By the Book: Pinocchio

Well, so far I moved back through the ages, so I guess it’s time to tackle a movie from Disney’s golden age. Pinocchio started, like a lot of classic novels, as a serials, which soon became popular and lead to a novel. Nowadays it has become common to analyse Pinocchio like a book for “adults” (because, you know, children’s books don’t require analysing in the minds of serious academics, we first have to declare them as “adult” to take them seriously), leading to the stories being read in a literature-historical contexts, with parallels drawn especially to the concept of the fool. But when Disney made the movie, it was still mostly seen as an educational book, used to teach children that bad deeds have bad consequences. This is therefore the most prominent aspect in the movie.

1. The Setting

To be frank: The world which is created around Pinocchio is rather odd, even odder than usual in a fairy tale. There just don’t seem to be any logical rules to it, and it’s sometimes aggravating how everyone expects Pinocchio to act reasonable even though nothing about the world he lives in is reasonable (at one point he even gets arrested for the “crime of foolishness” when he goes to the police after the fox conned him out of his money).

The Disney version amplifies this even more. Seeing a talking, clothed fox acting all surprised because he comes across a living marionette is just strange. It also doesn’t help that there seems to be no consistency to what Pinocchio can survive and what not. How he can “die” towards the end, even though he apparently can easily walk under water and has no bones or anything else which could break is anybody’s guess. The Disney version is also very dark, mostly due to the animation.

2. The Animation

I have pointed out in the past already how expressive the animation in the early Disney movies is, and Pinocchio is the prime example for this. The only really inviting place in the whole movie is Gepetto’s hut, everything else is full of shadows and has a sinister vibe to it. It’s sometimes unpleasant to look it, not because of the animation is bad, but because it’s deliberately designed to be unsettling. Especially in the Pleasure Island scenes the use of shadows and strange angles signal from the get go that there is something off about this place. Pinocchio is often hold up as a masterpiece of animation, and on a technical level there is no arguing about it. The story, well, that one is another matter.

3. Characters and Plot

I’ll do both section in one this time around, because the plot centres around Pinocchio even more than usual, since the main theme is his learning curve. And there is a fundamental difference between the source text and the movie, which influences more or less every decision Disney made regarding the characters.

2 pinocchioIn the original version, Pinocchio is, in lack of a better term, born bad. He is selfish, lacks compassion and shows no appreciation for what Gepetto does for him. One early episode involves Gepetto selling his warm coat in order to buy school books for Pinocchio. Pinocchio in turn sells the school books so that he can see Stromboli’s marionette show. He only learns through experience to feel compassion (or to care about Gepetto at all).

Disney’s Pinocchio on the other hand starts out as a blank slate. He immediately connects to Gepetto simply on the ground of him being his father and provider. And when he ends up in dangerous situations it’s not because he is selfish, but because he is gullible, easily lead astray by dangerous advice. This change of character is also the reason Jiminy Cricket even exists. There is a Cricket in the original novel, but its appearance is very short-lived, in every sense of the world, since Pinocchio almost immediately kills it and it only turns up later in ghost form and berates him for his wrongdoings. That Disney greatly expanded the role and made Jiminy, quite literally, Pinocchio’s consciences is necessary because of the naivety they added to his character. If Jiminy weren’t there to warn him, there would be no way that we could truly fault Pinocchio for his actions. He is, after all, just a puppet, barely a day old, so it would be more than harsh to punish him for believing his elders. But since there is Jiminy as voice of reason, the responsibility shifts back to Pinocchio for listening to the fun advice over the trustworthy one.

2 JiminyJiminy himself is, btw, a giant hypocrite. The whole movie he does nothing but preach towards Pinocchio, which would be okay, since that’s his job. But it’s a little bit grating that he himself doesn’t practice what he preaches most of the time and is often not there the very moment Pinocchio needs his advice the most (he also keeps ogling women made out of wood, which is just weird). The Blue Fairy gives him a job, new clothes, but is this enough for him? No, he also wants a gold medal. One thing for sure, if I had to pick a role model for my children, it certainly wouldn’t be Jiminy, and if I were the Blue Fairy, I would have told him that he should be satisfied with what he gets.

2 blue fairySpeaking of the Blue Fairy (actually the Blue Haired Fairy, but I guess blond looks more attractive?): She is the ultimate Deus-ex-machina, in the book even more than in the movie. There she just randomly turns up, becomes some sort of mother figure for Pinocchio and usually helps him out should he really come to the danger of dying (or to test him). In the movie her involvement is slightly better explained. In the book Gepetto just happened to create a marionette out of magic wood, in the movie the Blue Fairy spelled him alive as a reward for Gepetto. This is partly an improvement because this way the Blue Fairy’s interest in Pinocchio and her being somewhat of his mother makes more sense. But it’s also a very strange reward, since the “happy outcome” entirely hinges on a piece of wood proving himself and not on Gepetto’s actions. Where exactly was the Blue Fairy when he was in the stomach of a whale? And for that matter: Why is it that the only good adult person in the movie has to endure greater hardship than any of the other truly villainous adults?

This is already a problem of the novel which gets amplified by Disney’s typical black and white approach to characters. With Pinocchio it’s easy, whoever was in the hut when Pinocchio became alive is good, all the other characters are only there to lead him astray. Lampwick is a little bit of a special case, though, because while he is a “bad boy”, he actually means well with Pinocchio, looks out for him and tries to teach him his “wisdom”. Well, you could argue that he does it mostly because he likes himself in the leader role, but his “evilness” mostly consists of skipping school, smoking, drinking and destroying stuff in a house which is built for exactly this purpose. And this makes the fact that he and the other boys on Pleasure Island are the only ones who get a permanent punishment even worse (in the book he gets sold and Pinocchio finds him dying after a life full of hard work – just in case you wanted to know for sure what you only suspected).

Honest John and Gideon sell Pinocchio twice and get away with it (and the gold). Stromboli (who isn’t really a villain in the novel) holds him like a slave and gets away with it (and the gold). The Coachman turns hordes of boys into donkeys and then sells them to the salt mines, where they will have a short and painful live (and I really don’t want to know what he does with the ones who still talk). And gets away with it. For all we know his operation is still in full swing. So what exactly is the message of the movie? Don’t trust anyone but your parents, be honest as long as you are a child, but when you reach adulthood you have the power to do whatever you want?

One thing for sure: Neither The Hunchback of Notre Dame, nor The Black Cauldron is the darkest movie Disney ever made, this honour belongs to Pinocchio. And it is not because Disney went for the dark imaginary out of a whim, it’s because Pinocchio is a very messed up story which resulted in a very messed up movie. The truth is: Disney actually disneyfied the story considerably. At least Pinocchio doesn’t get his feet burned away because he sleeps too close to the fire or gets hanged.

The whole point in both, the novel and the movie, seems to be that whenever Pinocchio (or another boy – girls are apparently always following their parents advice) does something bad or foolish, he gets punished in the most gruesome way, and the only reason he survives long enough to see the end of the book is because he is a puppet and the blue fairy turns up whenever the situation becomes really dire (though the original serial did end with Pinocchio dying – the part with the Blue Fairy was added later, which explains why she turns up so randomly).

4. The Music

The interesting part about the songs in Pinocchio is that they are all justified by plot. Usually when characters sing in a Disney movie, I tend to take it more symbolically. Meaning, those people do not really prance around in order to shoot their feelings to the world, it is more like a transitional element. But in Pinocchio the songs feel more like something which is actually happening within the story. They also hold up particularly well. “When you wish upon a star” is naturally to this day the Disney hymn whose meaning not just for this specific movie about for the Disney company in general I have already analysed in the past. The other songs aren’t necessarily Disney classics, but they are memorable enough that Marvel can put a creepy version of “No strings on me” into a trailer and expect the audience to recognize it.

5. The Conclusion

Yeah, I guess it should be very obviously by now: I don’t like the book, I don’t love the movie. But if one had to make a movie based on Pinocchio, it should be like the Disney version. It should display this level of careful animation and dark images and it should attach a nice “when you wish upon a star” message to it to soften the dark aspects a little bit. And to its credit, while very exaggerated, it does address true dangers. The people who promise teenagers a great career or lure children away from their parents with sweets, those are the predators a child is protected best from when it is aware of them. I’m not a fan of using fear in child rearing, but if this movie will keep children from going with a stranger, a week of nightmares about the coachman might be the lesser of two evils.2 Figaro

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By the Book: The Fox and the Hound

When I started this article series, I had to make a decision. Officially, nearly all Disney movies are based on some sort of source text. In reality, it is often something really obscure and practically forgotten. So I made a decision early on: That I would only discuss the books, which are known enough to have an own Wikipedia article. This distinction served me fairly well, with one exception and this is The Fox and the Hound.

When this book was published, it was highly praised, and therefore it does have an article. But nowadays it is so hard to come by that you have to pay a three digits sum to actually get an edition – provided that you find one. You will understand that I was unable read this book under the circumstances. But I didn’t want to ignore it either because, well, Disney’s The Fox and the Hound is somewhat infamous for being very far removed from the actual source text. Considering that Disney often tends to use the source text more as a stepping stone, I was wondering why in this case so many people felt compelled to comment on it. So I went hunting for all sources I could find about the topic, trying to figure out what kind of book has been buried by history. This article is the result of my findings.24 Tod

1. Twisting the source

The first thing I noticed is that Disney took a couple of elements of the book, but twisted them around. For starters, it is true that Tod grows up with humans – but not just any humans but the ones who killed his mother and the rest of his litter. It is true that he goes back into the wild, by his own volition though. It is also true that he finds a vixen in the forest…two of them, and in both cases the vixen and the whole litter are killed (there is apparently one cup which is simply not mentioned again in the story and therefore might have survived). It is also true that there is another dog named Chief in the story, but the roles of him and Copper are actually exchanged.

24 HoundIn the book, Copper is the aging dog and leader of the pack, and when Master (that is the way his owner is called all the time) buys the stronger and younger Chief, Copper hates him because he fears that he will replace him. There is a scene in which a bear attacks Master (during a bear hunt, not out of the blue), but Copper does NOT leap to his defence, he is too afraid. Chief is the hero of the day, and the resentment Copper feels grows even stronger.

The scene in which Chief gets hit by a train happens in the book too, but the situation is entirely different. One, Tod deliberately lures Chief on the tracks to get rid of him. In the Disney version, the whole thing is an accident. Two, Chief dies. In the Disney version, he survives. And three, it is Master, not Copper who swears revenge and therefore trains him to hunt no other fox than Tod in the future.

And that is apparently just the beginning of a livelong hunt. During the book, Master loses more and more of his land and every single dog save for Copper. At the very end, there is one last hunt which ends when Tod finally breaks down due to exhaustion (and old age). Copper on the other hand is rescued by his Master and is allowed to live happily for a few months. But then Master has to go into a nursing home where dogs are not allowed. The book ends with him taking his shotgun, ordering Copper to lie down and covering his eyes….I guess it is pretty clear what happens next.

