female lead and an Amazon warrior, has a lot of screentime but seems the most disconnected from the other characters and even the story itself: she’ll run past every now and again on the trail of some demon, but the show never really tries to do anything with her. As is all too common these days, the comic relief characters are the only ones that feel developed and likable – smuggler Evios (Chris Diamantopoulos) and wrestler Kofi (Adetokumboh M’Cormack) have fun, easygoing banter and maybe a spark of chemistry? Perhaps I was just reading too much into their relationship. You’ll have to forgive me, though; Greek mythology is among the gayest in the world, and I was a little confused about why that wasn’t being accurately represented onscreen (we’ll talk about the actual bisexual representation in the show soon, don’t worry).

Blood of Zeus
Hera | readysteadycut.com

The Gods are more fleshed out than their human co-stars, luckily. Zeus’s dynamic with his wife Hera (Claudia Christian) is lifted almost straight from the myths of old, though the portrayal of Hera and the demonstration of her famous anger is one of the series’ greatest (yet least surprising) missteps. Unfortunately, men have almost always written Hera the same exact way, from ancient Greek times to today: she’s the unreasonable, unhinged mad woman who relentlessly terrifies and tortures her husband’s many lovers. Blood Of Zeus makes no attempt to shake up the narrative – in fact, it doubles down on this centuries-old stereotype and takes Hera to the next level, elevating her to a mentally unstable tyrant whose ultimate goal is to tear down Olympus stone by stone. Meanwhile Zeus is portrayed as loving, sympathetic and caring; but only towards a single mortal woman. Leaving aside the fact that mythological Zeus never had fewer than a hundred mistresses simultaneously and the thought of him settling on just one is laughable from that standpoint, it’s honestly just cringeworthy to see how the script puts Zeus on a pedestal while having him gaslight his wife. At a time when feminist retellings of Greeks myths (like Madeline Miller’s Circe) have never been more popular, the decision to write Hera this way betrays a lack of imagination from the writers, but also a staggering amount of ignorance to the fact that the “mad woman” trope is harmful and degrading, whether its being used to give Jon Snow a reason to turn on Daenerys Targaryen, or for the X-Men to turn on Jean Grey,  or for Zeus to turn on Hera. If you’re going to rewrite the myth to make Zeus some high and mighty good guy with a heart of gold, you can also write a version where Hera is a sympathetic character for once, or at least not being vilified for reacting to her husband’s misdeeds.

The one good thing that Blood Of Zeus does with Hera’s character is make her physically powerful. In the myths, such as in The Iliad, her influence is mostly felt behind the scenes: unlike Athena or Artemis, she hardly ever goes down to the battlefield personally. In this series, however, she can levitate both herself and whatever else happens to be in the vicinity – usually large, sharp objects or boulders. She also has an entire army of crow minions: a strange choice, considering that crows aren’t sacred to Hera, but probably a bit more practical than the alternative – an army of peacocks. All these things help to make her extremely impressive and formidable during action scenes. It’s just a shame that the script forces her to use her powers for evil the whole time.

Speaking of powers, let’s talk about Hermes (Matthew Mercer), who somehow stands out from the crowded ensemble cast as my favorite of the Greek Gods. Despite being maybe a little bit overexposed in the myths themselves – he shows up in more myths than any of the other Olympians – these days he’s mostly remembered for his iconic caduceus, if he’s remembered at all. Blood Of Zeus presents him as a pretty awesome, rainbow-cloaked speedster who also gets to regularly fulfil his duties as the psychopompos: essentially the usher of the dead, who leads souls to the Underworld, including most of the casualties inflicted by the brutal warfare throughout the series. It’s a great way to highlight an overlooked aspect of his character, and makes me wish the same courtesy had been extended to literally any other Olympian.

Out of the remaining Gods, Apollo (Adam Croasdell) is the only other one with a good deal of screentime and his own subplot. He’s also the only identifiably LGBTQ+ character in the entire series, or at least that’s the implication we’re supposed to take away from a single scene of him sleeping in the embrace of both a man and a woman. Considering that we’re dealing with the Greek gods here, I found this kind of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it representation to be slightly disappointing. Zeus, Poseidon, and Dionysus all had at least one male lover each. Hercules had male lovers (something Disney definitely left out of their movie). As much as I unabashedly adore Apollo, why is he the only LGBTQ+ representation we got from Blood Of Zeus? I don’t mind changing the myths, but changing them to be less gay? WHY?

