Buckle up and keep hands and feet inside the ride at all times because you’re in for a seriously bitter and cynical nerd rant.
Ant-man hit the theaters a couple of weeks ago and while was no Avengers, it was No. 1 at the box office opening weekend and is doing about as well as anyone could expect from a movie concerning a hero no one really knows or cares about. Not that I’m bitter. I haven’t seen it yet, although some friends tell me it’s a decent movie, and that the focus is thankfully on Scott Lang rather than Henry Pym and his significant baggage (to the degree said baggage is pretty much erased). Fine by me; by making Henry Pym so straight-laced and righteous, he has been rendered boring and thus no one will care that the far more interesting Scott Lang will appear in the next phase of the MCU.
But Ant-man? Seriously? No one cares about [expletive] Ant-man. Hell, most of the writers don’t care about Ant-man or his character wouldn’t have been screwed up so badly. Why did Ant-man get a movie before Black Widow? Why isn’t Black Widow getting a movie? Hells bells [expletive] Gambit is getting a movie after all of 10 minutes of screen time in “Wolverine: Origins.” Ten [expletive] minutes, a nearly complete lack of accent, and being totally pwned by Wolverine gets Gambit a movie. Black Widow has been a major secondary character in two hero solo movies and a co-star in two ensemble movies. In the world of movie-goers, I am pretty certain there are far more Black Widow fans than Gambit fans.
I am so sick of this. The guy heading up the MCU, says, “Yeah, sure, we want to do a movie with a female lead, but you know, how are we going to do that?” You [expletive] do it, you [Denis Leary]! You’re the guy in charge! You can add another movie! This sounds exactly like the last CEO of WB’s DC division who said, “Yeah, sure, we’d like to do a Wonder Woman movie, but we’re just going to have to take it slow and be careful.” [Expletive].
This is not hard. If Marvel Studios doesn’t want to mess with the timeline of the MCU, simply make an origin story movie for Black Widow. Normally I’m not a fan of origin stories, but I think in this case it could work. We already know Black Widow was an elite Russian assassin who was trained and brainwashed from a very young age to be a soulless killing machine. We know from “Agent Carter” that even pre-WWII this was an extremely effective program and no doubt made more effective over time. I am genuinely curious how Black Widow came to see the error of her ways and decided to repent. I am curious about her relationship with Nick Fury and how any kind of trust was forged between them.
And if Marvel Studios is worried this doesn’t fit into the mold of a summer blockbuster, then don’t make it a summer blockbuster. This could be an amazing spy-noir thriller. Marvel can do noir; I’ve seen Daredevil (I mean the good one here, not the bad one). The studio is planning to continue the gritty noir theme with future installments of the Secret Defenders. This kind of tone is not outside their wheelhouse. And in that case, don’t release the movie in the summer. It turns out there are actually 12 months in a calendar year, not just five. There is a terrible dearth of any watchable movies around November and February. Yeah, I get Disney wants no competition for “Star Wars” so just move Black Widow: Red Ledger (it’s a working title) to a February release. All that’s in theaters at that time is usually Oscar-bait dramas or low-brow, low-budget comedies the studios need to unload at some point.
Everyone would watch this. Everyone, not just men, not just women, not just fans. Everyone. Hell, Lucy made decent money at the box office and that was almost a superhero movie (perhaps the closest to a live-action cinematic version of the Phoenix Saga we may ever see). What’s wrong, comic movie studios, do you not want our money? Surely that’s not the case.
Here’s the truth, and everyone in charge is just too cowardly to say it – Gambit gets a movie before Black Widow (and potentially Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel) because Gambit is a dude. That’s [expletive] it. That’s why Ant-man hit theaters this summer. Because Ant-man is a man, and it says so right in the title. The upcoming Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel (coming in 2017 and 2018 respectively) are concessions to a rising tide of rage that the studios aren’t really taking that seriously. Why they don’t want to make a female-led superhero movie is the matter of some debate, but honestly the motivations are irrelevant. People want to see these movies; people want to throw money at the studios to watch female superheroes like Black Widow and Wonder Woman kick some solo ass. It’s the studio heads and marketing departments that are sticking their fingers in their ears and going, “La la la la can’t hear you!”
I know that isn’t actually the case. I know there aren’t a bunch of shady characters in the executive boardroom of the movie studios cackling to each other and saying, “Muhahaha!! I shall personally see to it there will never be a female-led superhero movie!” True, I have speculated perhaps supervillains do run the movie studios, but I am aware that such decisions are made in what seems to be a logical sequence carefully considering the information presented. But, to quote a cliche/meme – garbage in, garbage out.
Eventually the studios will make female-led movies. The cynical part of me (okay, me) thinks this will happen not because they want to, not because they think they’ll make any money off of them, but just to shut up the critics and say, “Hey, there’s a female-led movie, now leave us alone.” Yeah, because one Captain Marvel totally makes up for 19 previous male-led superhero movies, and totally allows for another 19 male-led movies before She-Hulk gets her day in the sun. By the by, I recognize that a lack of diversity is not limited to a lack of women. How long until Black Panther is released? Oh, right.