2. A look at the basics

It is pretty obvious that the original book is downright depressing. As far as I can tell, there are three big themes. One is the destruction of the rural areas and in its wake, the destruction of a particular way of life. Connected to it is the second theme, the way humans treat their environment. There is for example one episode in which rabies spread. The solution to use poison in order to get rid of the foxes not only kills a lot of other animals, a child dies when it ingests some of it. The book also points out how everything which is feed the animals moves up the food chain – and unlike Tod, who becomes a vegetarian for a while, because he realizes that something is not right with the flesh, humans are not as sensitive.

The third theme is the way animals think. Daniel P. Mannix did a lot of research into the way, animals actually act and tried to illustrate their thought processes as realistic as possible. Tod is smarter than the other foxes in the forest due to his unusual upbringing, but he doesn’t understand humans most of the time. For him only knowledge which helps him to survive counts. And Copper, despite hunting Tod practically his whole life, doesn’t feel any hate towards him. He does it because he is trained to do his master’s bidding. For him it is about being the leader of his pack and having the attention of his master, nothing more.

Now the Disney version is another matter altogether. For one, all the animals in it act very human. And two, this is the story of an unlikely friendship between two animals who were born to be enemies of each other. Is it a bad story to tell? No, but it has nothing to do with the actual book. In fact, I am wondering why Disney even bothered to buy the rights. Rename the characters, replace the scene on the tracks (it is way too similar to The Aristocats either way), and you couldn’t even accuse Disney of plagiarism.

3. On its own merits

But let’s take a look on the movie independent from the source text. Speaking of the tracks: That is in a way the whole crux in the movie. In typical Disney fashion, The Fox and the Hound glosses over a lot of aspects. Especially over the little fact that most of the animals featured in the movie are predators. They need to kill to survive (how Dinky and Boomer manage to not catch one caterpillar the whole summer and not dying of hunger is a riddle in itself).

But the scene on the tracks is known to have been a bone of contention between the animators (and one of the reasons Don Bluth left the studios). The main issue was: should have Chief died or not? Personally, I think that neither is a good solution. Because the issue is not if he died or not, it is Tod’s culpability. The scene needed a rewrite, with Tod doing deliberately something which might have killed Chief, or at least Copper having reason to believe that he planned to kill him. Copper shifting his own guilty conscience about letting Tod escape (and even having one in the first place) only works if Chief looks like the innocent, the tricked party. While someone dying would amplify the likelihood overreaction and thoughts of revenge, it would still have been a disservice to the movie if the conflict is only based on a misunderstanding and not on Tod acting like a fox and Copper reacting like a hunting dog.

But this aside, there is a lot to like about the movie. The animation, mostly done in more mute colours than usual for an animated movies, the character design and the overall tone, which is a little bit more serious than the standard animated movie, especially since it moves away from the typical hero against the villain structure. Amos Slade is not necessarily a bad man, he is just a hunter. Before he starts pursuing Tod in a protected area, his point of view is somewhat understandable, even if his temper leaves a lot to be desired. It is very appropriate that this movie ends on a positive, alas bittersweet note, instead of the usual villain defeat.

Stand-out scenes are the one when Tod is left in the forest (a real tear-jerker), his first night in the woods and the attack of the bear (which is really terrifying if you see it on the big screen).

4. The Soundtrack

I already mentioned the animation, but let’s not forget the soundtrack. Though there is a lot to forget about. The music choice is kind of odd. One would think that the naturally choice for a story set in rural America would be hillbilly style music and indeed the score often has this vibe, but the songs for some reason don’t. They have obviously been written specifically with Pearl Baily in mind, and her style doesn’t quite fit into the setting. It makes me think more of night clubs or even the stage than of rural America. Consequently the one song I really love is not sung by her. “Goodbye may seem forever” is a beautiful and heartfelt tune though I have to add that I consider the German version superior to the English one.  Partly because the singer puts more feeling into it, she really sounds like she is holding back tears, but also because a small chance in the text. The English version ends like this:

Goodbye may seem forever
Farewell is like the end
But in my heart is a memory
And there you’ll always be

The German version translates to:

Farewell means separation,
to never see each other again,
I wish you with all my heart,
good luck and prosperity.

Which is way, way sadder and fits the mood shown in the scene way better. I am not lying: I can’t watch the German version without crying to this day. The English version doesn’t have half the impact.
4. Conclusion

The Fox and the Hound is a terrible adaptation. But is it nevertheless a good movie. One of the best Disney made during what I call the Impressionist era, though its best moments tend to be the ones which depart the furthest from the usual Disney fare, like the attack of the bear. It has some flaws which prevents it from being one of the truly great Disney movies, but it is certainly worth a watch. It is just too bad that the book it was supposedly based on ended up mostly in obscurity. It does sound like an unusual read.


By the Book: Alice in Wonderland

Between all the books I’ll tackle in this series, Alice in Wonderland (correctly Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland) is a very special case. Because, if you ask me: This book is not translatable and it is not adaptable. I don’t even think that the common English reader would nowadays should read it without a ton of footnotes added to the original text, because it is full of in-jokes and references to a very specific time in British history. I doubt that many people even know why the Hatter, the March Hare and the Cheshire Cat are mad (and if you don’t know either, you just proved my point – if you do, congratulations to your knowledge of English idioms and sayings). Or that the mouse keeps falling asleep because she is a Dormouse. A lot in this book basically consists of a play with language (it’s a gold mine for linguists, really). At one point for example Alice encounters a “school of fish” (a word play on the fact that fish who are swimming together are “schooling” or “shoaling”) in which the fish have shorter lessons every day, because, naturally lessons have to become “less”. Any movie adaptation has to fall short, simply because it’s impossible to put this level of language play on screen – for the most part. But let’s see open the door and find out how Disney fared with their attempt.13 doorknob

1. The Setting

In contrast to Disney’s Peter Pan, there is no doubt that all we see is just in Alice’s mind. And what a strange mind that it. I said in m last review about Peter Pan that Neverland works on children’s logic. The Alice novels do something similar, but they are not really trying to explain the world of a child, but how a child’s mind sees the adult world with it seemingly (and sometimes really) arbitrary rules. This aspect is mostly lost in the Disney movie. You still get a glimpse of it when Alice encounters the Queen of Hearts, but all in all, the movie lacks the referential character of the book. It works more like an experience. Instead of arbitrary rules, there are no rules at all, everything can happen.

2. The Animation

The animation underlines the bizarre character of the world we enter. There is a constant play with colour and darkness, with light and shadow and an abundance of weird angles. When the colour pops, it really pops, but this makes the darker scenes even more unsettling.

3. The Characters13 Alice

There isn’t really much to say about the characters in Wonderland. Most of them just turn up and are gone just a moment later, and really, the only true important character is Alice. The biggest change Disney made was switching the colour of her dress from red to blue. Otherwise she is simply a curious child who explores her unfamiliar surroundings. Her reactions are, for the most part, believable, and even when they are not, this is her world, and everything which didn’t make sense at the beginning surely makes sense towards the end, when it’s revealed that this is actually a dream. In the original books some aspects of the characters she meets are a little bit more fleshed out, but that’s a matter of simply having a little bit more time for them. The only big change occurs concerning the Queen of Hearts. In the book it’s mentioned that her death sentences are rarely carried out (thanks to the king). The movie omits this detail, making her a much more terrifying tyrant (and the king more of a push-over).

4. The Plot

There isn’t one. And that’s not a criticism, there shouldn’t be one. After all, Alice in Wonderland is purposely filled with nonsense stories, so the movie shouldn’t be any different. Disney just picked what they liked the best of the whole Alice series and then edited it down to just the right length for this kind of movie – the result is quite a mixed package. Some of the segments are so short, you are barely have time to think about them. Like the caucus race, which could have been a commentary on politics, but is over way to fast to have a lasting impact. I doubt that many people even notice that the group walking around a rock through the tides is singing about nothing being “dryer” than a caucus race, before the conversation of the Dodo with Alice about getting dry starts.

Personally I have a love/hate relationship with the segments when she changes size. I don’t know why, but the very idea terrified me as a child. I’m fairly sure that the part when she is stuck in the house is meant to be comical, but I truly fail to see the humour in this. Though it’s nice to know that Billy the Lizard apparently survived being blown in the sky and later on became a villain in Ratigan’s gang…. But I digress. Let’s tackle some of the stand-out segments.

The first which comes to mind is the story of the Walrus and the Carpenter. Mostly because it is a really strange premise that in the middle of the story Tweedledum and Tweedledee just turn up to tell another, totally unrelated story. And a really messed-up one, that is. I mean, really, the poor mother of the poor little oysters. In the book the (slightly different) story results in Alice trying to determine, who was worse, the Walrus or the Carpenter, but whenever she comes to a conclusion Tweedeldum and Tweedeldee reveal another detail about them which makes her change her mind.

13 caterpillar2Then there is the caterpillar. This was always my favourite segment, even though it really looses in the translation. Now, from the eyes of an adult (and knowing the original), I can appreciate it even more. I think this is the part which captures the book the best, because it translates the word-plays on screen, quite literally. 13 madhatterWhat everyone remembers is naturally the mad tea-party. What can I say about it aside from it being utterly nonsensical?

13 Queen of HeartsAlice meeting the Queen of Hearts is naturally the last stand-out segment, and the longest. In a way, the movie has a shift in direction when Alice is alone in the woods. Not only is it a very sad scene, it’s the moment the movie stops being so directionless. Up to this point Alice was simple following the White Rabbit. She was just experiencing Wonderland. Now she decides that she wants to go home and follows the advice of the Cheshire Cat to apply to the Queen of Hearts for help. For the first time, her actions have a purpose, and while the plot still makes some unexpected twists, from then on the segments are no longer interchangeable. Disney also made the situation way more dangerous than in the book. There it’s not Alice who is on trial, she is just one of the witnesses, she doesn’t shrink again and there isn’t chase scene, she simply wakes up. But I guess even a nonsensical movie needs some sort of climax.13 white rabbit

5. The Soundtrack

If this were a more conventional movie, I would complain about the use of music in it. Some of the songs add something to the story, but most of them have the tendency to get off some tangent. But that is exactly the point.

None of the countless songs in this movie are bad by any stretch of imagination, but they all are very short and very 1950s. If someone starts singing the tune, you will remember them, but I doubt that anyone would remember the songs without prompting. The exceptions are – at least in my case – “All in the golden Afternoon”, “The Unbirthday Song” and “Painting the roses red”.

6. Conclusion

I am not really a fan of “Alice down the Rabbit hole” stories, I prefer character development and a plot which makes sense in a world which rules I understand. But that doesn’t mean that this isn’t an interesting approach to story-telling, or that I can’t appreciate the animation and creativity which went into this movie. The animators made an effort to keep the linguistic aspects whenever possible, and while I wish they had done more in this direction, especially in the lyrics, what is there is fairly enjoyable.