Blood of Zeus
Greek Gods | nj.com

You might be wondering why I haven’t mentioned any of the other goddesses besides Hera yet, and that’s because…they’re not there. The series almost entirely erases the great women of Greek mythology: the Amazons are only represented by a single character, whose ultimate purpose in the story turns out to be shockingly minor; Athena, the goddess of warfare herself, is reduced to a background character with no dialogue, while Ares fills her role as war god for only the umpteenth time in Hollywood history; Aphrodite, Artemis, and Demeter are extras only used to fill out crowd scenes. And if that wasn’t enough, the show has a serious issue when it comes to fridging the few female characters it does have; murdering them to motivate the male characters.

Blood Of Zeus is still fun and largely enjoyable for its final three episodes, or otherwise this would just be a rant review. The animation style is beautiful, although there’s nowhere near enough character differentiation for a cast this large, and the action scenes are visually stunning: every major character has some kind of specific ability that enables them to keep up with all the gods and monsters, whether that’s agility or wits or super strength. The fights are often brutally violent, and the series makes sure never to give anyone too much plot armor – even the Gods can be wounded, mutilated or killed, which helps to make every battle suspenseful: even if you know a character won’t necessarily die, there’s nothing to say they won’t lose a limb. Especially because the villains aren’t all bark and no bite: both Hera and the main antagonist Seraphim (Elias Toufexis) kill people, frequently. Seraphim, a merciless demon war lord with a cool set of facial scars, is in fact only interesting whenever he’s killing people – because whenever he’s not, he’s usually brooding instead, and that’s always a recipe for Boring Villain Syndrome™. He’s an original character, in case you hadn’t guessed. He also walks or flies around accompanied by a whole bunch of original characters: a scurrying, uniform demon horde that might as well just be the wights of Game Of Thrones (a series with which Blood Of Zeus has too many similarities for its own good).

The funny thing is that, for the most part, my problems with Blood Of Zeus don’t really arise from any sense of indignation or outrage about all the changes made to the myths: in a mythology that evolved as rapidly as that of the Greeks, there’s not really any set “canon” to adhere to anyway. I love retellings, especially when they re-examine a well-known story from a completely new perspective or from a different angle – for instance, Mary Renault did this incredibly well in her books about the hero Theseus. So mostly I’m just amused and confused that any scriptwriter could look at a mythology as rich and utterly bizarre as this one, and decide that what it really needs is a whole bunch of new, made-up stuff like zombie demons. When that new, made-up stuff is entertaining in its own right, fine. But the writing for Blood Of Zeus simply isn’t strong enough to make any of the new stuff work, and so it’s the ancient Greeks who have the last laugh.

Blood of Zeus
Heron | denofgeek.com

All that being said, the series is still a lot of fun! Seeing even small bits and pieces of the myths brought to life is an experience that leaves a mark, and makes me want more: yes, even more of this particular show. And let me tell you in as non-spoilery terms as possible that the finale of Blood Of Zeus lay good, strong groundwork for another season – one that honestly sounds a lot more interesting than the first. But even if it isn’t, even if this show simply is not my cup of tea, I hope that it will at least pave the way for other dark adaptations of Greek mythology that I (and anybody else wounded to the core by this show’s lack of Athena) might enjoy. There’s a lot more to the Greek mythos than just Hercules, and I hope Blood Of Zeus – not to mention the upcoming Percy Jackson series – gets that message through to Hollywood once and for all.

Series Rating: 5/10

“Raya And The Last Dragon” First Trailer!

For a while, the only official material we’ve seen from Disney Animation’s upcoming epic Raya And The Last Dragon is a few pieces of stunning concept art, one poster that wasn’t meant to leak, and a new poster released yesterday in anticipation of this morning’s first trailer release. And today, I am both surprised and relieved to discover that this is one of the few cases where the finished film actually seems to look just as good as – if not better than – the already beautiful concept art.

Raya And The Last Dragon
slashfilm.com

Set in the lush, vibrant kingdom of Kumandra, the first trailer for Raya gets off to a good start instantly, with a stringed instrument providing haunting, atmospheric background music over scenes of our brave young heroine, Raya, – voiced by the talented yet criminally underrated and mistreated Kelly Marie Tran, making a brave comeback after her role as Rose Tico in Star Wars made her the subject of cyberbulling and targeted harrassment by racists – while she prepares for the fight of her life. We see a wide range of different landscapes and locations throughout Kumandra in the trailer, most notably a palace or temple complex perched on a tall, arch-shaped rock formation which appears to be taking some architectural influence from real-life locations in Southeast Asia such as the temples at Bagan in Myanmar. Raya And The Last Dragon will become Disney’s first film set in Southeast Asia, and follows a pattern established over the past several years by Disney in that it stars a bold, capable, adventurous princess in the lead role – though, to be fair, it’s not entirely clear from the trailer if Raya is a princess by birth, and if that will make her ineligible to join the official Disney Princess line-up.

