“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

Barry Jenkins To Direct A Sequel To “The Lion King” Remake!

First thing’s first: I did not like The Lion King remake, released last year. I didn’t see it in theaters, and I am happy for that, because being able to watch it at home for the first time and rant about it was a much more enjoyable experience for everyone involved, I’m sure. So when it was announced today that a sequel to the photorealistic CGI remake has been greenlit by Disney and will soon go into production, one would think that my response would be one of disinterest or active distaste for the whole idea. But that is not the case, because when you attach a director like Barry Jenkins to your project, no matter how outlandish or seemingly unnecessary, you have instantaneously captured my attention and ensured that, despite all my reservations, I will be watching this sequel.

The Lion King
vulture.com

An unsavory subsection of Film Twitter has already exploded with rage over the news, with many writing long, strongly-worded condemnations of Jenkins, the indie director behind hits like Moonlight and If Beale Street Could Talk, warning him that he’s making a mistake getting involved in Disney’s corporate process, that he “could do better”, etc., etc., blah, blah, blah. I’m not going to get into it too much, because I simply don’t have time for snobbish “intellectuals” who regard themselves as film connoisseurs because they wouldn’t touch a Disney film with a ten-foot pole, but I will make my opinion on the subject clear: Barry Jenkins has the right to make whatever he wants, and he doesn’t need to take career advice from anybody on Twitter. If he wants to make a movie about CGI lions, I am not going to stand in his way because – shockingly – it’s very possible he could actually do wonders with this franchise.

As I said, I was not too fond of The Lion King remake. It was virtually a shot-for-shot remake of the original animated film, but lacking the charm and pizzazz of the Disney Renaissance classic. The characters seemed boring and expressionless, thanks to the “improved” CGI animation, which stripped away any chance of liveliness or color. The story was basically unchanged, save for minor changes that had no impact on anything whatsoever. Worst of all, the iconic musical numbers were completely butchered. I never anticipated a sequel, though due to the remake accumulating over a billion dollars at the global box office, perhaps I should have guessed one was coming. But the sequel we’re getting isn’t going to be a straight-up adaptation of any of The Lion King‘s animated direct-to-video sequels. This is going to be something entirely new: a film that explores the “mythology” of the franchise’s characters, and intertwines past and present.

The Lion King
imdb.com

The mention of the word “mythology” is what has me the most intrigued, because, while it could mean anything, it immediately conjures up images in my mind of Beyoncé’s Black Is King, released last month to critical acclaim and intense social media fanfare. Black Is King, a strikingly beautiful visual album directed by the popstar herself, adapts the story of The Lion King with a bold, Afro-Futuristic twist, leading the viewer on a spiritual journey into the world of African mythology, folklore and tradition, all while celebrating Black beauty and culture in all its forms. While there’s no word yet on whether Beyoncé will return to voice the lioness Nala once again for The Lion King‘s sequel, I hope and pray she will be involved in the production design for the film. Not only because the sequel could use her distinctive stylistic bravery, but because the messages she included in Black Is King are messages that can – and should – be woven into The Lion King franchise itself. It’s well-known that The Lion King was based off on Shakespeare’s Hamlet, but the sequel has the opportunity to draw new inspiration from far more ancient and arguably far more impactful African legends that are rooted deep in Black culture across the world. HBO’s Lovecraft Country is currently doing something very similar, taking the stories of racist author H.P. Lovecraft (and just the traditionally exclusionary sci-fi/fantasy genre in general) and re-examining them from a unique, Black perspective). And if anyone is the perfect choice to do that for Disney, it’s someone like Barry Jenkins, whose films have explored various facets of underrepresented Black culture.

The Lion King
indiewire.com

As of right now, there’s no word on when the film will start production, but the script is apparently completed and Jenkins has already officially signed on. And so we find ourselves in this bizarre situation, where a film that I hated with a passion is now getting a sequel I would have thought completely unneeded – until now. With Barry Jenkins and (hopefully) Beyoncé at the helm, this film could easily be a masterpiece in the making.

So what do you think? How do you feel about the thought of a sequel to The Lion King, and what would you like it to be about? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

“The Kane Chronicles” Are Coming To Netflix!

Author Rick Riordan has quickly become a hot commodity in Hollywood, a status I’m sure he never thought he’d achieve after the complete and utter embarrassment that was the feature film adaptation of his Percy Jackson And The Olympians series in 2010. Following the recent announcement that Percy Jackson will find a better home on the Disney+ streaming service (where it will be adapted as a series with the potential for multiple seasons if when the first one does well), Riordan has managed to complete a deal with Netflix that will allow the streaming giant to develop feature films out of all three books in his fabulous – but criminally underrated – Kane Chronicles series.

Kane Chronicles
riordan.fandom.com

The Kane Chronicles were Riordan’s second foray into the world of urban fantasy, as he deftly wove Ancient Egyptian mythology into a modern setting, pitting a team of diverse protagonists led by Carter and Sadie Kane against the Egyptian serpent Apophis, a seemingly indestructible force of pure evil capable of swallowing the sun and ending life as we know it. The series has received less attention than Percy Jackson’s exploits in the universe of Greek and Roman mythology, but is no less well-written, funny, or surprisingly educational. Carter and Sadie, biracial twins descended from a long lineage of Egyptian magicians, travel across the world battling gods and monsters from the mythos, learning spells, and uncovering secrets about their powers. The Kane Chronicles are perfectly suited to a film adaptation: and Netflix definitely has the money to make the Egyptian setting come to life with appropriate grandeur and spectacle.