Cynicism aside, actions speak louder than words. And the actions of Marvel Studios and WB/DC say that they don’t want to make a female-led superhero movie. That’s the whole truth of it. I don’t care why; I just know the people in charge condescendingly lie to us every single time they say they want to make a female-led superhero movie and then just shrug and add, “But whatcha gonna do?”
MAKE THE DAMN MOVIE!
Black Widow: Red Ledger. Not coming to any movie theater near you any time soon, and it is long past time the studio heads were called out for this [expletive]. There is no excuse.
Chapter 6: Out of the Frying Pan and into the Fire
The GM surveyed the diminished party. “So I’ve got Thorin, Kili, Fili, Balin, and Dori. This is the smallest party yet.”
Mike Nyugen shrugged. “The other guys figured you were done with combat.”
The GM sighed. “Fine. Well, you’d better hope I don’t roll high on the random encounter table.”
“We didn’t think of that,” Juan said. “You did almost get us killed by stone giants.”
“Don’t worry about that,” Terrence said dismissively. “Hey, where’s Martin?”
The GM shrugged. “I’m not going to tell you that. You’ll have to figure that out ourselves.”
“Oh, well, great, he must have gotten himself killed. Damn it, Mike, why didn’t you hang onto him?”
“Oh, yeah, right, like that was so easy,” Mike shot back. “The goblins had a surprise round and I have a terrible reflex save. There was no room to maneuver and you almost took my damn head off!”
“Hey, everyone critically fails once in a while,” Terrence retorted.
“Yeah, but you have a vorpal sword!”
“It’s only vorpal for goblins!”
“I only lived because I actually made my reflex save!”
“Who’s on watch right now?” the GM interrupted. “I mean, I’m sure you guys aren’t standing around in goblin territory without someone keeping an eye out, right?”
The players took the hint.
“Balin’s on watch,” Juan offered.
“Okay, make a perception check.”
Juan rolled his die. “23.”
“Okay, you don’t see anything out of place.”
“Well, I’m going to doubly pay attention now.”
“The point is,” Terrence continued irritably, “is that we’ve lost the halfling and we have to figure out if we’re going to go back to the goblin tunnels and try to find him or just forget about him.”
“Gandalf strongly objects to leaving Bilbo behind,” the GM said.
“Yeah, well, it was his idea to bring that useless thief with us. Maybe he should go back and find out if he’s dead or not. Stupid thief can’t even sneak up on a bunch of [expletive] trolls.”
Suddenly the library doors opened and Martin walked in. “‘The thief is right here!’ Bilbo declares to the group.”
“Wait, what?” Terrence stammered.
“Bilbo pops out from behind a tree,” the GM said. “He seems fine although his clothes are torn.”
“Theater majors,” Fred and George sighed in unison.
“But I got a 23 on my perception check,” Juan protested. “How the hell did he get past me?”
Martin took a seat at the table. “Maybe I’m a better thief than you guys thought.”
“No, something’s up here,” Terrence said. “What happened when you got lost? And keep it short, okay?”
Martin frowned and gave a short version of what happened and omitted the part about finding the ring. But by the end of that short explanation, the other players looked more impressed.
“Well, if you did manage to sneak back up the goblin tunnels like that, maybe you are a better thief than we thought,” Juan said.
“We’ll see,” Terrence replied. “But everyone’s here, so shouldn’t get moving? We are still in goblin territory.”
“Gandalf absolutely agrees with you,” the GM said.
“Alright, then we get going.”
The party started to move as quickly as they could down the mountain.
The GM rolled his die. “Rockslide. Everyone make a reflex save.”
The players grumbled and did so.
“Well, at least that will make it harder for the goblins to track us,” Juan said. “What’s in front of us? Any place to hide?”
“Well, not really. You’re still pretty high up on the mountain. There are pine trees, so I guess you could climb those if you had to.”
“Dwarves don’t climb,” Terrence said stubbornly.
“Halflings sure can’t,” Martin said, looking at his character sheet.
“Let’s keep running and hope we’ve lost them and can find a secure place to camp.”
The GM rolled his die again. He frowned and checked his notes. Then he rolled the die again.
“This is not good, is it?” Martin said.
“Yeah, no,” Mike agreed.
“Are you going to kill us?” Terrence asked.
“I’m not trying to,” the GM answered, still pouring through his notes. “Okay, look, I never do this, but Terrence, you roll a D100.”
“I don’t want to kill you guys, but my dice do. Roll low.”
Terrence pulled out two ten-sided dice. “Okay, usually red is high, but since I want to roll low, I’ll make the blue one high.” He dropped the two dice on the table so hard that the red one rolled out of his sight and in front of Martin. “And there we go. The blue is a zero. No problem.”
“Um,” Martin said, “the red is a zero too.”
“Seriously?” he exclaimed.