She might pull a Mulan and simply get in because she earned the title on her own. In the trailer’s first thirty seconds, we see Raya donning the outfit of a warrior meant for stealth missions (she has an entire room full of weapons, which I hope to see explored to the fullest): and then embarking on one such stealth mission herself, leaping from rooftops in the rain and vanishing into a network of deep, subterranean tunnels which presumably lie beneath the aforementioned palace/temple. The entire sequence is gorgeously animated, exquisitely filmed, and evocative of action films and spy thrillers. After a hold-up in a tunnel full of traps (falling nets rather than the usual spikes jutting from walls or disappearing floor-tiles), Raya reaches her destination – a massive, circular chamber housing what I have to imagine is the “Dragon Gem” she mentions later in the trailer as the magical artifact she’s sworn to protect: but on this particular occasion, she has company. A warrior is already there before her, wearing a fanged dragon mask to hide their features, and engages her in combat – although the warrior wields a large, wavy-bladed sword called a kris, Raya is using a martial arts style which employs two short staves: this could be Arnis, a fighting style popular in the Philippines, but which is believed to draw on influences from throughout Indonesia, Malaysia and India. The fight between the two warriors is interspersed throughout the rest of the trailer, with Raya and her opponent evading each other in a sort of dance.

Raya And The Last Dragon
ew.com

From there, we jump to a desert setting – which is interesting, because Southeast Asia isn’t really known for its deserts. Raya, now carrying her very own kris, is on a quest to find the Last Dragon of Lumandra, as she informs us through narration, so this could perhaps take place further afield, maybe even in India or China: not that it will matter much to Raya, who is lucky to have on her side a large pangolin/pillbug hybrid creature named Tuk Tuk, whom we are introduced to as an adorable baby in the opening sequence but is already enormous when we see him carrying Raya through the desert at high speeds. This, coupled with Raya telling us that she trained her whole life to become the guardian of the Dragon Gem makes me think that her fight in the cavern isn’t with an enemy, but instead a ritual she must have undergone to become said guardian – some sort of “passing the torch” ceremony meant to prove her worth and strength. But it seems like, despite her best efforts, something bad is happening to Kumandra and the Dragon Gem isn’t enough to keep several different kingdoms or clans united: these are the four groups we see moments later attending an event held by a man and a young girl who is probably his daughter and undoubtedly Raya. Maybe she is a Princess by birth after all. While a few of these groups might just be there to provide worldbuilding, two at least look like they are probably important to the story: the group dressed in dark green, equipped with a small army of elephants and led by a long-haired man who looks a bit like the warrior in the cavern; and the group to their left, dressed mostly in white, led by a very regal woman with a striking haircut, who come with a bunch of giant dog…wolf…creatures. A little hard to tell what’s going on there, but I am very intrigued. Will we get huge battles in this movie with war elephants and some mythical beasts? I hope so!

The trailer leaves us with only a tantalizing glimpse of the Last Dragon – through a colorful illustration in a scroll and a fleeting, feathery silhouette. But far more striking is the kaleidoscopic title card, which shows us tiny, blue-hued hints of other things I already can’t wait to see in clearer detail: Raya, standing on a cliff, looking out towards a huge staircase carved into the side of a mountain; and a mace carved into the shape of a writhing dragon. Raya looks to be the most heavily-armed Disney Princess in history, and I hope she gets to use all of that weaponry at some point: assuming the warrior in the cavern is not an enemy but rather a mentor or ritual opponent, there’s no sign of any other villain – except perhaps in the scroll, where we see the Last Dragon locked in combat with a black and purple swirl of cloud. This black and purple motif is possibly mirrored in the cavern, which is filled with glowing purple flowers which cover the walls and hang from the ceiling: but don’t seem to be the same glowing flowers we saw in the concept art and leaked poster, as those were bright blue. My takeaway from this is simply that we should be on the lookout for all sorts of significant botanical specimens in this film. I do also want to point out that I genuinely hope there’s a physical villain in Raya And The Last Dragon, only partially because I still feel cheated that we never got an epic third-act battle in either Moana or Frozen 2.