It will be important to make sure that Netflix doesn’t attempt to whitewash either Carter or Sadie Kane, or any of their extended family. Rick Riordan himself got into a quarrel with several of his publishers in European countries after cover art for the books featured both protagonists as white, prompting the author to clarify that Carter is canonically a “dark brown” African-American young man, while Sadie is lighter skinned. Netflix has similarly faced accusations of whitewashing over the years, as have most film and television studios, but Rick Riordan’s involvement in the project gives me hope that he’ll keep a close eye on these and other important issues. That being said, the extent to which he is directly involved is still unclear: Riordan’s official announcement on his social media was only a few seconds long, too brief to provide many crucial details, and his website provides only a little more, noting that he started corresponding to Netflix in October.

One thing is clear, however. While in the books it’s at first implied and then later confirmed beyond a shadow of a doubt that The Kane Chronicles and the Percy Jackson series exist in the same universe, that won’t be possible here because…well, Netflix and Disney+ are separate, competing streaming services. This definitely won’t impact either series (in the Percy Jackson series, Egyptian gods are never referenced as far as I can remember, and in The Kane Chronicles there are a few scattered hints about something happening in Manhattan, but nothing actually substantial in the main books themselves: Carter Kane and Percy Jackson would only first meet up in a short story written by Riordan, which was followed by two more crossovers), but it does mean that any hopes of one vast, Percy Jackson Cinematic Universe under the Disney+ banner are impossible. Goodbye, PJCU…we hardly knew ya. This may not seem like a big deal, but it is sure to disappoint a bunch of fans.

Kane Chronicles
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Assuming both series’ are handled respectfully and Riordan is able to work closely with the producers and creative teams, we should see two separate adaptations of his work that both offer a much better vision of his extensive world and worldbuilding than the 2010 Percy Jackson movie could ever have accomplished. I have high hopes. While I’m nervous about how Netflix will adapt The Kane Chronicles, I can’t deny I’m wildly excited to see characters like the Egyptian gods and goddesses (Bast, the cat goddess and Kane family guardian, was always my favorite) finally brought to life with all the heart and humor that Riordan always intended. It’s a good time to be alive, if you’re at all a fan of Riordan’s mythos.

So what do you think? Did you read The Kane Chronicles, and if so, who are you most excited to see make the jump from page to screen? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

“Mulan” Finally Makes Disney Live-Action Remakes Worth It.

Far and away the best of a slew of recent live-action remakes of animated Disney classics, Mulan blends the fantastical whimsy and stylized beauty of the 1998 film with the epic, somber maturity of the ancient Chinese ballad of Hua Mulan (Liu Yifei), finding its balance in a delicate sweet spot that it has difficulty maintaining the whole way through – but it manages, thanks to Niki Caro’s direction and an extraordinary ensemble cast: and in several instances it doesn’t just stay on par with 1998’s Mulan, but dares to soar above and beyond the constraints from which other live-action remakes have suffered. In only a few places does this version of the story falter or fall behind its predecessor.

Mulan
comicbook.com

Nostalgia (and the ways in which it can be exploited for money) has been both the reason why these live-action remakes continue to be made, and also why they often feel watered-down and uninteresting next to their animated counterparts. Afraid to change too much of the “original” stories (I put original in quotes because most of Disney’s classic fairytales are just that; adaptations of far older fairytales), the directors of these remakes choose to simply rearrange plot points inoffensively, and/or bloat the films’ runtimes with filler material: exposition, explanations and lengthy justifications for plot holes in the animated films, and new musical numbers that (with a few exceptions) feel like lackluster imitations of the real thing: though that last problem is made less noticeable when even the live-action recreations of the original songs are usually lackluster imitations (looking at you, the entire soundtrack of 2019’s The Lion King). Mulan, however, never suffers from these problems, because director Niki Caro has made the bold and commendable decision not to lean on nostalgia so heavily, but instead to weave the Chinese source material and the Disney animated film into one beautiful amalgamation of the two that feels like the truest version of the story yet. This decision necessitates removing entire sections of the animated film. Several major characters have been cut out entirely. The animal sidekicks and their hijinks are absent. The songs have been dropped. And most importantly, the tone of the story has changed entirely: Mulan was always one of the funniest, zaniest Disney movies, but this version feels more like an accessible, family-friendly tribute to the wuxia genre’s greatest hits, particularly Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. In retrospect it’s obvious that, while the animated Mulan remains my personal favorite version of the story and my favorite Disney animated movie, this is how the legend of Mulan deserved to be told all along: as a war film with dark, adult themes, masterfully choreographed action scenes, and beautiful, luxurious imagery.