Mike glanced over at it. “Yeah, that’s a zero. You rolled a hundred, dude.”
“Okay, well, I gave you guys a chance,” the GM said. “You start to hear wolves howling in the distance. What do you do?”
Everyone looked at Terrence.
“Keep running, I guess. Does Gandalf have any bright ideas?”
“‘Those are the howls of the dire-wolves,’ he says. ‘They are bigger and more intelligent than other wolves. Sometimes they even ally themselves with goblins.'”
“This just keeps getting better and better,” Juan sighed.
“And the howling is getting closer,” the GM added.
“Well, damn it, I guess it’s up the trees anyway,” Terrence said.
“Okay, give me some climb checks.”
They grumbled and rolled their dice.
“I think Bilbo failed,” Martin said.
“Whoever’s closest to the halfling get him up the tree,” Terrence ordered.
The GM rolled a die. “That would be Dori.”
“Oh man, do I always have to save this guy?” Mike replied.
“Hey, you’re the one who dropped Bilbo in the goblin tunnels,” Martin retorted.
“Guys, just get in the damn trees,” Terrence sighed.
Eventually the whole party did manage to climb into the pine trees.
“Okay, almost as soon as everyone is up, the area is filled with dire-wolves. They’re the size of small ponies, and it doesn’t take long until they find you in the trees. They bark and threaten you, but they can’t climb, so they just set guards by the trees. A huge, old dire-wolf calls a meeting to attention.”
“Does anyone have speak with animals?” Fred asked. “You know, like the wizard?”
The GM rolled his eyes. “Yes, Gandalf can understand what they’re saying. Apparently they were supposed to meet up with the goblins tonight and go on a raid.”
“Man, what are the odds we’d end up here right at that time?” George mused.
“Hey, I let Terrence roll the die,” the GM said. “I tried.”
“Does anyone have any weapons or anything?” Terrence snapped. “Anything ranged at all?”
“We could throw some pine cones,” Mike answered sourly. “You know the goblins took everything.”
“What about the wizard?” Juan asked.
The GM rolled his eyes again. “Gandalf doesn’t have a lot spells left, but I’ll see what I can do.” He checked his notes. “Well, I’ve got some fire spells left.”
“We’re in trees,” Terrence retorted. “That’s going to get us killed! Don’t you have any magic missiles?”
“I told you, Gandalf is low on spells, and he’s a specialist in fire magic anyway. Do you want him to try to scare the dire-wolves off or not?”
“Fine,” he grumbled.
The GM had Gandalf cast a few fire spells and sure enough, the dire-wolves caught on fire and were running around in an enraged madness. “Okay, Terrence, you roll a D100 for me again.”
“Oh, no, not me. Who’s the luckiest?”
The players discussed this amongst themselves.
“Okay, we’ll split the difference,” Fred said. “I’ll roll the low die and George will roll the high die. That should do.” The twins each rolled one ten-sided die. “Oh, man, that’s a nine.”
“And I rolled a nine too,” George said. “Ninety-nine.”
The GM consulted his notes. “I swear I’m not trying to kill you guys.”
“What just happened?” Terrence asked.
“I mean, I’m really not.”
“JR, what just happened?”
“Remember Gandalf told you the goblins were supposed to meet the dire-wolves tonight? Well, they got over the death of their leader and finally made it to the meet up.”
Terrence slapped his hand against his forehead and muttered a string of swearing.
“Yeah, so after the goblins finish laughing at the dire-wolves, they put them out and set your trees on fire. I swear I’m not trying to kill you. The dice are.”
“Yeah, well, that isn’t going to save us, is it?” Juan retorted.
“The goblins are taunting you.”
“Thanks. Just pour salt in the wound,” Mike sighed.
The GM checked his notes again. “Okay, I need another D100 roll.”
“Oh, [expletive],” Terrence said. “How could we get more screwed?”
“Martin, you roll.”
“Okay,” he replied. He dutifully rolled a pair of ten-sided dice.
“We’re so dead,” Mike sighed. “It doesn’t matter which was called high because he just rolled a hundred.”
“You know, I really wish I could roll like this when we’re in a fight,” Martin said.
“Maybe you will in the next campaign,” Terrence replied acidly.
“Okay, guys, as Gandalf is getting ready to jump down and use a really nasty spell, he’s suddenly grabbed by a giant eagle and carried away. Other eagles follow and grab the rest of you with their talons. Do any of you try to evade?”
“Um, no, I guess,” Terrence said. “I mean, if they want to kill us, there’s not a lot we can do here.”
“Martin, Bilbo needs to make a reflex save.”
“Oh, man, I hope my luck holds out.” He rolled the die. “Alright, a 25!”
“Great. The eagles didn’t see you but you manage to grab a hold of Dori’s legs before he’s carried off.”
“And here I am carrying the halfling again,” Mike sighed.