Raya And The Last Dragon
digitalspy.com

So what do you think? How do you feel about this first trailer, and how excited are you to see Raya in action? Share your own thoughts, theories and comments in the comments below – and if you come from the Southeast Asian region, please feel free to share any information about your own culture that you feel may have influenced the film!

Trailer Rating: 8.5/10

A She-Ra Movie Needs To Happen – Here’s Why.

SPOILERS FOR SHE-RA SEASON 5 AHEAD!

She-Ra
She-Ra | latimes.com

The animated She-Ra And The Princesses Of Power series on Netflix ended a few months ago, bringing five seasons to a close with one epic, super emotional finale. It was, in my opinion, a great conclusion: the fifth season raised the stakes higher than I would have ever thought possible, but still kept audiences firmly rooted in the emotional core of the whole series – the suspenseful will-they-won’t-they romance between heroine Adora (better known by her alias She-Ra) and the antiheroine Catra, which eventually ended with the two characters confessing their love for each other while the world came crumbling down around them. The power of that love was enough to activate the Heart of Etheria and in turn save the entire planet from being decimated by Horde Prime’s alien hordes; and so at last Adora, Catra, and their squad of friends and allies got to enjoy what seemed to be a mostly happy ending for everybody involved (well, except Horde Prime).

But it didn’t take long before the She-Ra fandom rallied behind a new hashtag on Twitter, #SheRaMovie, which has consistently become a top trend on social media for the past several weeks. And while some might dismiss it as dissatisfied fans hungry for more content, the truth is that there are many good reasons for why a She-Ra movie could and should happen: not only because it’s a smart business move to tap into such a large and clearly motivated audience, but because (a) there’s never been a better time for fan-driven campaigns and LGBTQ+ representation in animation, and (b) there are plenty more stories left to tell in the She-Ra universe.

She-Ra
Scorpia & Catra | syfy.com

Fan-driven campaigns have often been seen as foolish or vain endeavors: there have been times where they’ve succeeded in changing the minds of studio executives (Sonic the Hedgehog’s redesign, for instance), but 2020 has really made the sky the limit in terms of what a fan-driven campaign can achieve, and that’s all thanks to Zack Snyder’s never-before-seen cut of Justice League. Fans asked for it for years, and insisted that it would be better than the disastrous box-office flop that actually got released in theaters back in 2017; they trended #ReleaseTheSnyderCut whenever they could; and most importantly, they never gave up. They kept the movement going, they got support from the film’s cast and crew, they made the simple hashtag become a household phrase – and this year, they were rewarded for their efforts with the news that Warner Brothers will indeed soon release Zack Snyder’s Justice League. #SheRaMovie is in part inspired by the success of that movement, and as long as fans continue to make it trend regularly and continue to receive support from insiders (She-Ra showrunner Noelle Stevenson never fails to express her admiration for the fan campaign, which in turn motivates the fans to keep up their efforts), they will attract attention from the higher-ups at Dreamworks Animation and Netflix, and could soon share in the happiness that Snyder Cut supporters are feeling.

The need to see more strong LGBTQ+ representation in entertainment media is likely going to be another important factor in greenlighting a She-Ra movie. She-Ra And The Princesses Of Power was one of several animated shows and films this year that made a place in the narrative for well-rounded LGBTQ+ characters (and Noelle Stevenson’s wife Molly Ostertag is in fact responsible for writing several episodes of another of those shows, Disney Channel’s The Owl House, which features Disney’s first bisexual lead character) which earned the series plenty of well-deserved praise, including from my blog. With so much progress happening so quickly, my question for Dreamworks is…why stop now? When you have an established LGBTQ+ friendly franchise like She-Ra already perfectly positioned to continue leading the charge for diversity in animation, why not utilize that advantage?

She-Ra
Adora & Catra | tor.com

And moving away from the business perspective for a minute, let’s take a look at in-universe reasons for why a She-Ra movie should happen: obviously, the movie needs to have a reason to exist. But luckily, She-Ra ends with plenty of set-up for an eventual spinoff – in fact, the very last scene features the entire main cast of characters already planning to embark on a new adventure to share their planet’s abundant magic with the rest of the galaxy. A spinoff movie could partly follow that plotline, which would take us to new locations and introduce us to new characters. Besides that, there are still several questions left unanswered after the finale, particularly questions about the First Ones and their forgotten technology, the origins of Horde Prime and of She-Ra herself, the universe outside Despondos, and the character of Madame Razz, who, despite not having and not needing a large role in season five, could be a major player in a She-Ra movie if her mysterious backstory ever gets explored in-depth.