As for Mulan herself, the woman who disguised herself as a male soldier to take her father’s place in battle is a national heroine in China, and it’s no secret that Chinese audiences never liked how she was written in the animated film. This time around, Liu Yifei embodies a quieter, more reserved version of the character, who is hiding her inner power from herself and her family. But the key aspects of Mulan’s personality have not been changed: she is still a strong-willed woman endeavoring to carve out a place for herself in a world dominated by an unwavering patriarchy. If anything, these aspects have only been emphasized through the way the story has changed.

Mulan
variety.com

Gong Li’s character, the mysterious and absolutely stunning sorceress Xianniang, balances out Mulan’s storyline with her own sad, cautionary tale. Like Mulan, she is a woman with aspirations and ambitions, but unlike Mulan, she has already fully embraced herself and her truth before the story opens; and it is for that reason that she now finds herself an unwanted outcast on the fringe of society, reviled even by her allies, who feels compelled to try and warn Mulan of the dangers she will face if she ever tries to upset the “natural” order of things. Her complex relationship with Mulan forms the film’s emotional core, and, side-note, has already sparked substantial interest from members of the LGBTQ+ community who have pointed out that, in the original ballad, the character of Xianniang is Mulan’s best friend and maybe love interest. There’s hints of that chemistry in their interactions here, although Mulan has a more explicitly romantic relationship (in fact, too explicit for some Chinese audiences) with a new male character named Honghui (Yoson An), a soldier in her regiment.

Throughout the film, a great deal of the plot revolves around Mulan trying to unlock her qi, an internal life-force that can give her gravity-defying acrobatic and martial arts skills, if only she can learn to control it. Xianniang is already in touch with her own qi, though she has been using it for evil for many years. It is this qi which allows both women to shine most brilliantly in their numerous action scenes, which – thankfully – have not all been revealed in the trailers. Xianniang, in particular, has a lot of tricks and surprises up her long, flowing silk sleeves (which themselves double as weapons designed for quick and easy strangulation of all enemies within about a ten-foot radius).

Mulan
cinemablend.com

The animated Mulan had numerous story issues, but none was bigger than the problem with its villain, the Hun leader Shan Yu: who was definitely one of Disney’s most terrifying and threatening villains, but maybe not one of the studio’s most well-written or dynamic. That problem has been solved. The duo of Rouran warlord Bori Khan (Jason Scott Lee) and Xianniang, and the bond of mutual distrust between the two is very well-written. Bori Khan isn’t quite as menacing as his animated counterpart, but he has a much cooler look, a much more personal motive, and a much more compelling performance. Although in the trailers you’ve seen him and Xianniang working together, the movie establishes early on that their pairing is necessary for both to achieve victory, but is by no means motivated by any strong affection for the other. I absolutely love characters who have separate needs and wants, so this development worked for me.

There are several other standouts in the cast who make so much of their roles that they’ve instantly surpassed the animated versions of their characters. Mulan’s father, war veteran Hua Tzo (Tzi Ma), has a much larger role to play in the story, and his character’s kindness and genuine love and respect for his daughters made me very happy to see: I particularly enjoyed watching his internal conflict play out, as he tried to reconcile Mulan’s unconventional dreams with the more strict, uptight wishes of his community and culture. The village matchmaker, no longer a grotesque caricature, has a slightly expanded role and even gets a moment of payoff to her character arc that I never knew she needed. And The Emperor (Jet Li), while no longer charming or sassy, is again less of a caricature and more of an actual character, who even gets to participate in the third act battle. I did miss the antics of the Hua family’s matriarch, Grandmother Fa, but I never once found myself bemoaning the loss of the diminutive dragon Mushu or the lucky Cricket Cri-Kee (oddly, the lucky cricket does show up in a way, but not how you might expect). Mulan has gained a new animal guardian: a majestic Phoenix, which follows her on her journey. It’s not a very talkative bird, but it is very pretty to look at, and it feels much more appropriate with the tone of this movie.

Mulan
hollywoodreporter.com

There are only two major instances where the 2020 film stumbles in comparison to the 1998 film. Neither one is a spoiler (unless you don’t know anything about the animated Mulan), so I can share both. The first is the iconic scene where Mulan dons her disguise and flees her home to join the army: in the animated film, this scene is set to a pounding, exhilarating piece of music, and is loaded with striking, memorable imagery: the rain and the lightning making bold silhouettes, the reflective sword-blade slicing Mulan’s hair, Mulan’s father stumbling in the mud and the bejeweled comb flying from his hand. In this version, it’s all over in a matter of moments, and lacks all of that potent symbolism. In fact, many of the iconic shots and symbols of the animated movie are gone completely; however, in most instances they have been replaced by visual cues that are almost as compelling. To name a few: a sprig of flower blossoms discreetly hiding Mulan from view as she bathes in a lake; droplets of blood falling ominously from one of Xianniang’s wounded claws during a fight; a lone soldier descending an unbelievably long flight of stairs in the Imperial City; and a number of extraordinary uses of fabric, such as Mulan twirling in purple silk, a black scarf untwisting around Bori Khan’s face and being caught in a desert wind, Xianniang’s deadly sleeves swirling heavily through the smoke of battle. None of them, however, match the power of a dead girl’s doll resting in the snow, or a flower blooming in adversity.