“The eagles fly away with you and eventually drop you on the side of the cliff. There are a lot of other eagles. Gandalf is talking with one of them and eventually he joins you. ‘Don’t worry, these are allies. I was talking with the Eagle King. They’ve been keeping an eye on the goblins and dire-wolves in this area and happened to see the raiding party and the fire. The King owes me a favor, so we’re going to spend the night here and they’ll drop us off in the morning.'”
“Can they take us all the way to the Lonely Mountain?” Juan asked.
“Gandalf glares at Balin. ‘They are not my pets. They do not come at my beck and call. They will get us outside of goblin territory, but go no further.'”
“Oh, fine. It’s just we lost all our ponies and stuff.”
“‘We’ll worry about that later,’ he says. So you all get to spend in the night in the eyries. The eagles even bring up some meat to roast up.”
“Well, that was a fun string of coincidences,” Terrence said.
“And a nice deus ex machina,” Martin added. “Not quite chariots from the sky, but pretty close.”
“Hey, I had to do something. Anyway, you’re all alive and you’re getting fed. Do you want your XP or what?”
The group clamored for their experience points.
I really, really wanted to like this show. I’m a Sailor Moon fan, as I’ve noted before, and I was excited about seeing this reboot of the series using the manga as a basis (which I have not read). But having finished the series, well, I don’t think I like this. The storytelling choices for this show just baffle me. Honestly, I’m not sure I would have liked it that much had I not been a fan of the original animated series. The series still has some significant flaws [SPOILER ALERT].
The Good –
The smoother animation is lovely, and the lines for the characters and objects are not black but a color near the inside of the lines (like a lighter blue next to the dark blue skirt. The style is even more, well, stylized, to the point that the characters’ faces are about 70% eyes and their bodies are about 70% legs. I’m not sure I like the extreme style for the men’s faces, but it doesn’t bother me.
I love that electric guitar theme and the more modern background music.
The voice acting is still spot-on. I’m not surprised since the actress who originally voiced Usagi reprised the role.
4) Storytelling Choices:
a) Incorporating Chibiusa’s age – this element of the manga actually works well in this context. Chibiusa was very bratty in the original and not much explanation was ever given. Here, her strange and bratty behavior is explained by the fact that she has been approximately six years old for over 900 years! Even King Endymion doesn’t know why she stopped aging and hasn’t grown up. So she’s got over 900 years of feeling like a failure and trying to deal with that with all the maturity of a six-year-old’s feelings.
b) Mamoru/Endymion’s powers – again, in the manga, Mamoru had some power of his own, although nothing like the senshi. He is the Prince of Earth, after all, and that actually means something here. In the original, he had psychic visions, but in this version he actually can do some healing and has a named attack of his own (that isn’t just chucking a rose).
c) Sailor Pluto’s arc – Sailor Pluto barely showed up in the original, although she was a friend to Chibiusa. In this, her relationship with Chibiusa is really highlighted. There’s an underlying subtext she was kind of love with King Endymion, but I’ll overlook that. You get to see her origin story in which she’s about eight and is appointed the Guardian of Time by the original Queen Serenity. She’s lonely guarding the door of time, and Chibiusa goes to her because Pluto doesn’t make Chibiusa feel bad about not growing up and not being as awesome as her mother. Her sacrifice is well done and is what really saves Chibiusa.
The Not-so-Good – Storytelling Choices
Pretty much everything I dislike is due to the storytelling choices, which I will break down here. Is this a storytelling failure? Not quite, but I am disappointed.
a) At first, I thought it was going to just cover the Dark Kingdom story arc of the original animated series (“Sailor Moon“) but be more true to the original manga. Then I realized that the series is covering the Dark Kingdom arc and the Dark Moon arc (“Sailor Moon R“). I realize that the original series had a lot of filler (based on how short, relatively speaking, the summaries are), but twenty-six episodes for two major story arcs is really compressed, and it really shows. Major villains are introduced and killed off in the same episode. There’s no time to learn to fear these characters before they’re gone. There’s also not a lot of time for development of the main characters, especially the guardian senshi. Their friendship with Usagi is a key point in the original and how she derives a lot of her power and will. Sure, they’re all friends, but there’s almost no time devoted to how that develops.
b) I felt this was even more jarring when the series switched arcs from the Dark Kingdom to the Dark Moon. In the Dark Kingdom arc, the four henchmen of Queen Beryl were revealed to be the brainwashed former four generals of Earth. Basically they were the spear counterparts of the guardian senshi to Prince Endymion. The generals and the guardian senshi had fallen in love and right when they got their memories back, the generals were destroyed. The guardian senshi didn’t have a lot of time to deal with their grief what with the world ending and all. But their love for the doomed generals was never mentioned again. That thread of character developed just disappeared because it was time to move to the next story arc. The ghosts of the generals appeared to Mamoru just once and the guardian senshi never mention them again.
This might be related to the manga elements, which I have read was a pretty compressed story with characters being introduced and killed off in practically the same chapter. In which case, I think this manga element did not work well in this medium.