Nevertheless, the movie misses the Meta aspect which makes the book special. But then, this is true for all adaptations of the story I know. Like I said, I don’t think that the book is truly adaptable, something will always be lost. But of the attempts out there, Disney’s might be the best, despite the fact that allegedly Walt Disney himself didn’t really like the movie either. He said that it had no heart. But what it does have is a sense for the nonsensical. Too many adaptations try to change the story into a cohesive plot, but that’s simply not what this story is about. If it does have a deeper meaning, you’ll find it in the Meta which mostly refers to a reality too far in the past, to be fully understood nowadays. This in mind, Disney’s “let’s see which animator can come up with the strangest scene” approach does the material more justice, than any other take I’ve seen so far.13 cheesire cat


By the Book: Peter Pan

Technically Peter Pan isn’t really based on a book because the first version of the story was a play. But: This play was so successful that Barrie also published a novel based on it. Plus, while the play made the figure Peter Pan well known, he actually turned up first in the novel The Little White Bird. See? Not cheating at all when I discuss the movie as part of this series. But it would be naturally strange to ignore the play – I’m a little bit at disadvantage here, though, because I’ve never seen the play, and in my experience, it makes a big difference if you read a play or actually see it. But I’ll try my best to include the most important aspects of it.

1. The Setting

One of the changes most adaptions, including the Disney version, make is that they draw a clear distinction between Neverland and the real world. In the novel the lines are a little bit more blurred, for example the Lost Boys are still sometimes flying after they come back with Wendy. Personally I think a clear distinction is necessary, because if the “real world” described in the book is already unusual (well, more unusual than having babysitting dogs), it makes it harder for the audience to believe in Neverland, since it then become a fantasy world in a fantasy world instead of a concept which could exist right behind our own reality. peter-pan-disneyscreencaps_com-2264

Disney creates a convincing version of Neverland, basically the land of imagination and childhood plays. It has a secret tree house, Mermaids, Pirates and Indians. Yeah, the Indians. I guess I should address the elephant in the room from the get go: If you see the Indians as Native American stereotypes, they are downright offensive, and the only excuse for them is that those stereotypes are not only en par with what was written by Barrie but also more or less akin to what was shown in the very popular western movies which were made in the 1950s. But I think you should see them as what they are supposed to be, not Native Americans, but the kind of Indians which tend to life in the imagination of children. Don’t blame Disney or even Barrie for this one. Blame Buffalo Bill with his Western show, blame Karl May, blame everyone who ever wrote a story about the “Wild West” without really knowing what he is talking about. I don’t think that the Indians would look or act like that if the movie were made nowadays, they would tone it down a bit. But I also think that realistic Native Americans wouldn’t fit into Neverland. It’s not like the Pirates are anything like the real ones either.

Another difference between the original and the Disney version is that in the novel, Neverland is treated like a real place. The children are gone for months, and when they come back, they bring the lost boys with them, who are all getting adopted by their parents. But in the Disney movie, it’s strongly suggested that Neverland is born out of Wendy’s imagination. Not only does the narrator states from the get go that all children have a Neverland, Wendy also tells stories about Peter Pan before she even meets him (and then notes that he looks exactly like she imagined him). And when she “comes back” (after just one night) she is initially found sleeping at the window by her parents.

2. The Animation

Of all the Disney movie from the Romantic era, Peter Pan is in a lot of ways the least distinctive one, even though Mary Blair did work on the designs. What is still noticeable are her typical colour schemes, with a lot of primary colours creating a bright world. But there is something about the designs which is also very 1950s. With most Disney movies it is easy to forget when they were made, but Peter Pan somehow betrays the era it was made in, especially in the design of the main character.

But what is truly remarkable is the character animation, especially the crocodile. Doesn’t speak one word, has basically the same role every time it turns up (terrifying Hook) and yet it might be the most popular character in the whole movie. Part of it is the score connected to it, but also the expressive gestures it makes. I think my favourite moment in the whole movie is this one:

tumblr_n0odynwe881s2wio8o1_500

Do I have to say more?

3. The Characters

Barrie never described Peter Pan, nor did he specify his age. The Disney version has rather elfish features, and he wears green clothes instead of a dress made of leaves. And, like he is supposed to do, he is the embodiment of childhood. He is selfish, convinced of his own invincibility and has no sense for consequences whatsoever. Especially the scene with the mermaids drive this across, when he doesn’t see much harm in them trying to drown Wendy.

I guess this is the right moment to say something about the female characters. We have here a movie from the 1950s based on a story from the 1910s whose secondary main character is mostly praised for her motherly qualities. In this combination the best one would expect a fair for its time portrayal of the females. But when it comes to the novel, it was more than fair. For example the reason there are only Lost Boys and no Lost Girls is because supposedly girls are too smart to get lost. Wendy’s motherly traits are revelled, as are the other females. Aside from Peter Pan himself and naturally Captain Hook, the female character also get way more attention than any of the male characters. This is, after all, mostly Wendy’s story.

And the Disney version isn’t that bad either. It keeps the aspect of honouring the mother role, but it also allows Wendy to draw the line. Looking out for her little brothers? Sure. Getting treated like some sort of servant while the boys are allowed to party? Now you are trying her patience. And when it comes down to it, the female characters in the movie are the truly brave ones. Peter might be the one who fights, but since he is convinced that he will win in every encounter, there isn’t much bravery behind it. Wendy on the other hand would rather go of the plank that betraying her principles. Tiger Lily would rather drown than giving away anything, even though she knows that this way of dying would keep her from reaching her afterlife. And Tinkerbell nearly dies when she rescues Peter from a bomb.

When it comes to the lost boys and Wendy’s brothers – I can take them or leave them. They have just enough character to be not interchangeable, but they are neither particularly memorable nor important in the grand scheme of things. Same for Nana, though it’s certainly fun to watch her react to the situation in the family (and trying to rebuild the castle again and again). This character is just made for a Disney movie (though I never really got the point of a dog which acts like a nanny…it’s just odd…).

Mr. Darling is an example of unintentional symbolic by the writer. In the original play, he and Captain Hook were portrayed by the same actor. The reason for this was simply economic use of resources, since the characters don’t share a scene, they needed one actor less this way. But since there is an undeniable symbolic meaning in this arrangement, it has become tradition. In the Disney version the character designs are different, but the voices are the same. It also lays more emphasis on the father than the mother, by making his role of the “kill-joy” more extreme and his intention to remove Wendy from the play room the central conflict.

In the original story the mother is the more important character. One symbol in the novel I was never really able to figure out is that she has a hidden kiss in the right corner of her mouth which Wendy could never reach. It’s apparently reserved for her husband. But at the end of the novel, Peter Pan takes this kiss with him. 14 Captain Hook

Disney’s version of Captain Hook is easily one of the funniest villains in canon. His whole relationship with Smee and how they constantly play off each other as a comedic duo is entirely Disney (in the novel Smee is mostly notable because he is one of two pirates who survives, telling everyone that he was the only pirate Captain Hook feared). My favourite part is when Smee hammers a “don’t disturb sign” on the door because Hook has a headache (and everything which follows). But Hook is also one of the most threatening villains. Partly because of his design and actions. Causally shooting one of his men, kidnapping and nearly killing Tiger Lily, how he fools Tinkerbell meanwhile pretending that he is all honourable (naturally he isn’t), there is no doubt that Hook is a dangerous man. In the play and the book, Neverland is a dangerous place in general. In the movie though, the source of danger is usually Hook, even if it’s only indirectly.

4. The Plot

When it comes to the broad strokes of the original, the plot is more or less the same. Wendy discovers Peter, attaches his shadow, the children learn to fly (fun fact: the only reason pixy dust was eventually included by Barrie was because originally children got hurt when they tried to fly after seeing the play), they travel to Neverland, experience a few adventures. Wendy nearly dies due to a scheme by Tinkerbell, Peter Pan rescues Tiger Lily, and eventually Wendy and her brothers want to go home again but get captured. Peter survives a murder ploy by Hook thanks to Tinkerbell, and there is a final battle on the pirate ship. After this Peter brings Wendy and her brothers home.

The details though are sometimes fundamentally different, and not just because Disney naturally takes full advantage of the different medium. Memorable scenes in the play include a misunderstanding between Wendy and Peter which makes him believe that a thimble is a kiss (and the other way around), Tinkerbell drinking poison for Peter and surviving if the audience claps in the hands and shows that they believe in fairies and Hook getting eaten by the crocodile in the end because the clock stopped ticking. In the movie, Wendy simply says that she wants to give Peter a kiss instead of a thimble (in both cases Tinkerbell interferes), instead of poison the murder ploy involves a bomb, how Tinkerbell survived isn’t quite clear since the clapping scene is omitted because Walt Disney didn’t think that this would work in a movie, and Hook doesn’t die, instead he is chased away.

The adventures of the children in Neverland have, especially in the novel, a very episodic character. The Disney animators basically picked what they liked and rewrote is in a way that it works as an “it all happened in one night” story. The biggest change is that Wendy and the Lost Boys barely interact with each other in the movie. Peter introduces them to each other after they nearly killed Wendy due to Tinkerbell scheming against her, but then the group immediately splits up. Peter and Wendy explore the island together, while the boys (lost and otherwise) search for their own adventure. The only scene in which there is meaningful interaction is when she later reminds them how great it is to have a real mother.

I already mentioned that the Lost Boys and Wendy’s brothers are not really that important. In the original they are mostly just along for the ride, the focus is on Wendy and Peter. That’s true for the movie too, and to be honest, I never enjoyed the part when the boys go “hunting Indians”. The song is annoying, there doesn’t really happen all that much and while the stereotypes don’t bother me unduly, the very idea that hunting people is an acceptable game (especially since John believes that this is for real) does. Even as a child I always felt uncomfortable watching this part.

14 SmeeThe best scenes are naturally the ones with Hook. No matter if he interacts with Peter, Smee, the Crocodile or Tinkerbell, no matter if he is funny, threatening or both, whenever he turns up he owns the screen. If Disney’s depiction of him has one weakness than that by playing his fear of the crocodile (and by extension the ticking clock) for fun it distracts from him being basically afraid of time.

Disney simply ignores some of the symbolic aspects of the play and the novel, the odd ones as well as the more straightforward ones. In the play and the novel Peter Pan is a somewhat tragic figure. He is trapped in childhood, not being able to move forward, partly because he keeps forgetting his past, because otherwise his mind would grow up. A part of him is constantly searching for some sort of mother figure, and his desire for one is so strong that he initially plans to convince Wendy to stay in Neverland through trickery, and changes his mind only when he sees the grief of Mrs. Darling. The play allows the audience to revisit the perspective of their youth, but it also makes clear that nobody can stay in Neverland forever. The play as well as the novel is very clear that Peter Pan is the only one who will never grow up (it’s also suggested that all the other inhabitants of Neverland eventually die, too – meaning that while Peter remains unchanged, the world around him moves forward).