The second misstep is the pacing. This is a movie that needed to be much longer than it ended up being. The first thirty minutes fly along far too quickly, barely giving us any time to indulge in the opulent Hua family household or explore the dynamic of their peaceful village before we’re whisked off to war. Throughout the film, this continues to be a problem: the entire story feels rushed right up until the third act. A large part of why that is has to do with the lack of songs, because it’s important to remember that in the animated film, songs don’t just act as cheerful interludes between plot points – they literally are plot points. And if you’re going to remove them entirely, you can’t just leave blank spaces where they used to be: you need to do the work to replace them. This is done most effectively with You’ll Bring Honor To Us All, which is effectively supplanted with nuanced dialogue and a sprinkling of exposition that doesn’t feel heavy-handed or forced. But nowhere is it more badly handled than with A Girl Worth Fighting For: without that song, it’s impossible for the film to effectively recreate that shocking transition from the animated film where the untested Imperial army suddenly, unexpectedly, runs into the site of a brutal massacre. And without Reflection, we never get to fully understand Mulan’s motivations from her own point of view – and because we spend hardly any time in her village, that scene isn’t replaced by anything, so she sets out to war before we’ve even had time to understand why. Earlier in this review I criticized the remakes that bloat the story with filler material: but I’m not going to let this one off the hook because it does the opposite and subtracts important story beats without putting anything in their place.

Mulan
vox.com

But even with what feels like so little time, Mulan still captivates the heart and captures the eyes’ undivided attention, and it left me feeling satisfied – and wanting more. Sign me up for the next movie! Even though this remake doesn’t surpass the animated movie, it’s the first Disney live-action remake that feels justified: as if it’s actually taking steps toward trying out new things and making exciting creative choices…not all of which pay off entirely, but all of which feel intentional.

Rating: 8.5/10

“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!

“Cursed” Review! Arthurian Legend Gets The Netflix Treatment.

Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords may be no basis for a system of government, but it is a pretty decent hook for a Netflix series. Cursed, the streaming service’s epic new Lady Of The Lake retelling, definitely mangles the Arthurian source material (and takes an extremely long time to get to the whole Lady Of The Lake bit), and even as a standalone it suffers from a number of problems, but it still tells a crafty little story about wizards, witches and Vikings (you heard me correctly), all wrapped up in the standard Netflix package.

Cursed
ign.com

That standard package can sometimes be very standard (characters falling hopelessly in love with each other after approximately fifteen seconds! How original!), but the show does go through several highs and lows in terms of quality – with some of its highs being extraordinary (the entire climax to episode four) and some of its lows being abysmal (pretty much every attempt at heterosexual romance). The series takes a little while to get going: the first two episodes, unfortunately, are the weakest, as we follow our reluctant protagonist Nimue (Katherine Langford) on the first steps of her journey, but episode three is good and episode four is great. After that, the quality takes another dip, but the series regains its footing in time for the finale.

Our heroine Nimue begins her epic quest as a Fae villager living comfortably far away from the merciless brutality of the Catholic Church’s servants, the Red Paladins, whose mission it is to wipe out magic across England (it’s best to just accept that they live in England, despite the wonky geography and the constant references to a nearby “desert kingdom”). Nimue is soon entrusted with a powerful sword which grants her increased power, strength, and, as time goes on, an unceasing blood-lust. Langford’s performance as the cursed young woman is a strong one, though she clearly falters in romantic scenes when partnered with her love interest, the handsome young Arthur (Devon Terrell). That’s entirely fair – the romance is boring and conventional, and the dialogue meant to build chemistry and passion is unoriginal. Langford’s greatest strength is when she’s in the thick of battle, wielding Excalibur (sorry, the Sword Of Power) alongside her Fae magic.

Cursed
Merlin | inverse.com

But the thing that makes Nimue’s arc most interesting is that she’s not technically supposed to be wielding the sword. In fact, the words “Take this to Merlin” echo through her head over and over again. The Merlin in question is none other than Merlin the Magician (Gustaf Skårsgard), the legendary sorcerer of Arthurian legend who is deeply entangled in all the myths surrounding the English king’s rise to power. Here, he is even more intimately entwined in Nimue’s story. Skårsgard does a good enough job conveying the ancient wizard’s inner turmoil and pain, but he brings significantly less fun to the role – and the character of Merlin, who in this version stumbles around drunk half the time and uses his wits to escape any number of situations, needs that quirky dash of humor. The lack of it is surprising, and makes Merlin far less engaging than he might have been.

The supporting cast surrounding these three main characters is vast and filled with highlights – Morgana (Shalom Brune-Franklin), a sorceress in the making, treads a fine line between good and evil while various demonic entities try to make her their pawn; Pim (Lily Newmark), is a cheery, wide-eyed Fae who makes the impulsive decision to join a pack of Vikings; Sister Iris (Emily Coates), a frighteningly intense young nun, is set up to be this show’s answer to Game Of Thrones‘ Arya Stark – only Iris is more like a mix between Little Red Riding Hood and The Terminator. And Peter Mullan fully transforms into the series’ villain, Father Carden, the friendly, smiling leader of the Red Paladins’ genocidal crusade. Carden’s Paladins make perfectly decent villains: but while they have no problems burning or crucifying innocents and pillaging the defenseless, they aren’t a well organized military force and thus their battles are often on the weak side. But that’s where the Vikings come in.