2) Power Balance:
I get that Sailor Moon, at the end of the day, has all the power. When I first saw the original series, that fact struck me as entirely unique because on the surface Usagi seems like the last person to entrust the fate of the world (American cartoons are a lot less subtle about who has the power). The shows got a bit formulaic in that in nearly every battle the guardian senshi would only soften up the monster while Sailor Moon finished off the monster. However, I never got the impression (except in a few instances that made sense) that Sailor Moon could beat the monster without it being weakened first.
But in this series? I’m so confused. The guardian senshi are just that – guardians of the Moon Princess. But they’re nigh useless! For example, right after the guardian senshi get a power-up (Sailor Mercury even says, “I’ve never felt so energetic”), Sailor Mars goes up against one of the four Spectre (Phantom) Sisters. She powers up and wastes the minions with Burning Mandala, and then gets her ass kicked by Koan like a chump. Sailor Mercury’s new water power isn’t enough to free Sailor Mars from the fire prison Koan put her in. Then Sailor Moon gets a new weapon and wastes Koan in one shot! Sailor Mars, Mercury, and Jupiter got captured at one point, are summoned to consciousness by Usagi, stand up to transform and escape, and then…fall unconscious again, uselessly. They try to rally themselves to protect Sailor Moon from Black Lady, and again are tossed aside like chumps. How I am supposed to take the guardian senshi seriously when they can’t do anything at all without Sailor Moon?
3) Mixed Messages/Themes:
a) When the senshi first start to remember their past lives, Usagi gets very upset and angry because she likes her life and doesn’t understand why everything went so wrong in the past. She doesn’t want to repeat the tragedy of the past and Rei tells her, “You are not that tragic princess.” I actually liked that part. Except…well, she repeats the past and almost ends up that tragic princess. What? The lessons she was supposed to learn from the past are not articulated well. Was she supposed to learn Earth was awesome (since she abandons the moon as her home)? What’s the point of that? What does that really mean to the story? The characters’ motivations are muddled and I’m sure a lot of that stems from the compressed storytelling.
b) The opening song tells us that girls don’t need men. Now, of course Usagi and Mamoru’s love story is one of the anchors. But for all that Tuxedo Kamen saved Sailor Moon in the original, I always felt that was because Sailor Moon is really terrible at being a senshi in general. Also, as much as she loved Mamoru, she was equally close to the senshi. But there’s a meta-point in this series when Usagi is pining for Mamoru (after her friends have very nearly been killed) and they gently scold her for treating them like they don’t matter. As for Mamoru, the impression in this series is more that she needs his power to do her thing. In fact, near the end, she tells him the only reason she can use the past Silver Crystal in the future is because he is with her. So she literally cannot save the future without him.
c) Kind of related to the above point, although not to the extent above, the four guardian senshi apparently fell in love with Endymion’s generals. This does sort of play into the story in that the generals eventually remember and refuse to kill the guardians. But then the generals are just murdered by Queen Metalia. The guardian senshi just stand their and cry until the ghosts remind them their job is to protect Sailor Moon. And then run after her. Sheesh. They have one job. One job! Sailor Pluto was ten thousand times more useful and effective as a guardian of Sailor Moon, that’s not her job!
d) Electra Complex – this was bad enough in the original, and this series just pushed it that much further. Squicky and unnecessary, I think.
4) Deus ex Machina:
Okay, I understand that as a magical girl series that deus ex machinas are kind of standard. Heck, Sailor Moon is a shining example of the trope, “Strong as s/he needs to be.” Fine, I get that. But this goes above and beyond what I would expect. I’d like to point out that when Neo-Queen Serenity puts everything right with a wave of her magic wand, I don’t consider that a deus ex machina, exactly. Neo-Queen Serenity is a goddess with nearly unlimited power. But Sailor Moon isn’t.
a) I mentioned above that Sailor Moon pretty much repeats the mistakes of her past. The only reason this doesn’t result in the same tragedy is because of two deus ex machinas. When she tries to kill Endymion, the remains of his four generals, which are four crystals, literally jump out of his jacket and block the sword. When she turns the sword on herself, the watch she accidentally got from Endymion blocks the sword.
b) Praying – When she has to face Queen Metalia, she literally prays to the moon to give her the strength to win. Luna prays to Queen Serenity for Sailor Moon to win. Sailor Moon tells Sailor Chibi Moon to pray so they can defeat Death Phantom. I’m all for faith, but this doesn’t seem like the right context.
c) When she’s about to be killed by Saphir, she manages to channel her future self to use the power of the Silver Crystal even though it has been established the crystal of the past does not work in the future. However, apparently Neo-Queen Serenity can channel her future Crystal power through the past Sailor Moon, because of reasons…
d) Trapped on Nemesis and drained of power, with the help of her future self, she rescues her friends, helps them transform, and just teleports back to Crystal Tokyo like it ain’t no thing.
Listen, a single chariot from the sky is kind of awesome. When the sky is nothing but chariots, that’s annoying.