Most of the characters have room to grow post-season five, no matter what else happens. Adora and Catra finally got together, but now both young women need to keep working to maintain the bond of trust and understanding they established after basically rebooting their entire relationship. They’re starting over from scratch, which makes their dynamic all the more fascinating. Glimmer, still Queen of Bright Moon, is going to have to return there eventually and rule alongside her best friend/boyfriend Bow and her recently-returned father, Micah, who was King before he went missing (I love some political intrigue). Scorpia and Perfuma will be rebuilding the Fright Zone side-by-side. Mermista and Seahawk should be commanding their own pirate fleet by now. Entrapta will be trying to convince her friends to trust Hordak, which won’t be easy considering he (checks notes) plundered and pillaged all of Etheria, robbed Scorpia of her birthright and brainwashed her into thinking she never had one, destroyed Mermista’s entire kingdom, kidnapped Adora and Catra as babies, employed Shadow Weaver to emotionally abuse his soldiers, personally tortured Catra, started a decades-long war with the Princess Alliance, paved the way for Horde Prime’s takeover, and never apologized for any of it. And the shape-shifter Double Trouble will be living their best life on a theater stage, even though we still don’t know what happened to their last disguise, the prophetic Prince Peekablue – in fact, finding him could be another potential subplot.

She-Ra
flickeringmyth.com

My ideal She-Ra movie would tackle all of these storylines, but, since the ending of season five perfectly sets up a space-based adventure, that’s where I’d want the film to start out, with Adora, Catra, Glimmer, Bow, Entrapta and Hordak (and Wrong Hordak, just for fun) either just setting off on a quest across the stars or returning from one. Most of the film, however, could still be set on Etheria. As for the conflict, with Horde Prime and Shadow Weaver both dead and Hordak a good guy now, who’s left to challenge She-Ra? Easy: the First Ones. The technologically-advanced, semi-mythological figures who created She-Ra and programmed Etheria to be their own superweapon may have been defeated during Horde Prime’s war of conquest, but it’s not implausible that some survived – and if some did, they’d want nothing more than to finally deactivate She-Ra, their experiment gone wrong. And they probably wouldn’t be too keen on the notion of Etheria spreading its magical resources across the galaxy, come to think of it. While Adora and Horde Prime had a fairly impersonal conflict, it would be hard to get more personal than a fight between Adora and the First Ones, who literally designed her super-sized avatar (well, Adora fighting Catra would be more personal, technically, but we’ve been there, done that).

To conclude, my message to all of you is to keep pushing for a movie because it could very well happen – but only if Dreamworks and Netflix both see that the demand is there. Don’t let a week go by where the hashtag doesn’t trend. Don’t stop calling for better, stronger LGBTQ+ representation in all media, but especially in animation where it’s currently on a roll. If you’re active in the She-Ra fandom, you know all this already, but it’s important to reiterate. Let’s make this movie happen!

How do you feel about a She-Ra movie? Do you think it’s smart from a business perspective, and do you think it’s wise to continue the story? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

“Raya And The Last Dragon” Promotional Art Reveals Title Character!

Despite the fact that it’s probably going to be an amazing movie based off the few details we know so far, Raya And The Last Dragon isn’t on the radar for most general audiences just yet. The upcoming animated feature film from Disney Animation was quietly announced last year and has since dropped off the face of the earth: no new casting, no first look images, no trailers or teasers – and no clear release date in site, since coronavirus is still keeping every film studio on their toes. Raya And The Last Dragon is tentatively set for March 12th, 2021, but that date could certainly change several more times.

While we wait, however, the internet has been blessed with a new piece of promotional art for the film which comes to us via a Panama-based shipping company promoting their services and collaborations with companies such as Disney: tucked away on their Instagram, one is able to discover the brand new artwork, which gives us our first clear look at Raya and a not-quite-as-clear look at the Last Dragon.

Raya And The Last Dragon
thedisinsider.com

The image doesn’t reveal much beyond that, but that hasn’t ever really stopped me from theorizing before. Raya And The Last Dragon takes place in an entirely fictional realm, rather than in any particular historical period, but it draws influences from the culture, folklore and mythology of Southeast Asia – as evidenced in this image by Raya’s clothing, the sinuous, almost serpentine dragon trailing across the sky – and, unfortunately, mostly hidden behind cloud cover – and the ruined stonework overgrown with strangler figs, a sight common in locations such as Cambodia’s Angkor Wat, an ancient temple complex reclaimed by the jungle. With that in mind, I’ve already begun exploring Southeast Asian mythology (much like how I took a deep dive into Scandinavian folklore before the release of Frozen II) and hunting for details that could show up in the film.