Cursed
Father Carden | thehollywoodnews.com

The Vikings are everywhere in this series. All the time we spend on the longships of The Red Spear (Bella Dayne) with Pim might seem pointless at first (though I stopped feeling that way once we were treated to a hilarious montage of Pim, who was enlisted as the crew’s healer, trying desperately to keep up with the raiders’ never ending brutal injuries), but it is integral to the events of the finale, which sees multiple Viking clans clash in epic warfare: and, based on the secret identity of one specific Viking character, it will prove to be integral to the events of future seasons of Cursed, if there are any. All that being said, it’s hard to stop from laughing when King Cumber (Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson) arrives about halfway through the season with a ridiculously mangy platinum blond wig that appears to have been loosely glued to the top of his head. If you thought Henry Cavill’s wig in The Witcher was bad, then you’re going to be horrified by Cursed, which has plenty such awkward hairpieces.

Besides occasionally looking awful, the hair, costumes and makeup utilized on this show don’t even try for any semblance of historical accuracy. For instance, the court of the distasteful Uther Pendragon (Sebastian Armesto) is a complete mix-and-match of styles, ranging from late Medieval to Victorian, with some background characters appearing to have stepped out of the 16th or 17th Centuries. I was tempted to say that Cursed is reminiscent of an Assassin’s Creed interpretation of history, but I actually think the video game series does a far better job of achieving authenticity – though the Trinity Guard, an elite sect of gold-masked Catholic warriors wielding maces and whips under the command of a solemn, vaguely reptilian abbot, feels like it would be very much at home in the game. As does The Weeping Monk (Daniel Sharman), a nimble assassin and another of the series’ roster of antagonists – but his journey takes some very interesting twists and could be relevant to the LGBTQ+ community in ways which I don’t wish to spoil here.

Cursed
Lady Lunete | wehaveahulk.co.uk

Cursed is well worth the long ride (and it’s a long ride indeed) for its strong lead performance, the beautiful aesthetic – insert shoutout to those absolutely lovely animated scene transitions here – the surprisingly good cinematography, and the political intrigue: one of my favorite fantasy tropes, very well executed here, with a particular emphasis on how powerful women often had to work their influence from behind the throne. Two wildly different women – the quiet, calculating Lady Lunete (Polly Walker) and the sadistic berserker Eydis (Sofia Oxenham) – both have to operate in this fashion.

The diversity is another good reason to settle in for the ten-episode ride: though some audiences will inevitably become enraged by the mere presence of people of color – and women of color, especially – in 4th or 5th Century England, I think that’s a stupid complaint because people of color have been living in England since Roman times, well before Arthur’s reign. If anything, that’s one of the few things that Cursed actually gets right when it comes to historical accuracy. Maybe instead of getting offended by black people and LGBTQ+ characters, you should direct your attention toward the swarms of Vikings coming down from Norway about two hundred years early? Just a thought.

If you’re at all interested in fantasy, you’re at least going to have a fun time with Cursed. It’s shamelessly entertaining when it wants to be (i.e. when it doesn’t get bogged down in love triangle tropes), and there’s nothing wrong with just watching something because it’s fun, and has some thrills and scares and big cliffhangers. If you’re hoping it’s the next Witcher, I’d encourage you to lower your expectations just a little bit – just a little bit, mind you. It’s not so far behind its more high-profile Netflix competitor in terms of quality that it could never catch up in future seasons (and I’m going to hazard a guess based on the finale that future seasons are planned because otherwise I’m suing Netflix), but it still needs to find its own voice amongst the crowd.

Series Rating: 6.5/10

Rick Riordan Developing “Percy Jackson” For Disney+!

It’s been a long wait, but the hopes and dreams of Percy Jackson fans worldwide (and there are a lot of them, as shown by the way they’ve taken over Twitter) have finally been realized – bestselling author Rick Riordan and his wife announced today that they have convinced Disney to adapt Riordan’s Percy Jackson And The Olympians series: a series many regard to be every bit as iconic and formative as the Harry Potter and Hunger Games books, and that, with a dedicated and faithful approach to the source material, could have just as much success onscreen as both those franchises.

Percy Jackson
bookstacked.com

But whereas both Harry Potter and The Hunger Games have only had one, definitive adaptation, Percy Jackson is different in that it was adapted once before – and fans of the books, including Riordan himself, were almost unanimous in declaring that the two films derived from the first two books in the series were badly-written, badly-cast, and just….well, bad. After the two films’ poor reception, the planned franchise (then owned by 20th Century Fox) quickly dried up, and any hope of a proper reboot seemed lost. Until this year, when Rick Riordan started casually dropping hints on his social media accounts that implied he had been meeting with Disney executives to discuss the possibility of a reboot – and now, at last, it’s finally here. It’s happening. And it might just be good.