5) Overall – even separated from the original (as much as I can), this just isn’t very good. I’m sorry. Some individual episodes are pretty good, but the series falls flat. The story arcs are extremely rushed, the characters are underdeveloped, the messages/themes are confused, Sailor Moon spends most of the Dark Kingdom arc being dragged through the story by her past instead of acting with any agency, and the guardian senshi contribute almost nothing to the Dark Moon arc.
And, of course, the end has a potential lead-in to another series. Usagi has the weapon she used in “Sailor Moon S.” While seeing a cyborg Sailor Saturn might be kind of cool, I’d really rather not see my favorite story arc subjected to the kind of treatment “Sailor Moon” and “Sailor Moon R” were given.
Yes, I’m that disappointed.
This entry does not actually refer to the original movie The Parent Trap nor the remake (although the original is silly fun). I’m referring to some of the terrible parenting choices made in Disney’s family pictures. Now, many of the animated movies because they are based on fairy tales are full of questionable lessons – heroines must be beautiful above all else, heroines fall in love with the first guy they meet, and the heroes can treat the heroines pretty badly as long as true love prevails. But beyond that, the parents in these movies also make some pretty awful decisions too. I’m not talking about step-parents because they are always obviously evil.
So here is a list, in ascending order of awfulness, of some of the worst parents Disney has ever put to film. I’m limiting this to animated movies that are strictly Disney (not, say, Pixar or Studio Ghibli) and strictly theater releases (not the straight-to-DVD sequels).
1) Sleeping Beauty – King Stefan and the unnamed Queen. Frankly, their parenting infraction is kind of minor, although it sets the whole plot in motion. They live next to an evil fairy, and instead of trying to be inclusive and respectful of said evil fairy, they deliberately snub her by not inviting her to their daughter’s birthday party. Now, that’s not to say that inviting Maleficent may have turned out any better, but there was a good chance (I think) she would have shunned the celebration anyway and lamented how idiots were going to run the kingdom next door. And to be fair to the royal parents, they did try to protect their daughter as much as they could (they didn’t know the three fairies were idiots), although the timing of her return was kind of suspect.
2) Cinderella – I know, I just said that step-parents don’t count because in fairy tales they are always evil. I’m talking about the King, Prince Charming’s father. This guy is so desperate for grandchildren that he goes to some pretty extreme lengths to hook up his son. That isn’t really what makes him a bad parent since arranged marriages are a royal tradition. But he’s not even looking for a princess. He just invites every eligible (read: child-bearing age) woman in the kingdom to parade herself in front of the prince in the hopes he’ll pick one. Anyone will do; when the slipper is left and the Duke makes the good point that the shoe could fit a lot of women, the King’s reply is basically, “So what?” And then he threatens to kill the Duke if he doesn’t come back with a baby-vessel for his son. With a father like that, I see why Prince Charming was so disinterested in doing his royal duties. Sheesh.
3) Snow White – no, no, not the evil Queen (again, step-parents are always evil). I mean Snow White’s actual father. No where in the movie is it stated that he is dead, although that seems like a safe assumption. But with no evidence to the contrary, the presumably alive king is a terrible father. He lets his new wife turn his daughter, the princess, into a scullery maid at the age of eight. After so many years, he hasn’t done anything about this situation and seems to take no interest in his daughter’s life. His neglect is so complete that when the evil Queen plots to murder his daughter, he doesn’t even know about it. Or worse, he doesn’t care. Really, the only excuse he has for this total neglect is if the evil Queen has done some powerful magic on him. That’s not unlikely, of course, but that is never outright stated.
4) The Little Mermaid – Ariel is a spoiled brat, but King Triton is not a good father. Ariel has seven or eight older sisters and yet he acts like he has never dealt with a teenage girl before. This indicates that he’s been completely uninvolved in his daughters’ lives and let someone else deal with raising them. This likely was the late queen since there’s no nanny in sight (unless you count Sebastian). So until the queen died, Triton ignored his daughters, and frankly I can’t believe Ariel is the only one who was rebellious. She breaks the rules and interacts with humans. Instead of Triton trying to explain to her the reason for his rules and maybe trying to demonstrate the danger of humans, he just freaks out and destroys her collection of junk. This, of course, drives her further into rebellion and leads her to seek out the Sea Witch. This goes as well as you think.
In the end, after the Sea Witch is killed, Triton turns Ariel into a human so she can marry the prince. This seems nice except that Ariel has only known Eric for three days and during most of that time she couldn’t even talk. Instead of actually dealing with his daughter and her infatuation he takes the easy way out and gives her what she thinks she wants and lets her marry a guy she doesn’t know to be part of a world she doesn’t begin to understand. Yeah, good job there, your Majesty, because a sixteen-year old girl (especially this one) is known for good decision-making.