The Disney version omits this tragic aspect. There the idea that Peter Pan will always be out there is more a comforting one, as if a part of our childhood will always be there, no matter how old we are. Disney also lays more emphasis on the conflict between Wendy and her father, ending it with them both changing their mind by her accepting the need to grow up and him realizing that there is no need to rush it. This leads to his wife and daughter embracing him, a far cry from the way he is treated at the beginning of the movie – yes, he acts a little bit like a dick, but it’s also very hurtful if you fall through the whole room and your family only cares about the dog getting hurt. So while the “growing up” aspect is still there, there seems to be an even stronger message that one should never wholly forget his childhood perspective, no matter how old you are. Well, you are never really too old for Disney movies either, right?

5. The Soundtrack

The songs in Peter Pan are quite a mixed package. The slow paced title song which is typical for the 1950s movies has a nice enough tune, but the other songs have a childish aspect to it, not just in tune, but also in text. It’s not a bad fit for the movie, though, not at all, this is a children’s world after all, epic songs would just overwhelm it, but they sometimes slip too much into triviality.

Ironically the song I consider the best is the controversial “What makes the red man red”. Just hear me out: I think it’s the best partly because it has a drive to it the other songs lack, but mostly because the mind-set behind Neverland is hit spot on in this. The question which are asked in this are typical children’s questions (along the line of “Why is the sky blue?”) and the answers are children’s logic. It’s not unusual for children to make surprising leaps of logic, making connections between things which are not connected at all, and the song transports this perfectly.

Though there is one other song which is even better, but doesn’t really count because it is not quite in the movie. Well, it’s score is. I already mentioned it when I was talking about the crocodile. “Never smile at a crocodile” is one of those songs with a text which doesn’t really make much sense, but has a tune which is a relentless earworm. You can practically hear the ticking of the clock in its rhythm, and it is used to great effect in the movie. We always hear the song before we get to see the crocodile.

All in all the soundtrack is serviceable with flashes of brilliance in it. It doesn’t quite compare to the best of Disney soundtracks and has become a little bit dated at parts, but overall it fits the movie and has its memorable moments.

6. Merchandise14 tinkerbell-the-pixie-with-dust-picture-by-milliesky-520904

Yeah, I normally don’t have this category in my reviews, but I guess I should say something about Tinkerbell. For a classic Disney character she is unusual. Not only is she jealous, she also acts on this jealously two times. In the novel, those actions as well as Peter’s willingness to overlook them are explained with fairies not being able to have conflicted feelings. Since they are so small, they have only place for one feeling, meaning weather they love or hate, they always do it with full force.

The movie omits this explanation, therefore Tinkerbell becomes quite a vindictive character. While her betrayal mostly happens because Hook manipulates her, she is very aware that it’s dangerous to deal with him. That she insist on Peter’s safety being part of the deal, but doesn’t seem to care for anyone else, is a very callous move. Tinkerbell’s willingness to do everything for Peter but also to act against everyone who seems to get between them, makes her unique in the Disney canon. Normally those are character traits you would find in a villain, not in a sidekick. That she oozes sexuality on the other hand is not that uncommon, not really. Disney was never above getting crap past the radar, she is just another example of this.

But one thing for sure: The Tinkerbell in Disney’s fairy franchise has nothing to do with the one in the original movie. Thus said, I don’t think that the franchise hurts anything. I guess it’s enjoyable enough for little (really little) children and easy enough to ignore.

5. The Conclusion

All in all, this is a solid but overly simplified take on the story. From today’s perspective the movie certainly has its problems, the character designs as well as the music are so clearly 1950s that it does look a little bit dated. But the strong point of the movie is the humour, and I’m saying this as someone who is usually not into slapstick at all: The comedic timing is just perfect, it’s impossible, not to laugh, and the best part is that none of the jokes are in any way referential, they are in-universe funny.

The downside of the movie is that it lacks depth, since the message is too anvilious and the plot too simple. It’s the play broken down to its very basic and never ventures out of the safe zone of family friendly entertainment. Therefore it’s more fun for children to watch then for adults, even though they might enjoy the nostalgia, not just the nostalgia of watching something from their childhood, but also experiencing the mind-set of a child again.Bildschirmschoner-TickTock


By the Book: Tarzan

So, in order to give my readers here a little bit more content, I have decided to continue with uploading my old “By the Book” series…with one little change. One of the reasons I have been holding off on this for so long is that I have already covered most book-based movies which have no or only a handful of songs. If I would continue with the current format for this, the section for the song-discussion would become incredible long. For example, I have been writing on and off about the Beauty and the Beast soundtrack (yes, I haven’t forgotten, I am working on it), and even though I am not even half through, it is already a beast of an article (pun not intended). So for the sake of keeping it brief, I have decided to keep the soundtrack discussion more general instead of going into deep analysis.

In the case of Tarzan this makes double sense. I just had the opportunity to watch the musical adaptation and it was very interesting to see how much of the story was changed for the stage, and how the new songs fit in. In case you are wondering: I liked the stage play. I often feel that it is somewhat pointless to watch them because they rarely have something to offer which you don’t get in the movie, too, but in this case, the stage play has managed to step out of the shadow of the movie just far enough to be worth discussing – in another article.

Let’s focus on the movie for now, and on the books it was based on. Which means I have to briefly address the Jungle Book, too, since it is fairly obvious were the inspiration for the Tarzan book series came from. And to be honest: Between those two stories about a child which grew up in the jungle, Mowgli is definitely the better pick. If you ask me, the idea behind Tarzan is better than the stories themselves. An old idea in a crowd pleasing format, which is mostly notable due to its revolutionary marketing strategy. Tarzan is not just a book, it is a trademark (copyright is limited, trademark rights aren’t), and Burroughs did his very best to make as many money out of his idea as possible. He was warned that the public would get tired of his character if he created too much around him. Ignoring all those warnings he wrote book after book and gave the audience as much Tarzan as possible – and the audience couldn’t get enough of “their hero”.

1. The Setting

Burrough never visited Africa. And that’s all you really need to know. His idea of the jungle is some sort of exotic place, a fairy tale land in which he can add dangers however he likes. He also didn’t really bother to do his research. For example Sabor was originally a tiger, until someone informed him that there are no tigers in Africa (which is the reason the “piranhas live in South-America” discussion in the Disney movie cracks me up every time). Therefore he changed it to a female lion (female because there already was a name for a male lion mentioned in the stories), but that doesn’t really work either because lions live in the veldt, not in the jungle.

Disney’s take is more realistic. The audience nowadays is more aware which animals actually live where. It’s also much more sensitive about racial issues, the movie therefore painstakingly avoids to show any “native tribes” living in the jungle. The movie also takes much more care to portray the fauna correctly. Consequently Tarzan grows up with Gorillas instead of a non-existing kind of humanlike apes, Sabor is a Leopard and the Jungle in general feels more like an existing place than some sort of phantasy land.

2. The Animation

Tarzan is a gorgeous movie. Not quite as gorgeous as The Lion King, but it does take full advantage of the setting, especially when Tarzan shows Jane his world. But where the movie really shines is the character animation. The movements are fluid, and there are a number of scenes in which a lot of said through gestures rather than words. I think the most memorable scene of the whole movie is when Tarzan compares his hand to Jane’s. There is so much meaning in this one moment when Tarzan realizes that he might not be the only one of his kind after all, while Jane is finally able to calm down and truly take a look at this weird wild creature which just rescued her, seeing the humanity in his eyes. It’s not just the hands and the call-back to the earlier scene with Kala which makes this moment work, it is also the facial expression of the two characters.

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In addition, this is one of those stories practically made for animation. There is only so much a real human can do, but an animated Tarzan is able to swing through the trees like an ape (and sometimes like a surfer). I guess it might be possible to find an acrobat who is able to do some of this stuff, but finding one who is also looking the part and is also a good actor is a nearly impossible task. Consequently this Tarzan is vastly superior compared to all the other versions out there. 37 tarzan6

3. The Characters

Burrough’s  Tarzan is the most perfect human being ever. Not only is he physically stronger than any human being and fights lions with his bare hands, he also teaches himself to read and write, learns later dozens of languages with no trouble at all, is a good shot even though he doesn’t believe in guns, in short, there is nothing Tarzan can’t do. While in most adaptation Tarzan needs some time to truly adjust to humans, in the books he has no trouble at all to act like a “normal” human being. He even lives some time in England. But he doesn’t feel comfortable with the rules of human society (mainly with the ranks, which don’t make sense for him) and prefers to go back to his jungle ways whenever he can. Oh, and on top of this, it turns out that he is rich, an earl and a natural leader.

Disney’s Tarzan is more realistic, and heavily influenced by the Movies and TV series made about him, mainly the Weißmüller movie series. This is where the sound of Tarzan’s yell was established and this is the source of the “I Tarzan, you Jane” dialogue (even though it never happens this way in the English version). The learning curve of Disney’s Tarzan is a more realistic one, and the only notable talent aside from his powerful physic is the ability to imitate every sound he hears, and both are explained with his upbringing.

The original Jane Porter can be summoned up with three words: Damsel in Distress. In the first novels she doesn’t have much of a character aside from being “the one” for Tarzan, and getting rescued by him all the time. Though, to her credit, she is a woman of integrity. Later (waaaaaay later) on she gets a few abilities of her own. But make no mistake: This is not an equal relationship. Burroughs view on the natural order in the relationship between males and females shines through in all novels and basically comes down to the female being happy to serve the strongest protector.

37 janeheadDisney’s Jane Porter is kind of a damsel in distress, too, but not in a bad way. Following the lead of many other adaptations, she is British instead of American (I guess because the more stiff British society provides a better contrast to the Jungle than the American one). But above all: she is smart, she is just as much of a scientist as her father is. Disney offers the audience a full-fledged female character. When she is in distress, it makes sense, because she is in an environment which is unfamiliar to her. But she does learn, at the end of the movie she might not be as good as Tarzan in jumping from tree to tree, but competent enough to hold on her own, which is a far cry from the usual “Jane sitting in a treehouse” scenarios of earlier adaptations. And she has just as much to teach to Tarzan as he can teach her, which includes way more than just the human language. I also like the detail that it’s not Tarzan’s physic which captures her interest the most, but his eyes.37 jporter22

Jane’s father is mostly just that. In the book he seems to exist mostly because a woman back then would normally stay with her family until marriage. And she certainly wouldn’t travel alone, so to get Jane to Africa, the father has to be there. The Disney version underlines the father aspect more, though. When it comes to father figures in animated movies, Professor Porter is certainly one of the better ones. While not exactly an authority figure, he isn’t stupid either, and is neither overly controlling nor neglectful towards his daughter. He is supportive and has a keen eye for her feelings and needs.

When it comes to the animal characters, they are in the books exactly that. They don’t have (nor need) a lot of personality, they simply act like the author thinks animals would act. It naturally wouldn’t be a Disney movie if the animals didn’t talk, so they get some distinctive character traits: Terk is being a tomboy, Tantor is portrayed as fussy germaphobe. They aren’t exactly layered characters, but they have just enough personality to be somewhat memorable.  It’s notable though that Tarzan can talk to them, but Jane can’t, at least not until she imitates Tarzan.