The new adaptation will be a series, planned to debut on Disney+, the studio’s streaming platform. Riordan announced several details about the series: it will be a multi-season commitment, with each season covering one whole book in his original, five-part series (though there will likely be room for spinoffs, perhaps even ones adapting Riordan’s other series’ set in the same universe as Percy Jackson, such as Heroes Of Olympus and The Kane Chronicles, if this series does well). The first season, for instance, will consist of the entirety of the series’ first book, Percy Jackson And The Lightning Thief. For those of you not in the know, allow me to give you a quick rundown of the story (and let me assure you, I am not some poser copy-and-pasting summaries of the books from Wikipedia pages: I was and still am a big fan of Riordan’s work, and I own copies of all of his books, all the way through to The Trials Of Apollo. In fact, I’m so much of a fan that it drove me mad that I had to use images from others of Riordan’s books to fill out this post: unfortunately, there’s not enough images solely of art from Lightning Thief).

Percy Jackson
pinterest.com

The Lightning Thief sets up the saga of Percy Jackson, a twelve-year old boy when the story opens (very important point, we’ll get back to that), who quickly discovers that he is the secret son of Poseidon, the ancient Greek god of the ocean – which makes Percy both a demigod and a “half-blood”, a term applied to all characters in the series with one mortal and one immortal parent. Percy is swept off to Camp Half-Blood, where he encounters a host of other characters with similar backgrounds – but, for the first few books at least, Percy is the only demigod whose parent is one of the “Big Three”: that is, Zeus, Poseidon and Hades (not to be confused with the Hades who will soon show up in Disney’s live-action remake of Hercules). His supporting cast includes Annabeth Chase, a strategical, ingenious daughter of Athena, goddess of wisdom; Grover Underwood, a satyr entrusted with protecting Percy’s life from various mythological monsters (one of the best things about Riordan’s work is that he uses some truly obscure characters from the myths, rather than just exploiting the big names like Medusa, The Minotaur and The Hydra – in fact, those three monsters, despite being the most popular, are probably among those used the least overall in the series); and Luke Castellan, a son of Hermes and one of the senior members of Camp Half-Blood’s management alongside the immortal centaur Chiron and the expelled Olympian Dionysus, who goes by “Mr. D” while on earth. This core cast of characters is expanded as times goes on, and, of course, they are joined from time to time by a number of Greek gods: all of the pantheon, from Zeus to Hestia, show up in some form or another, and some play integral roles in the plot. These gods are on the brink of open war when the story begins, and Percy Jackson gets drawn into the middle of their conflict as a pawn, while trying to locate a dangerous artifact stolen from Zeus’ possession.

Percy Jackson
wallpapercave.com

Obviously, any adaptation of a work is going to make changes – that’s why it’s called an adaptation, and not a word-for-word translation. But most agree that the Percy Jackson series needs a more faithful adaptation than whatever it was we got in the film duology: in the films, Percy and his friends are all angsty teenagers rather than kids, and their humor is more coarse and adult than the witty style that Riordan wrote into his books; the films use overexposed and frankly boring monsters in place of some of Riordan’s more creative choices – one particularly awful instance is when The Hydra is employed as a substitute for Echidna and The Chimera, two far more compelling monsters; the gods are depicted as stereotypical Greek warriors of gargantuan stature, when in the books one of the defining features of the gods is how human they are – Poseidon wears tacky Hawaiian shirts and enjoys fishing, while Ares is a hyper-aggressive macho biker and Zeus is a permanently dour middle-aged man in a pinstripe suit; and the story is unnecessarily convoluted by the introduction of a new quest to find magical pearls that, in the books, is summed up in a single scene.

Needless to say, fans demand and expect better from Disney – what we (I feel comfortable saying we, because I do regard myself as a hardcore fan) expect is a series that highlights the best aspects of the books and reminds us just how much they meant to us, growing up. Percy Jackson made me into a Greek mythology buff, and I have retained all (or at least most) of the knowledge I obtained when, after reading the books, I would immediately set about researching every single mythological character referenced in the books, from Kronos (Lord of the Titans, imprisoned in Tartarus after brutally murdering his own father and then subsequently being brutally murdered by his own son, temporarily defeated by a hairbrush) to Kampê (demonic, scimitar-wielding entity ordered by Zeus to keep watch over the hundred-handed Hecatonkheires on Alcatraz Island). Thankfully, Rick Riordan assured us all that he will be supervising the development of the series, and will be on-set regularly to make sure everything is going smoothly, and his artistic vision is being respected.

Percy Jackson
hypable.com

I am also certain that Riordan, who has recently established himself as a progressive voice in young adult (YA) literature, will also insist that Disney includes far more diversity than he himself wrote into his first series of books. For example, several characters from his first series are confirmed, in more recent books, to be on the LGBTQ+ spectrum – but I think Riordan will at least try to have those often emotional coming out scenes happen sooner, rather than later. Similarly, I expect there to be several more female characters in the first season of the series than just Annabeth, Percy Jackson’s mom, the camp bully Clarisse, and a scattering of monsters and nymphs. I will also be interested to see if Grover, one of the few characters racebent for the film adaptation, will go back to being a white character in the reboot, or if Riordan will choose to keep that one element from those otherwise easily forgettable adaptations (though, if they do choose to make Grover black in the Disney+ series, I hope his portrayal will be more sympathetic this time, and less borderline overtly racist caricature).

As a side-note, I also just want to point out that I have several fancasts already brewing in my head, and I may feel the need to share some of them with you in another post somewhere down the line. So be on the lookout for that.