Raya And The Last Dragon
Angkor Wat | bbc.co.uk

One thing in particular interests me about the new poster: surrounding Raya (who, by the way, is perfectly dressed for a heroic quest to find a dragon, though I really would have appreciated a glimpse of her weapon: we can see the hilt, but not much beyond that) is a field of glowing blue flowers, and so far I haven’t come across anything like this in the legends and lore of the region. That being said, it’s hard not to see a resemblance between these flowers and the glowing blue will o’-the wisps that guided Princess Merida to her destiny in Pixar’s Brave, and so I wouldn’t be surprised if these flowers serve a similar purpose in Raya And The Last Dragon.

What do you think of the image? Are you excited for Raya? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

“The Little Mermaid” May Have Found Its Vanessa!

In times of crisis, it can be comforting to know that not everything has been canceled or delayed indefinitely. The Little Mermaid live-action remake may not be sailing into port any time soon, but it is still coming to a theater near you, and today we’ve learned that a big name may have just joined the cast of the fishy fairytale. The brilliant folks over at The DisInsider broke the news that singer/songwriter Kacey Musgraves has been circling the role of Vanessa in The Little Mermaid, and that, while she’s not locked in just yet, she has spoken with Disney executives via Zoom call to discuss the subject.

The Little Mermaid
popsugar.com

Musgraves as Vanessa is an unexpected casting choice that is sure to provoke renewed interest in the film – but then again, so was Halle Bailey as Ariel and Melissa McCarthy as Ursula: and for a moment there, so was Harry Styles as Eric until he passed on the coveted role. Like Halle Bailey, she is better known for her career in music than in movies: she is a nine-time Grammy nominee, and six-time winner, and one of the most well-known female country singers working today. But she’s also a frequent collaborator with Disney – just last year, she performed All Is Found for the closing credits of Frozen II…the song is somewhat forgettable, and I don’t understand why she wasn’t chosen to sing something more powerful like Show Yourself, but don’t get me started on the ways in which that song was robbed. Anyway, she’s established a relationship with the studio, and that’s clearly paid off.

For those who have been living under a seashell for the past thirty years, Vanessa is the human disguise of shapeshifting sorceress Ursula in The Little Mermaid, who shows up for a couple of scenes near the end of the movie to try and steal Eric away from Ariel and prevent the mermaid from scoring a true love’s kiss. Vanessa uses Ariel’s stolen singing voice to easily win over the prince (I’ve always disliked Eric, despite the fact that this technically isn’t his fault), and the two hastily arrange a marriage on the prince’s ship – a marriage which is interrupted by Ariel and her animal sidekicks when they overhear Vanessa singing about her evil plan (when will Disney villains ever learn?). Physically, the character of Vanessa matches Kacey Musgraves pretty perfectly. But there is one problem which I hope is resolved.

The Little Mermaid
Prince Eric and Vanessa | littlemermaid.fandom.com

Vanessa barely ever sings. And while Kacey Musgraves is still a win either way, I can’t help but wonder why Disney would be focused on her for the part if they don’t plan to expand the role of Vanessa and give her more songs beyond the two she has in the original animated film (and when I say she has two, I really only mean she wails beautifully on the beach when seducing Eric and then has two or three lines where she’s maybe singing, maybe just talking melodically about her evil plan). But Howard Menken, who is doing the music for The Little Mermaid, has only written four new songs that we know about – and according to The DisInsider, these consist of a solo number for Eric (he doesn’t need one, but whatever), a duet for Eric and Ariel (have I mentioned I don’t like Eric?), a song for Scuttle the seagull (who will be voiced by Awkwafina, so I’m letting this otherwise ridiculous decision slide), and a solo number for…King Triton, of all people. It’s possible Menken will write additional songs as production gets underway, but for now this is what we know. No new solo numbers for Ariel or Ursula, nothing new for Sebastian, and nothing new for the character of Vanessa. So as of right now, unless Disney simply plans to fill out Vanessa’s Song (the evil plan song: it doesn’t even have a real title, it’s that short) with more lyrics, then I don’t see the reasoning behind Kacey Musgraves’ casting, though I am still excited for her.

What do you think of this new casting for The Little Mermaid? Do you hope to see Vanessa’s role expanded and/or new songs written for her? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

“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