And then there is the villain – Imho opinion the greatest weakness of the movie. Clayton in the book is somewhat pathetic, but he is much more interesting. He is actually Tarzan’s cousin, who unwittingly usurped his inheritance, and his rival for Jane’s affection. Most of the time he serves as some sort of foil for Tarzan, though, and it’s heavily suggested that his physical weakness compared to him is a mirror of his weak character. While he wants to act honourable, he often takes the cowardly way out. Still, the book version of Clayton has a lot of potential and some pathos.

37 clayton33Movie Clayton on the other hand is a fairly boring villain. While it is a good thing that he isn’t interested in Jane (this would be too much like Beauty and the Beast), greed is really the most overused motivation to pick, especially in a movie about white people entering a native or untouched world. I think this would work much better if Clayton were another scientist and his motivation were more along the lines of taking gorillas (and Tarzan) with him to study them. It would have been a nice contrast to Jane’s and Professor Porters less intrusive approach. Plus, historically speaking, so called explorer have done at least as much damage in their thirst for knowledge than people who were just interested in financial gain. Either way, that’s not the approach Disney picked, and I should judge Clayton based on what he is and not based on what I want him to be. What makes him ultimately a failure as a Disney Villain is that he is too obvious.

Yes, I know, Disney Villains tend to be the epitome of evilness. But in this movie we have a character who is, in a way, part of the close circle around the heroes. This means he has to act in a way which at least makes it believable that the characters wouldn’t suspect him of any ill-will. We need at least a clever manipulator like Mother Gothel or Scar, but even better would be a character, whose betrayal even surprises the audience. Clayton is so obviously evil, I keep wondering why Professor Porter hired him in the first place.

4. The Plot

You could summon up the plot of the novel like this: boy grows up in jungle, kills many enemies, boy becomes king of the jungle, boy meets white girl, boy confronts civilization, boy gives up on girl (though naturally not forever). It’s basically the kind of story I expect from a dime novel (well, Tarzan is pulp fiction, so this is not surprising), a clever mix of adventure and romance which speaks to a broad audience, but, honestly, not particularly well written. The characters are mostly stereotypes and the dialogues are full of unnecessary melodrama.

In the Disney version, the focus is not on the love story or on Tarzan confronting civilization, though both aspects are still there. No, the focus is where it should be, on Tarzan trying to figure out where he belongs. To achieve this, Disney took a lot of elements from the novel and remixed it in a clever way. I normally don’t summarize the plot of the movies I review because I expect that my readers already know the basic plot, but in this case I’ll make an exception. For one because it seems to me that this is the best way to point out how Disney twisted the novel around and two, there are some concerns I have concerning the plot which are easier to discuss in context.

So, the movie starts with a couple fleeing in a boat from a burning ship (in the novel Tarzan’s parents get marooned, but really, same difference). We get a nice montage showing how the couple creates a home for themselves in the Jungle. This part is actually way more detailed in the novel, but really, in the great scheme of things it’s not really that important, so it’s a good thing that Disney puts the whole origin of Tarzan into one song.  Tarzan’s real parents are really well done, and there is some outstanding animation which shows how worried his father is about the situation, and how much courage they both show in their fight for survival. We then get a really well done scene in which Kala loses her child to Sabor and then discovers Tarzan, whose parents were killed by Sabor, too. She convinces her mate Kerchak to give her permission to raise Tarzan.

Now, this is a big change from the book, because there Kerchak is the one who killed Tarzan’s father (the mother already died, most likely from child birth), and Kala isn’t his mate, she is just part of the troop. When Tarzan becomes stronger and stronger, killing some powerful enemies, Kerchak sees him more and more as a treat and finally attacks. Tarzan kills him and takes over his position as a leader. But I like the Disney approach better, because it introduces a more compelling conflict. As sad as it is to watch Tarzan having to deal with constant rejection, it is understandable where Kerchak is coming from. It also leads to some of the best scenes in the movie when Kala tries to comfort Tarzan. 37 Disney_Tarzan_by_zaratus

Though I have to say that overall, the scenes from his childhood are a little bit dissatisfying. I love everything related to Kala, and how the movie explains the iconic yell, I also like Tarzan’s resourcefulness. But the scenes between him, Terk and Tantor, they don’t really work, I guess mostly because they both are reduced to “the tomboy” and “the phobic”. A little bit more exploration of their unlikely friendship (even pointing out that elephants usually don’t hang around with gorillas) would have been nice.

You can divide the Disney movie into two parts. The first part is about Tarzan growing up and ends with him killing Sabor, which, I guess, kind of mirror’s Tarzan killing Kerchak in the original novel, since in both cases the kill changes his status in the troop. But I think, Disney missed an opportunity there. While Tarzan is kind of accepted after this deed, the scene between Kerchak and Tarzan is interrupted to early. This would have been the perfect moment not necessarily to accept Tarzan as son but at least to accept him as part of the troop. Tarzan just rescued him and killed the enemy who was a danger for the whole troop for years, the enemy which killed Kerchak’s child. Plus, if Tarzan already had this kind of acceptance, everything which happens in the second part of the movie would have more of an impact.

Now, Tarzan in the novel is well aware of what he is. There is a tribe in vicinity, though relations are – strained, to put it politely, considering that one of the hunters killed Kala. Jane is not special because she is the first woman he met, but the first white woman he comes across (yes, I know, but when I start to rage about every piece of racist and misogynistic BS in this novel, this review will be endless). And the story focusses mostly on the heritage which is rightfully Tarzan’s.

37 kerchackIn the Disney movie on the other hand, it’s Tarzan’s heritage as a human which matters, not title or money. He grew up in the belief that there is no one like him. And now he suddenly discovers that he is not alone, that there are other people exactly like him. People who show him more acceptance than he gets from Kerchak. And that’s the first reason why an early understanding between those two would have caused a better dynamic in the movie (aside from making Kerchak’s desire to protect his people more relatable for the audience). It would have resulted into Tarzan being more torn about approaching the humans.

Either way, from this point onward all similarities with the novel end (thankfully), since the novel describes Tarzan leaving the jungle. The movie is more about Tarzan deciding if he should leave or not. I give it a lot of credit for making Tarzan’s learning curve believable. I give it even more credit for making the learning process a two way street. It puts the science of Jane’s world in contrast with the beautiful nature of Tarzan’s world, without being judgmental about it. Both worlds have their advantages, and both worlds have the dangers, and Jane is as fascinated by Tarzan’s world as Tarzan is by hers. This part is very well done, though, again, a scene between Kerchak and Kala talking about Tarzan’s activities would have been nice, with him warning her that Tarzan will slip away, perhaps even telling her that this is where Tarzan really belongs.

37 kalaIn the end the ship arrives, Clayton tricks Tarzan into believing that Jane will stay if she sees Gorilla’s and we end up with the most idiotic scene in the movie. Sorry, but this part was really not thought through by the animators. One, the way Terk and Tantor lure Kerchak away is just stupid and the idea that he would fell for it idiotic. Two, I get why Tarzan would bring Jane, but why Clayton with his riffle? At this point he should know how dangerous this weapon is, why would he allow it close to his family? Three, after Kerchak discovers what Tarzan has done, why doesn’t he move the troop elsewhere? Up to this point he was a very careful leader, and now he just stays at a place which has just become unsafe?

Anyway, this is reason two why an earlier understanding between Kerchak and Tarzan would have worked so much better. If Tarzan’s task to protect the family had been more like the final hurdle on the way to acceptance, an opportunity to proof himself once and for all, his decision to throw this away would have been a more tragic one. And could have led to a conversation more along the line of “you are drawn to them, your heritage is stronger than your loyalty”, instead of putting the focus on the “you ignored my orders” part. It’s weird because Tarzan is so clearly wrong, but the movie seems to encourage the audience to root for him, I guess mostly because there isn’t enough time spend on Kerchak’s concerns, and because Tarzan has been rejected so often already.

Well, eventually we get the climax, with a lot of fighting, a little bit fun in-between and finally Kerchak’s dead. And again: how much better would this scene be, if Kerchak were killed protecting just Tarzan and not Tarzan and Kala. That he would protect her is kind of a given. Giving everything for Tarzan’s protection, and his protection alone, would be the kind of finale gesture which would me actually care about his dead. As it is the scene puzzles me, especially since (and this is reason number three why an earlier acceptance would be the right way to go) it doesn’t make much sense to me that he would suddenly accept Tarzan after the mess he caused. Yes, he came back. But the whole act of protection wouldn’t be necessary if he had followed Kerchak’s advice earlier, Kerchak is dying because of his mistake, the biggest mistake Tarzan ever made, and now he suddenly accepts him as his son? If Disney were really gutsy he would die without Tarzan ever getting the acceptance he craved, but deciding to take over the responsibility for troop nevertheless, because that’s the only thing he can do for Kerchak, protect the family which is so important for both of them. I think it would have been a really good lesson to put across that sometimes you can’t correct the consequences of your actions; that you should be careful not to squander away the chances you get. But if you really go for a somewhat happy ending with Kerchak calling Tarzan his son, this would have made much more sense if there were prior indications that he felt this way beforehand and was just unable to admit it.

Thankfully the ending puts the movie back on track. The villain is defeated in one of the more memorable villain deaths, Jane decides to stay in the jungle with Tarzan and the audience gets a really great end sequence, showing Tarzan and Jane surfing through the jungle side-by-side, ending the movie on a high note. 37 tarzanjane

5. The Soundtrack

This movie often gets a lot of flak for its soundtrack. Yes, it’s Phil Collins. So what? To me it looks like the complaining about the music is mostly based on Phil Collins being particularly popular with woman. So it’s apparently unmanly to like the music. Well, suck it up, the songs in this movie are really, really good.

Some people are also complaining because they are sung from the off and not by the characters, with the exception of Kala starting “You’ll be in my heart” as some kind of lullaby. But really, can you imagine Tarzan starting to sing? Yeah, I don’t think so. Now you could argue that the songs are not really needed. But with the notable exception of “Destroying the Camp” (which has no text at all), they all have the purpose of providing some narration when the movie skips forward in time. I also like that the songs, while commenting what is going on, don’t spell it out too directly. They offer more an additional layer to what the audience sees on screen.

6. Conclusion

Yeah, I don’t really like the books. I think they are a classic example of someone writing a mediocre story based on a really good idea, and I hate the stereotypes and the sexism in them. I’m normally fast with excusing old fashioned views in older media, because I think it’s stupid to expect them to be conform to modern ideals. But even I have my limits and I still need something compelling in the book, movie or whatever, something which makes it worthwhile to sit through this kind of drivel, and I can’t find anything of this kind in those books.

But that doesn’t mean that I’m not a Tarzan fan. There was a phase in my childhood during which I watched every Movie and TV-Show about Tarzan I could get my hands on. Until I realized that most of them work the same way (there are intruders in the Jungle, at one point either Tarzan or Jane (or both) end up in dire danger, Tarzan yells, the elephants turn up to destroy everything in sight, Tarzan defeats the intruders, the end). I actually don’t know why I was so obsessed with those movies. Tarzan being less talented than in the books certainly helped to make him a more sympathetic hero, and in some of the adaptations Jane is pretty resourceful, but that doesn’t change the fact that the stories are pretty simple. Though, this might be exactly why they worked so well. It was more about the notion of living in an interesting and colourful world, in which Tarzan is able to make up his own rules, than about the actual plot.