5) Frozen –the worst of the worst have got to be the parents in Frozen. Elsa is apparently an elemental ice sorceress and even though the wise not-Smurfs tell the parents that fear is Elsa’s enemy, the parents immediately do everything to increase her fear of her powers and herself:
a) They separate her from Anna (her sister and best friend)
b) They lock her in a room of the palace,
c) They dismiss all but a skeleton crew of servants so almost no other people are ever around
d) They never let their daughters leave the castle
e) They tell Elsa the only way to deal with her powers is never ever feel anything.
Not only that, but their actions punish Anna as well. Anna loses her sister and best friend and is nearly as isolated as Elsa because she can’t leave the castle either. She has no one to talk to and no one ever tells her why Elsa’s locked up alone. While there is little reason to isolate Elsa, there is no reason at all to isolate Anna. She could go to boarding school or something instead of talking to paintings. Elsa’s freak-out that forms the main plot of the movie can be blamed directly on the bad decisions her parents made.
So there you go. For “family pictures” there are a lot of bad messages being propagated.
Miami Connection – to give you an idea of what a sick person I am sometimes, I seek out internet critics to watch their reviews of bad movies. This is not so unusual. However, sometimes after watching the reviews I actually seek out the movie itself to watch. So it was with this little gem. I saw it reviewed on Cinema Snob and realized this was exactly the sort of movie to treat my friends to. It’s about a biker gang run by ninjas that smuggles drugs between Orlando and Miami. The leader of the biker gang decides to get rid of a college rock band that plays in one of the drop-off points because his sister is dating the band leader. And everyone in the band knows Tae Kwon Do. Because of course. This is so, so 1987. And has such low, low production values. And you actually get full songs from the band and they are so, so lame. Anyway, if you like badly choreographed fight scenes, acting that is out-classed by high schoolers, and a plot that makes very little sense, check this out.
Suicide Squad – Oh, WB/DC, you just don’t fail to disappoint. I really don’t want to be a WB/DC hater, but boy do they make it so easy. In theory, making a Suicide Squad movie was actually a really good idea. It would have all the darkness and edginess that WB/DC is in love with, and could have been their Guardians of the Galaxy in that it would have taken a bunch of relatively unknown characters and made a movie relatively disconnected from the rest of the universe. They even got A-lister Will Smith to play Deadshot.
My first concern was when I saw the short production schedule (I think it was announced in 2014 and due out in 2017). Then came the rumors that the Joker would be in it. Yeah, Harley Quinn is his girlfriend, but putting the Joker in the movie kind of ruins the focus, like putting Thor into “Guardians.” And then I heard rumors Bat-fleck would be in it as well. Oh dear. I was afraid there would be too much focus on characters that should not matter. I get that WB/DC doesn’t have the goodwill to bank on a risk of relative unknowns like Marvel did. However, shifting the focus to their cash-Bat won’t make this a better movie. And lo, there was a trailer. Which I watched, because I like pain.
And it’s actually pretty good. Will Smith is Will Smith, Amanda Waller is scary as hell, and it has some potential. I wasn’t even put off by the Bat-fleck or Joker bits. This is certainly going to be a different Joker than has been put to film before, but that’s not necessarily bad (although he does look like ASBAR tattooed freak Joker, and that’s not good). And then I realized the release date had been moved up more than a year(!). Yikes. Either WB/DC a) purposely exaggerated the production schedule to be able to change the release date for a potentially better weekend, or b) they have no idea what they’re doing and are just rushing to get out it as soon as possible. Given their track record, I’m suspecting b).
Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice – so yes, I saw this trailer too, and it’s pretty much exactly what I expected. That is not a good thing. I personally dislike the premise of heroes fighting heroes (and in fairness, I have no intention of seeing Captain America: Civil War in the theaters unless the reviews are amazing) so I wasn’t particularly excited to begin with. The only good thing I can say about the trailer is that it shows Batman may not be wholly in the right. But everything else? Lex Luthor looks like a poor man’s “Amazing” Harry Osborne, Bat-fleck immediately decides he has to try to kill Superman rather than you know, talk to the guy, Superman seems utterly incapable of making a decision for himself either relying on Perry White, Lois Lane, or his mother (in the absence of his two terrible dads), Ma Kent basically told Superman he doesn’t have to do a damn thing for humanity, and Wonder Woman is there, for some reason. Her two scenes have zero context. There’s no Batman or Superman. I have no idea why she’s there (which is kind of what I was thinking when it was announced she was making her debut in this movie to begin with). So, yeah, this is just what I thought it would be.
Ash vs. Evil Dead – now here’s a fighting premise I can get behind. I actually saw the last entry in the “Evil Dead” trilogy first, but I went back and watched all three. The Evil Dead is a pretty straightforward low-budget horror flick. Five co-eds go to a remote cabin in the woods to locate a missing professor and find that something supernaturally evil has been released. Ash is the only one to survive having had to kill his sister, his girlfriend, and two best friends. Evil Dead II is kind of a sequel, which is to say the plot is nearly the same, only Ash teams up with the missing professor’s daughter (or something) and her boyfriend, and again is the only survivor, and is sucked back in time. Also, it’s a comedy. Army of Darkness makes no pretense of horror and features Ash trying to find a way home and incidentally having to save a kingdom from an evil undead clone of himself. He has to kill his girlfriend again (she gets better) and finally returns to his own time (I actually prefer the theater ending to the director’s cut).