What do you think about this idea? How do you feel about Rick Riordan’s close involvement with the series’ production? What do you expect to see from a Percy Jackson show? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

Fire And Ice: Frozen 2 Theories!

Warning: Potential Spoilers For Frozen 2 Ahead!

Fire And Ice: Frozen 2 Theories! 1
imdb.com

The fact that I’m even writing a post about Frozen fan theories says a lot about just how different this sequel is expected to be from the 2013 musical we all know and love. If I had tried to write something similar back then, it probably would have boiled down to: “um, I’m getting the feeling there might be a catchy song and a snowman”. These days, though, we’ve got pages worth of ancient Nordic runes, Scandinavian magic and epic assumptions to scroll through.

Firstly, because this has nothing to do with the rest of the post but is still important to me, I completely overlooked the fact, in my initial Frozen 2 trailer reaction, that Disney released said trailer for their Autumn-themed Frozen sequel on the first day of Autumn: that’s a not-so-subtle nuance that really shouldn’t have escaped my attention, but did. Just thought I should point that out, since it’s a clever little thing that I would have praised, had I been paying attention to the calendar.

Anyway, moving on! We have, surprisingly, quite a lot to talk about in this post: the first Frozen movie might have been a relatively one-dimensional story about an unbreakable bond between sisters and the power of true love, but its sequel is heading in a completely different direction: into the unknown. From here on out, you can trade in your expectations of singing snowmen and dancing trolls for a more bleak, introspective vision of war, dark magic, and the attack of the Autumn leaves (which sounds like a parody of a bad 1950’s horror movie, but whatever).

It looks, from Disney’s hints and fans’ speculation, that the big question we all had after the first movie will finally be answered in some capacity: why, exactly, does Queen Elsa have the power to manipulate ice and wintry climates? How did her parents know about her magic, and how did they know exactly what to do when Elsa nearly killed her own sister with an icicle? How did they know about the trolls? And because they technically died off-screen, are we sure they’re not really still alive?

All of these questions look like they might get answered, because all of them seem to be intertwined with each other. There’s a lot of stuff going on in this latest trailer alone, and, combined with the previous trailer and the initial teaser, we actually have a pretty solid idea of what might be going on in Frozen 2. Let’s go through it all.

Firstly, what is Elsa? Well, so far, the trailers have been hinting that Elsa is wondering that too, and that she’s been receiving strange visions and hearing mysterious voices in her head: she stares off wistfully toward the north, out past the borders of her country, and she receives a visit from a spectral snowflake that leads her astray, dancing wildly, into the wilderness beyond the walls of Arendelle. This bobbing light has much in common with the will-o’-the-wisp of European folklore; a ghostly lamp that guides unwary travelers off the beaten path and into danger. Since Frozen takes place somewhere in a roughly Norwegian-inspired fantasy setting, we can safely assume that the basis for this particular wisp might be the Hessdalen lights, which have been sighted in Norway for about the last years – but there’s also a strong chance that Disney’s creative team is inspired by the legends of phantom horses such as the kelpie and nøkk, whom we’ll talk about a little later.

Fire And Ice: Frozen 2 Theories! 2
bbc.co.uk

Wherever the mystery light comes from, it causes Elsa to lose control of herself and accidentally cause a blast of ice-magic that drops hovering, diamond-shaped crystals over Arendelle; diamond-shaped crystals which may or may not be marked with ancient Norse runes signifying the four seasons, and the elements of earth, air, water and fire (for more on that, see here). It’s hard to tell, but this might happen at the same time as the sudden gust of wind that sends Autumn leaves cascading through the city streets, and the strange purple flame that blows up all the streetlamps: the flames look very much like the ones that later encircle Elsa in the enchanted forest, and its erratic nature seems to bear much in common with the will-o’-the-wisp at first, at least until you take a closer look at Norwegian folklore and uncover the little-known (but fascinating) myth of the revontulet, or “fire fox”. A tiny Arctic fox scampering across the sky so fast that the sparks from his tail cause the Northern Lights to appear, the fox is also a manifestation of winter, with some versions of the story suggesting the “sparks” are in fact snowflakes. It might not be a coincidence that the Northern Lights themselves have actually shown up a few times in the trailers for Frozen 2, with Elsa and Anna’s mother seen staring out the window at them in a flashback sequence. For more about the significance of the Northern Lights in folklore, see here.

Elsa and Anna’s mother is, herself, an interesting character. It’s been teased that the sisters’ now deceased parents might have known more than they let on, and I’m beginning to suspect that the mother, especially, had a very intriguing backstory. In this new trailer, we see her watching with a curious expression while her husband, King Agnarr, recounts the story of the enchanted forest to their daughters: she pauses at the door, maybe smiling, maybe saddened, before leaving the room – almost as if she knows a part of the story that even Agnarr doesn’t. But Agnarr certainly seems to know a lot: from the flashback sequence that plays over his narration, it looks like he lived in the enchanted forest as a young man – or was stationed there as a soldier, since everyone there seems to be wearing military uniform. In the flashback, a swirl of Autumn leaves dancing in the wind catches his eye, and leads him to a glade in the forest where a girl appears to be using magic to fly. And if I’m not mistaken, that girl, who everybody thought might be Anna’s daughter when she showed up in the first teaser, is actually Anna and Elsa’s mother, Queen Iduna – and that means Agnarr is the boy we glimpsed flying through the air with her, too. Which means that, assuming that was Idunna’s magic and not the inherent magic of the forest, Elsa inherited her power from her mother; just in a slightly different form.