Disney’s take on the source material has all the usual elements, but also adds thoughtful moments and gives the character some new layers. This is a story which was practically made for an animated movie, with its exotic location and the options to design a human who moves at least partly like an animal. All this makes Disney’s take on Tarzan certainly worth a watch. It might not be perfect, but I consider it the best and most thoughtful adaptation of the source material so far. Except maybe the musical, which avoids a lot of the story problems I listed above. But that is a discussion for another day.

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Marvel Musings: Do you know the score?

A couple of months ago Every Frame a Painting uploaded a vid about the Marvel scores. To be specific, it offered a theory why the Marvel themes are not memorable. I usually feel that the videos on this particularly channel are highly educating and interesting, but this one made me pause. I had a number of issues with the argumentation used. And I wasn’t the only one. This video followed a string of other ones, which examined the issue and the arguments. The end result was exactly the kind of discussion I would love to see more often on the internet, on topic, with a number of well articulated point of views which in turn made me consider some aspects I wouldn’t have thought about otherwise. And I naturally have my own opinion about the matter. But before I get to it, I’ll try to summarize the core points made in the various vids – I nevertheless encourage you to also watch them yourself. The first one, The Marvel Symphonic Universe, was uploaded on the 12.09.2016.

The arguments brought up here are:

  1. Marvel themes don’t cause an emotional response
  2. The music is too predictable and doesn’t challenge the expectations of the audience
  3. The dialogue distracts from the music.
  4. There is a trend in the industry believing that music in movies shouldn’t be notices.
  5. Producers encourage composers to imitate the temp music.

The arguments boils down to the Marvel scores being too safe – which is a common complain about different aspects of those movies in general, but let’s stick to the music for now.

Just three days later, on the 15.09.2016, the first rebuttal, A Theory of Film Music was uploaded by Dan Golding.

Golding agrees to the basic idea that the Marvel scores are forgettable, but disagrees partly when it comes to the reasons. This video points out that:

  1. The Star Wars Theme was actually created based on temp music.
  2. Temp tracks are not a modern phenomenon, but are as old as film music itself.
  3. Unoriginality is normal for film music.

and brings up the following points:

  1. The tracks used nowadays tend to be more recent.
  2. Hans Zimmer pioneered the use of digital music, which changed the process of creation.
  3. And lead to a tendency to use rhythms instead of melodies in movies

Dan Golding concludes that Marvel movies have a musical landscape but are different not in melody but through texture.

Just one day later Marvel Movies: The Thematic Continuity Issue added another thought to the discussion.

This video points out that

  1. the Marvel Cinematic Universe tends to change composers, which often use different scores in the different movies, thus not creating a thematic continuity in the music.
  2. The Avengers theme, which might be the most memorable of all of them, might have this status because Danny Elfman used Silvestri’s score in Age of Ultron, thus preserving the theme.

It concludes that the points made in the previous video essays are correct, but sees the lack of a thematic continuity within the scores of the MCU as the main reason for the inability of people to remember the scores.

Similar thoughts are voice in Why You (Actually) Don’t Remember Marvel Music, uploaded roughly one month later on the 19.10.2016.

This one is also a response to the first two videos, stating that both of them describe symptoms, but miss the point. In an argument similar but not quite identical to the one above, it points out that:

  1.  The theme music of Pirates of the Caribbean is an example for a very popular and well known score which is both temp music and made by Hans Zimmer (for the record, he was the producer, not the actual composer).
  2. Star Wars, Harry Potter and Pirates of the Caribbean are all franchises which have been around for way longer than the MCU, and which have used the same theme music not just in all of their respective movies, but also for connected media, theme park rides and above all the general marketing.

This video concludes that the key to a score being remembered is above all repetition, not quality, and adds that the Marvel movies actually have a number of great tunes, pointing to the Thor score and the Avengers theme.

The latter is also in the centre of the last, but perhaps best rebuttal, The Avengers Theme – a video response to “The Marvel Symphonic Universe”, which was uploaded by HelloLillyTV on the 15.11.2016.

HelloLillyTV points to the comment section of the first video essay and how many said that that they, unlike the people in the video, immediately remembered the Avengers theme. This rebuttal argues further that this particular theme neither plays in the background of the movie, nor is it devoid of emotion. Based on the concept of repetition with association, it points out that:

  1. The theme consists of two distinctive parts.
  2. It is used multiple times through the movie in very specific key moments.
  3. It is shown in association which large scale shots, connecting the music with the notion of “greatness” early on.
  4. And is then played during the most iconic moment of the whole MCU, when the Avengers unite for the first time.
  5. It is also part of Age of Ultron and therefore part of a thematic continuity

This video then draws attention to the fact that while certain themes are actually used multiple times and very effectively in the MCU, they are next to never used in the marketing. There is even a supplementary video to make this point.

So, where do I stand in this battle of sometimes conflicting and sometimes overlapping arguments? Let’s start with my thoughts concerning the first video.

I am a big admirer of Every Frame a Painting. I especially love the videos in which the staging and the camera work in movies are taken apart, since they really opened my eyes and made me realize what is possible to convey just on a visual level, what a difference something as simply as a movement in the background can make. Those videos made me more critical towards modern movie creation, including some issues with the MCU I didn’t notice beforehand. But this particular video essay is, in my honest opinion, one of the weaker ones, because it is very manipulative and bases the conclusion on the connection of two barely related issues.

From the very beginning this argument stands on very shaky grounds. A collection of random people being asked any question is always a little bit problematic when it comes to formulating a thesis. For starters, the group of people presented is way too small to be in any way representative, and as a viewer I am unable to judge if really every person who was asked actually made it into the video. I am giving Every Frame a Painting the benefit of the doubt here and assume that there wasn’t a person who did remember the theme but was cut out of the video to preserve the intended impression. But even then this is far from a remotely scientific group. In addition, I think it would have been interesting to play the Avengers theme to a number of people to test if they would have recognized it, or confused it with other themes.

Another aspect I noted about the essay are the scenes which were picked to make the argument. Instead of identifying the main themes of the movies and discuss how they are used, most of the scenes discussed are fairly random moments. I have to admit that I think the argumentation here is a little bit odd. Yes, playing a “funny” music for a funny scene is an expected choice, as is the high note for suspense. But that is kind of the point. Film music is to a certain degree codified, meaning we connect a certain kind of music to certain situations or feelings. The last rebuttal I linked, the one by HelloLillyTV, even gives a great example for this when it points out that the trailer for Age of Ultron feels more like the advertising for a horror movie. And this impression is nearly entirely based on the music alone. Age of Ultron does have a number of moments which are reminiscent of horror movies sprinkled through the more jokey and action-packed  scenes, but none of the more obvious ones made it into the trailer.

There is one “main score” which is briefly touched upon in the video essay by Every Frame a Painting, and that is Silvestri’s Triumphant Return. The complain here is that the useless narration hides the movie, followed by a demonstration how the scene would work without it. And yes, it works beautifully, thus proving that the score elevates the scene in question considerably. But the narration is actually not useless at all, it is needed to bring the whole audience on the same page. Let’s pretend that someone in the audience hasn’t seen The First Avenger, or doesn’t remember the movie all that well and is also not particularly informed about the comic book lore. Without the narration he would be able to gather that Steve is remembering his past in the military, but he had no idea what Bucky actually means to Steve. So when Bucky looses his mask later in the movie, said audience member would not gasp in surprise, he would ask “Who?”, confused about Steve’s strange reaction. But independent from the question if the narration is needed in this particular scene or not, the same score is used earlier in the movie, during the jogging scene, with no narration at all (unless you count “on your left”).

My point is that the MCU is too large to make a sweeping statement about it based on a few randomly picked scenes. You would at the very least need to look at the way one movie as a whole is scored, or how a specific score is used in different movies within the MCU to make at least some sort of judgement about it – and yes, that is my roundabout way of saying that I really like the argumentation of HelloLillyTV, which does the former with The Avengers and then the latter with the main theme of the respective movie. But more about that one later. Let’s examine first the statement that the Marvel scores don’t take risks, as well as the more general claims concerning the current trends in film music.

For starters, I don’t think that any of those trends are actually that current. As Dan Golding rightly points out, using temp music has been common since the very beginning of film making. What also has been around since the start is the need to find a balance between the different elements of a scene. Meaning, what the audience is supposed to notice in any given scene is not necessarily the music. Unless you watch a musical or something along the line of Fantasia, the most important element of a movie is usually the plot, and the music is, along with the visuals and the dialogue, only there to serve the story. Consequently it shouldn’t be the main feature in any given scene unless the director wants it to be.

Thus said, if music is used, it should enhance the scene in question. If you just can take out the music, like Every Frame a Painting did in the Ironman scene, and it doesn’t really make difference, than it might have been better to not use a score in the first place, since the focus should be on the dialogue anyway. The example from the Thor movie on the other hand is simply a matter of taste. Yes, you could have used a more attention seeking score to replace the more conventional one, but I actually wouldn’t have, because I feel that something too grand for the setting would have overwhelmed the scene. This feeling might, btw., be related to the fact that the score Every Frame a Painting added instead is, just like the Avengers theme, used for big fighting scenes and large spaces through the movie. So, yes, I am sure if I go through the whole MCU I will find a number of music choices which do nothing to enhance the scene, as well as a few I would personally disagree with. But I’ll skip the rant about the lack of Heavy Metal in Ironman 3 for now, and focus on the idea that the music choices in the MCU are too generic.

I mentioned before that Every Frame a Painting mixes two different issues. One is the question if the MCU has a theme people can hum on the spot, the other is the question if the themes of the MCU are particularly memorable. Those two questions aren’t necessarily related to each other, though, since a score doesn’t have to be hummable in order to be memorable. If someone would ask me what soundtrack I consider particularly remarkable, one of the ones I would point to is this one:

 

But I wouldn’t be able to hum this one if my life depended on it. And, to address the notion in Dan Golding’s response that the use of digital music is the reason why certain themes aren’t remembered that well, the theme doesn’t become more hummable if it is played by a full orchestra either.

What it nevertheless is, though, is unusual, remarkable and perfect in every way for the movie it which it is used.

This in mind, I am inclined to dismiss Dan Golding’s complain about the Hans Zimmer style of scoring movies. Yes, using rhythms instead of melodies is a bit of a trend in Hollywood, a trend which was born out of an unusual choice which then became mainstream. I am currently (mostly) sick of it, too, but I don’t think that either approach to movie scoring is in any way superior. And the MCU itself is a great example for it. Or, to be specific, the Captain America Franchise.