The premise behind the series is that an Expendables-aged Ash must fight off the evil that has returned. He’s teamed up with two young sidekicks, his trusty boomstick, and apparently Lucy Lawless. It looks awesome!
And remember, “Shop smart. Shop S-mart.”
As though the well of creativity were really going dry, Hollywood scours for sources of inspiration like a 1849 California gold miner desperately hoping that sparkly stuff isn’t pyrite. Also, it seems logical that if something is successful in one medium, then the thing could be successful if adapted to a new medium. Books, comics, and television shows (and now already existing movies) are a common source of inspiration for movies (for better or for worse). But sometimes the sources are, well, really weird, like board games and amusement park rides. Any movie has the potential to be awful, and adaptations in particular can be tricky. One the one hand, the source material is probably familiar to audiences and already has a following. On the other hand, the source material is probably familiar to audiences and already has a following. Maybe trying to adapt board games and amusement park rides isn’t so far-fetched – expectations are already going to be low. But sometimes the adaptations aren’t actually that bad.
So here, in no particular order, are a few movies that I enjoy that were adapted from source material with questionable adaptation value.
1) George of the Jungle – adaptation of television shows is certainly not uncommon. There was a period, though, when Hollywood executives apparently stumbled on the Boomerang network after a night of heavy drinking and ruining careers and thought, “Hey, look, we can make a movie out of this. Do we own this Hanna-Barbera?” Hence, a series of pretty terrible movies like Rocky and Bullwinkle and Dudley Do-Right (and ones that truly make me sad). But this one was actually not too bad. The plot is a Tarzan rip-off meets a rich heiress and after some comic hijinks involved her self-centered fiance and Bulk and Skull, they fall in love and get married. George also smashes into a lot of trees. The movie is saved by not taking itself too seriously, a narrator who clearly doesn’t believe in a fourth wall, and John Cleese’s dry wit as the ape named Ape. In this case of adaptation, “George just lucky I guess.”
2) Wayne’s World – at some point, Hollywood executives decided that attempting to adapt 22 minute television shows into 90 minute movies was perhaps too much work, and instead starting to look at six minute comedy sketches for inspiration. Movies based on Saturday Night Live skits have a long and storied history. Most are bad. I mean, really bad. I mean, really, really, seriously, who-thought-this-was-a-good-idea bad. But this one, which is based off of fairly well-established characters in the SNL universe, wasn’t that terrible. Wayne and Garth end up cluelessly opposed to a TV station trying to buy out their cable access show and try to save it. Wayne gets a girlfriend and Garth is, well, weird. But it doesn’t take itself too seriously, and that saves the movie from being perfectly awful.
3) The Blues Brothers – speaking of SNL skits, the trend start way back with this gem of insane cinema. Jake and Elwood Blues didn’t even have much character in the skits; they had a look, an attitude, and they sang. What made them tick? Who knows. But who cares. The plot, such as it is, is that the Blues brothers are trying to save their childhood orphanage from being closed down due to overdue taxes and decide the best way to do this is put their blues band back together and raise the money. Fabulous musical numbers and cameos from some of the greatest musicians of all time, plus some of the most amazing car chases ever put to film, make this simple plot into one of the most enjoyable movies I’ve ever seen.
4) Clue – I really don’t know how Hollywood executives made the decision to turn board games into movies. Okay, well, Wall Street is really a great live-action adaptation of Monopoly, but it’s not marketed as such, so it doesn’t count. This one was made a little while ago before someone decided Battleship should be a generic alien invasion flick based on a grid. I’m not saying this movie is great, but it’s actually pretty enjoyable. The murder mystery is pretty convoluted, but somehow it works. Tim Curry is amazing, as always, and the movie is extremely quotable and no one is taking it very seriously.
5) Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl – and here one would think board games would be the bottom of the barrel for inspiration. But some Hollywood executive apparently got back from Disneyland and said, “I really loved that Pirates ride. Wouldn’t it make an awesome movie?” And apparently some other executives came back with, “That’s genius!” Nothing about this movie should have worked. Produced by a guy who loves explosions, starring Johnny Depp (okay, not so bad) doing his best Keith Richards impression (and that’s where it goes bad again), and a plot made up whole cloth to include a few nods to the ride. This thing should have gone down like the Titantic (the boat, I mean, not the movie). And yet somehow it didn’t. It was silly and fun and had great zombies and humor and I enjoyed the heck out of it. I saw it near opening weekend and I exited the theater wishing I had a buckle to swash and some treasure to find.
So the moral of the story, such as it is, is that sometimes even a blind squirrel will find a nut. That said, the squirrel would have better luck if looked for nuts around trees instead of parking lots (metaphorically speaking). On the other hand, I’d probably go see a big-screen adaptation of “Plants vs Zombies.”