But it’s not that simple. Agnarr’s narration is quite obviously edited to hide a secret (probably the “that’s where I met your mother” moment), but he also doesn’t say what caused him and the rest of his people to leave the enchanted forest. But again, I have some guesses, and I’m kind of excited, because it looks like Disney might – might – be going in a very unexpected direction with this story. One of the most interesting new snippets of material in this trailer is a flashback where people dressed in the military uniform of Arendelle are seen fighting others clad in the heavy furs of the indigenous Sámi peoples of Scandinavia. Could it be that Disney is attempting a fantasy allegory for the real-life persecution of the Sámi by the Norwegian and Swedish governments – a wide-spread persecution that spanned several centuries, during which the native peoples were exiled from their ancestral homelands, converted to Christianity, burned at the stake for witchcraft, and robbed of their culture: to this day, the damage done to the Sámi has not been made up for, and countries such as Sweden and Finland continue to stamp on their freedoms, and use their lands for mining, wiping out the reindeer that the Sámi depend upon to live: speaking of reindeer, an entire herd of them is seen in the Frozen 2 trailers, adopting Sven into their ranks and riding into battle. Is it possible that the battle we see in the trailer is partly inspired by this historical tragedy, and that that is the reason why Agnarr says the people of the enchanted forest hid themselves from the rest of the world, behind a wall of magical mist, never to be seen again? Is that why Iduna, possibly a Sámi herself, seems so sad when she hears the story? If Disney is doing this, and can pull it off with some degree of sensitivity and logic, it could make this movie a very important one indeed: if done wrong, well…it could become another Pocahontas.

Fire And Ice: Frozen 2 Theories! 3
polygon.com

The Sámi also have a rich magical history, one that could easily make the move to the big screen: in their culture, men and women known as noaidis acted as shamans and guardians of the community, using magic and meditation to speak with spirits and ward off evil. In the trailer, we catch a glimpse of a woman with long gray hair who appears to act as a noaidi for the enchanted forest, questioning Anna and Elsa about their own magic. We also see a man, Lieutenant Matthias, who is dressed in the Arendelle uniform but is quite clearly living in the forest, and is quite friendly with the rest of his people. Did he choose to stay there because he saw the error of his ways? Or does he have a different purpose? It’s hard to say just yet. For more information on the history of the Sámi, see here.

Whatever Elsa might find out in the forest, she is probably not the only one who wants to find it: somebody, or something, is coming after her, and is using magic to do so. We see a large giant made of stone, possibly one of the Stallo of Sámi folklore, chasing Anna and Kristoff through the woods, and hunting for Elsa at night, while she cowers behind a tree. The “fire fox” could also be an enemy, assuming it’s not one of Elsa’s accidents. In the teaser, we saw its pink flames encircling Elsa and Olaf in a heart shape; in the first trailer, it was seen leaping from tree to tree, spreading rapidly, and we also got a quick look at its aftermath – a burned out clearing in the woods, and Elsa hunched over in the ashes and snow, crying, while Anna came slowly to her side; before being abruptly carried out of the scene by Kristoff, who appeared to be trying to save her from Elsa. Now, something that I think is pretty important to note is that in between the fire starting and the fire ending, Olaf disappears. I’m not saying that he gets melted, but…well, actually, that is what I’m saying. Obviously, he’d probably be brought back to life soon enough (Elsa being a walking ice-machine and all), but a tragic death scene would certainly raise the stakes and remind us that this isn’t the Frozen we thought we knew.

As for what happens in the third act, when all is said and done, I can’t even hazard a guess, but I feel pretty certain that the scenes of Elsa’s underwater battle with the horse, Anna’s captivity in the cave, and all of that amazing ice-magic imagery from the new trailer might come from the latter part of the movie, as Elsa unlocks her full potential and gains new purpose, understanding whatever it is she has to do in order to save Arendelle from…whoever or whatever her enemy is.

But why, you ask, is she fighting an underwater battle with a horse? Well, I’m glad you asked, because I have an answer. That horse is in fact a Nøkk, a creature very similar to the kelpie of Scottish legend: a male water-spirit taking the form of a horse, the nøkk is a master of music and magic, a malevolent phantom that carries its victims into the ocean to drown – something it clearly tries to do to Elsa in the trailer, holding her underwater with its hoofs, before Elsa responds with a blast of ice magic. But it looks like Elsa is eventually able to tame this nøkk; possibly, as in the legends, by using his true name. Does this mean that Elsa will also be allowed to learn the enchanting song of the nøkk, which bestows its singer with the power to basically mind control your enemies?

So…what are your ideas? Am I overthinking everything, or is there a possibility that Disney is, in fact, drawing on the depths of Scandinavian folklore for this new movie? Share your own thoughts and theories in the comments below!