This piece is easily my favourite score in the whole MCU. It is a very compelling – and melodious – tune, and it is used to perfectly in The First Avenger. The moment I hear it I have immediately a bunch of associations, most of which originate from the scene above: Steve Rogers, practically back from the dead, having managed the impossible, finally accepted by his peers and superiors alike, the hero of the day. This is truly a triumphant return and it is no accident that this piece is used very briefly in The Avengers when Cap turns up in full costume, back in Germany and again standing up to yet another tyrant in yet another triumphant return. It is also no accident that it turns up again at the very beginning of The Winter Soldier.

Nothing about this scene is accidental, but especially not the way the theme rouses in connection with buildings and monuments which do stand for the American Ideal more than even the Lady Liberty. And Cap fits perfectly into this picture as yet another symbol of said ideals, but also of a time long gone by. It is a poignant choice that the theme plays again in the museum, in connection with a view on the past, which focusses more on the heroics of Captain America than the experiences of Steve Rogers. It is also quite deliberate, that the actual main theme of the movie is this one:

Take a Stand is more or less everything what Triumphant Return isn’t. It’s not a rousing, slowly swelling melody, but a fast staccato of rhythm building up to climax, which sounds as if someone just hit the table with his fist to make everyone present listen to him. And I love it. It is perfect for this movie exactly because it is so different. The contrast between the sepia-tinted world of pure heroism seen through a lens of nostalgia to our way more complicated, hectic and cynic reality is reflected in the way those two score pieces are used in the movie.

Which brings me to the idea that the MCU has an issue with thematic continuity in its scores. Well, this is kind of correct if one looks at the MCU as a whole, especially within the Ironman franchise, in which not only every movie has a different composer, but the third one doesn’t even fit remotely into what came beforehand. With the two Thor movies, it is kind of a shame that those soundtracks are different, but at least they are tonally in the same ballpark. Ironman 3 just switches to a different tone, bit without the narrative connection which make the change in The Winter Soldier so brilliant.

I admit, I would love it if each Superhero in the MCU had his or her own theme. The Captain America franchise does this to a certain degree. Aside from Triumphant Return and Take a Stand, the Winter Soldier theme is another one which sticks out, and carries over from The Winter Soldier to Civil War. But what Civil War lacks in my opinion is a clear theme for Ironman, which can play in contrast to Cap’s theme. But that is not the fault of Henry Jackman, he couldn’t use a theme like this because there was never one established for Ironman beforehand.

On the other hand, though, a rule like this might limit the composers too much. There are narrative but also stylistic reasons why Henry Jackman switched from Triumphant Return to Take a Stand. This choice doesn’t just reflect the change in the character, but is also a way better fit for a movie, which is not a wartime adventure put a political thriller. It would have been difficult to have the more patriotic tunes of The First Avengers present through the whole movie without undermining its themes. For similar reasons Jackman went for a less rhythmic and instead more epic score for Civil War, to reflect the tragic aspect of a larger than life conflict.

And no, it is not at all hypocritical of me to complain about the musical changes made for Ironman 3, while praising the ones in The Winter Soldier. I truly dislike the soundtrack for Ironman 3, and not because I think that the music chosen or the scores are in any way bad, but because I consider them a change which is not carried by the narrative. I feel that it is jarring.

At the end of the day, I don’t think that there is a thumb rule for the right way to score a whole universe. While a consistent musical line has a lot of merit, the decision what works and what doesn’t has to be made on a movie to movie base to a certain degree. Thus said, I am very pleased that Silvestri will score Infinity War, since switching composers isn’t exactly helpful in keeping a consistent tone.

But consistency or not, I don’t think that the use of specific themes within the movies is the deciding factor for it become ubiquitous. I agree with HelloLillyTV that marketing and advertising has a way bigger influence on which music pieces we connect to which movies – to a certain degree. While everything which is said in the video is correct, there simply are scores and songs which click with the audience better than others.

See, the trick with playing the score from Gladiator, which one of the videos used? Didn’t work on me. It didn’t work even though I have never even watched Gladiator, nor did I pay any attention to the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise after movies two and three were such a giant let-down. I still like the first one and consider it the best pirate movie ever made, but overall, there wasn’t a lot of marketing which could push me into remembering that particular score more than other scores I listened to in the last years. I nevertheless noticed immediately that the score which was played to me was not quite the theme from Pirates of the Caribbean, because I love that score. I have loved it from the moment I first listened to it. It was an instant ear worm for me. You could play other music pieces a hundred times to me or connect them to a very emotional moment, and they wouldn’t stick with me that way.

Another score I love even though it is not part of a particularly popular or successful franchise, but was used in exactly one critically not particularly respected movie is the one from The Man in the Iron Mask. And I am obviously not the only one who felt that way about this melody considering that Yagudin used this this score for the ice dancing performance which won him the Gold medal. A lot of people love this score and might even be able to hum it.

I don’t think that it is really possible to explain completely why some melodies connect with the majority of people while others doesn’t. The marketing is certainly not the only aspect one has to consider. For example there are a number of animated TV shows with themes which are repeated again and again and due to the repetition, people watching those shows will most likely at least recognize them. But I just need to do this:

“Duck Tales…wohooo….”

and a number of my readers will have this damned song stuck in their head yet again (and no, I am not sorry, I spend the last week trying to get the title song of Moana out of my head and I am really in the mood to share some of my suffering. Just be glad that I didn’t mention It’s a small world…ooops). There is really no obvious reasons why this particularly theme song has such an effect. It is not like Duck Tales had a longer run than other TV shows, or that the opening is particularly well animated. Some unique word combinations in the text certainly helped to create trigger words for the theme song, but otherwise, there simply is something about the tune which makes it memorable.

All this said, the marketing is certainly the best explanation why people don’t connect the MCU immediately with a particular theme. But it is also an observation which doesn’t really address the quality of the actual MCU soundtracks (though all videos which went for the repetition argument as explanation did praise specific scores in the MCU). Let’s disconnect the whole argument from the question why the MCU scores aren’t hummed on cue, and go back to the question if the MCU soundtracks are generic or not.

There is an underlying complain in those first two videos essays which does have some merit: That there might be a systemic problem with the way movies are scored. But I don’t think that the points brought up in those videos are new at all. As Golding rightly points out, temp music has always been used. Likewise, there have also been trends in film music. In any given time period it is possible to point to a number of movies which followed a specific trend, and to a number of movies which ignored said trend or set a new one. The main reason why film music is codified in the first place, why we associate certain tunes with certain emotions, is because we connect said tunes to certain kind of scenarios. And this connection is older than movies themselves, you’ll find the same kind musical cues in the opera or the ballet.

It is true, though, that digital music has changed the way movies are scored. But again – is that really a bad thing? Since the scores now can be changed more easily, the composers can bring in their ideas way earlier, instead of having to score the movie after it already has been finished. Every approach has, at the end of the day, its upside and downside.

But there is one thing one always has to consider when it comes to film music: Every movie is a collaborative effort. A musician who works on his next hit single or creates something for the stage has, at least theoretically, all the freedom in the world to realize whatever idea occurs to him. A musician who works for the movie industry is limited from the get go by the movie he is working for and might get limited even further when directors already have been influenced by temp music, want music in the background and not in the forefront, or aren’t really open to any new ideas from the get go, because they want to follow a trend instead of doing something experimental.

But those are all aspects and concerns for the movie industry in general, not just for the MCU. So, how much freedom do the composers in the MCU actually have? The fact that music themes often don’t carry over to the next movie actually points in the direction that they have a lot creative freedom. Seen as a whole, the MCU offers a rich collection of very different music pieces. Just listen to this collection (once you have an hour of free time):

 

Naturally not every soundtrack is necessarily on the same level, but overall, there is a lot of quality in the MCU. In addition, if there is a recently released movie which really shines when it comes to the use of music, it is Guardians of the Galaxy.

The most obvious counterargument to this statement is that Guardians of the Galaxy sticks out, because it uses songs which already were popular, and nobody remembers the score. Well, first of all, a lot of movies use already established songs and music pieces, but that doesn’t automatically make it a good use of said songs. In fact, using even good scores and songs can end up annoying and distracting for the audience, if they are used too on the nose (*cough* Suicide Squad *cough*). The songs in Guardians of the Galaxy work so well not because they were already popular beforehand, but because they have an important function in the story. They provide an emotional connection to the protagonist, serve as a constant reminder of his traumatic past, while simultaneously spreading a sense of fun and a little bit of nostalgia – meaning they deliberately trigger a sad memory and a happy emotion. But they are also only one half of the soundtrack and only take centre stage whenever there is a narrative opportunity to play a song in-universe. Otherwise the movie does rely on a score, which, yes, gets overshadowed, just like most of the songs which are used in the movie ore overshadowed by Hooked on a Feeling, which was used in the marketing. But it is nevertheless a score which takes the centre stage in the scenes more than ones. For example here:

And naturally here:

And let’s not forget this scene:

Did you notice how the movie switches from the song, which is played in-universe, to the score? I could write a whole essay about the way Guardians of the Galaxy is scored and take apart every single scene just to point out how much the music enhances the experience and often adds a second layer to a moment.

To summon up my thoughts:

  1. I don’t agree that there is necessarily a problem with the MCU scores in general, or that Marvel limits the creativity of their composers too much.
  2. I do think that more coherence and some sort of symphonic connection in the MCU movies (not the TV shows) would be a neat idea, especially if it leads to each hero having a specific theme. But I don’t think that it is absolutely necessary, it is just a personal preference.
  3. I nevertheless prefer it if Marvel sticks to the same composer within a franchise as much as possible, unless there are good reasons for a change.
  4. Using the scores, especially the Avengers theme more often in the marketing is a good idea, but this is an aspect which would improve the marketing of the MCU as a whole, not the quality of the movies themselves.

 

At the end of the day, the movies in the MCU are like every other movie: They do some things right, and some things which don’t quite work. Some of the scores are remarkable, some are forgettable and generic. Sometimes a scene is scored perfectly, and sometimes you wonder what exactly the composer was thinking or why there even is a score at all. If you ask me, the movies which have the best scores are The First Avenger, The Avengers, The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy. The one movie which has a score which annoys me is Ironman 3 (and again, more in relation to the previous scores, on its own it is perfectly fine). Btw, the TV show with the best title sequence is in my opinion Jessica Jones, even though I don’t even like the melody (if you can call it melody) used, but it is one which really sticks out. Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. deserves a lot of love for its scores, too (and a lot of hate for having the most annoyingly to write title), one which especially stuck out to me was the tune used in the Parting Shot scene (fans of the show will know immediately what I am talking about). And then there is naturally the exceptionally use of songs in Luke Cage.

I for my part look forward to what the MCU will deliver in the future, weather people are able to hum the Avengers theme or not.


Puh, I never thought that this would end up being such a beast of an article. But then, this seems to happen to me quite often when it comes to this particular blog. Anyway, I hope a few of you made it to the end. Feel free to share your own thoughts about this topic, I would be quite happy to continue the discussion or little bit. Or list your own favourite scores and/or soundtracks in the MCU.

 

 

 


Nine Properties I would love to see as Animated Series

So, Disney has apparently decided that they should do animated TV-Shows based on their properties again. And why not? DreamWorks already does it, and it worked just fine back in the 1990s. And to be honest, the properties they picked this time around have a lot of more potential than the ones they did back then. I really look forward to the Tangled TV-Series because I really wanted to know how Rapunzel learns to adjust to the life out of the tower (though I do fear that Disney might end up going for something more shallow in an attempt to appeal to the perceived target demographic), and Big Hero 6 is practically made for being a TV -Series.

This got me thinking, though. Are there any other properties I would actually like to see as animated TV series? And what would they look like? So I considered and came up with a small list, not just of Disney movies which would work particularly well as a TV show, but also some untapped book properties as well as some franchises which I think could do really well with a shift to animated TV. I ended up with nine, because I didn’t feel the need to force this into being a proper top ten, especially since this isn’t a ranking at all, I sorted them based on the year of creation. After all, every adaptation can potentially be good – there are just some properties which are more suited for a TV shows than others.


The Letter for the King (1962)

What is it about?

It’s a book by Tonke Dragt, set in a kind of medieval setting. It tells the story about Tuiri, a young man who is about to become a knight. His last test is spending a night thinking about the path he is about to take in a chapel, when suddenly he is confronted with the decision to either fulfil this last test or listen to a request for help, thus abandoning his knighthood. He naturally does the latter (or it would be a really short book), and starts a very dangerous journey, trying to deliver an important letter to another kingdom, while being followed by a number of different enemies.

Why do I want it?

The book has been adapted into a movie once, but that went as well as you can expect when you cram a story about travelling to a number of different places into a relatively short running time. The character moments kind of got lot along the way, which was a shame, since the story is actually not that much to write home about unless you are really invested in the struggle of the character, and a number of different scenarios, which simply can’t be rushed but need room to breath. In addition, the story is a little bit episodic from the get go, meaning Tiuri reaches a place, deals with some sort of hurdle to overcome, and then goes to the next place. It could easily fill 20 to 30 episodes if handled right. And if the first season is successful, well, there is a second book about the adventures of Tiuri, which is just as good if not better.

How should the series look like?

I’ll be honest here: There is no particular reason for this to be an animated series, it could work in live action TV just as well – with a proper budget. And that is kind of the problem, because I doubt that any network would spend that much money on some strange European property, no matter how well-known it is in a number of countries. American networks and studios are a little bit snobby in this regard. But if they do an animated series, I would prefer classical animation in a style reminiscent of medieval art and paintings. It needs to look kind of romantic but also colourful.


Voyagers! (1982-1983)

What is it about?

It’s a mostly forgotten but still beloved by those who know it TV-series about time-travelling. You have a time-traveller, a child who accidentally becomes his partner and one of the greatest time travelling device ever created in the Omni. The episodes are about fixing history – meaning something went wrong at one point and the protagonists have to ensure that history goes the way it was supposed to.

Why do I want it?

While the show had a lot of flaws, mainly due to its very American perspective on history, it was also very educational. It is one of the main reasons I ever developed an interest in history and how it affects us today. I think we need another show like this, which teaches children something in a fun way. I am usually not into time travel at all, but the fact that the Voyagers worked outside of time sidestepped a number of possible paradoxes. I guess you could also simply reboot the show for Live-Action TV, but I am hopeful for it catching on better the second time around. If you go for multiple seasons, you have the problem that the child actor will age out of the role pretty fast (the original one had only three season which run in a less than two years, and the child-actor had already hit a grown spurt by the end of it, which put him pretty firmly in the teen category). So, animated it is.

How should the series look like?

The original show had a few steampunk elements to it, and I would like a remake doubling down on this, at least when it comes to the design of the Voyager Headquarter. I also think that it would be important to portray the historic figures in it as adequate as possible. I am not sure if CGI is able to do that, and Stop-Motion has always a weird feeling to it. So (surprise, surprise), traditional animation is it. I actually think I would like the Disney style, along the lines of what they did in the short “Ben and I”.


The Great Mouse Detective (1986)

What is it about?

Well, animation fans should know this hidden gem from the Disney canon. In short, it is the story about a Mouse-version of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson.

Why do I want it?

It is kind of a no-brainer, really. During the 1990s, Disney made direct-to-video sequels and TV-shows about more or less everything, but somehow they mostly managed to miss out the properties, which were perfect for some kind of sequel. The Great Mouse Detective could be a wonderful detective series for children and young adults, and between the book series the movie was based on and the actual Sherlock Holmes stories, there is a lot of material to draw from. They could even introduce an early version of the Rescue Aid Society at one point, thus suggesting that Basil belongs in the same universe as The Rescuers, just in a different time period.

How should the series look like?

Like the movie, naturally. The style is perfect for TV anyway.


Harry Potter (1997-2007)

What is it about?

Do I really have to explain? It’s Harry Potter, you need to have lived under a rock to not at the very least know the basics.

Why do I want it?

Mostly because I always felt that the movies were really dissatisfying. I loved the sets, the costumes (mostly), and they were an okay watch overall, but there was so much lost in the adaptation that I really, really want a better one. But I don’t think that the audience would accept another one anytime soon, plus, even if you would redo the movies already knowing which details would become important later on and which not, it would still be nearly impossible to cram all the information into movie lengths. So why not a TV series? An animated one, to ensure that the actors don’t grow out of their roles, and to allow some creativity when it comes to spell-casting. Though it would be important that the creators take the book series serious and don’t dumb down the themes in it.

How should the series look like?

Ever seen Harry Potter Fanart? Yeah, something along the line of the most popular artists would be great. I also want to add that while I want a version which allows the different story-arcs some room to breath, it doesn’t have to be a slavish one-to-one adaptation of the books. There is certainly a little bit room for improvement, some details which could and should be added in order to avoid some of the plot holes.


Operation Nautilus (2001-2001)

What is it about?

It’s a book series by Wolfgang Hohlbein, also called Captain Nemo’s Children. It is set around the time of the first World War, and describes how a group of teens end up commandeering the Nautilus (yes, THAT Nautilus), finding traces of the Atlantian Civilisation at the bottom of the ocean while evading the war ships.

Why do I want it?

Well, for starters, the teens in the series all have different nationalities, meaning they are working together while their respective nations are at war with each other. I have the feeling that this is a message which will be desperately needed in the upcoming years. But it is also one of the book series which had a number of great ideas, but doesn’t really work that well as a whole. Really, don’t get me started on how much it went of the rails, and how terrible and contrived the finale was. I would love to see someone take another stab at the concept, using the best ideas of the book and building on them, step by step. Basically I want a more or less original series based on the concept and the characters of the book series.

How should the series look like?

In this case, I can see every form of animation working just fine, as long as the result doesn’t look too cartoony. The story might be fantasy, but it is set in a realistic setting, and the animation should reflect that.


Treasure Planet (2002)

What is it about?

Another of Disney’s overlooked gem. The movie is basically Treasure Island in Space steampunk style. Disney actually did plan a series based on the movie, but after it bombed spectacularly, the series was scrapped.

Why do I want it?

The world of Treasure Island just look infinitely interesting. I own the DVD, and it fascinating how much thought the animators put in the working of the ships. There are a number of details which never made it into the movie. I would love to see a series exploring more of this world. Jim could go on even more travels and crazy adventures.

How should the series look like?

Well, like the movie, naturally. (I have a deja vu….).


Firefly (2002)

What is it about?

Well, Firefly is the Whedon show which infamously run for only one season but still managed to spawn a cult following and eventually a movie. It was a quite interesting concept in that it took the concept of Wild West in space a little bit more literal than even Star Trek did (and that franchse has “Trek” in its name!) going for a very dusty look during a time, in which most Science Fiction shows created a very pristine future. It also frequently experiemented with story-telling, creating some very memorable episodes in its short run.

Why do I want it?

It only run one season. Do I really have to say more? It deserves to get a proper continuation, but with the various actors having aged out of their roles by now, an animated series is the only way to make it possible without it being too grating. It could pick up where the original show left off (ignoring Serenity) and just continue the story.

How should the series look like?

I lean towards traditional animation in this case, because I think it would be easier to capture the feel of the original show in this style. Not that CGI can’t do dusty and dirty – see Rango – it’s the character animation which worries me. That can end up fast in uncanny valley territory.


Supernatural (2005-now)

What is it about?

Supernatural is the longest running Sci-Fi Series in the USA, which is frankly downright impressive. Impressive enough that I recently decided to figure out what the big deal is, proceeding to binge watch the whole show. And I actually liked it quite a lot after I discovered that it is about so much more than just two to three attractive leads experiencing a lot of man-pain (what? We all have our prejudices). There are actually a number of really creative ideas in the show which I adore. I would recommend the first five season of it to everyone – what follows is a little bit more wonky, but still has its moments.

And yes, I am aware that there is already an anime based on the show…I’ll address it later.

Why do I want it?

Unlike Firefly Supernatural is an ongoing show which still utilized the same actors. But I nevertheless would love to see a complete reboot of it. While I do like a number of ideas in the show (careful, I will now go full-on spoiler) especially the concept of not so fluffy angels or a Supernatural series becoming the Winchester Gospel and their take on the apocalypse, there are also a lot of elements which I feel prevent the show from reaching its full potential. Partly it is the format. The writers have to fill a lot of episodes, so they often drag plot-lines out or throw in detours, and since the writers change, there are sometimes elements which are just left hanging in the air, contradictions in the lore and quality shifts. Partly it is the budget. They did a fairly good job with depicting angles (love the shadow wings) and heaven, but hell has been an ongoing disappointment so far. Partly it is simply the writing. I can’t be the only one who actually wanted to see at least half a season with Godstiel being the big problem Dean and Sam have to deal with it, instead of getting one episode and then having to deal the whole season with boring black goo.

I just feel that it would be great to rewrite the whole thing, using the best story-arcs, streamlining some aspects (like the whole “the police looks for the Winchesters” thing), making some elements bigger and dropping a few more questionable decisions. I want the best of the world of Supernatural combined with visuals which aren’t possible to do on a TV budget. I want a more careful world-building, with clearer rules. And doing this in an animated show would allow for doing it without it feeling like a cheap knock-off from the get go.

To achieve that, it would be necessary that it becomes more than just a retelling. It should have its own set of twists.Which is what the Anime kind of tried to do, but more in the single episodes than in the actual myth arc. But that is exactly the place where they should start. Why not actually go for the notion of Sam being part of an army of people with tainted blood this time around instead of doing the whole “one surviver” solution, which, imho, was mostly picked because of budgets restrains? Why not changing around some stuff? Like, the whole idea of Castiel being under mind control from heaven would have actually fit was better into season 6, when there was still one archangel left. This storyline can lead into Castiel being freed of said mind control which would then make his pact with Crowley way more understandable.

Then there is Adam, who is still one big black mark on the series because he is apparently still in the cage and nobody seems to care. His character could be handled better from the get go. For example instead of repeating the whole “Adam is already death” shock (which lead to some problems down the line – death really hasn’t much meaning in the show when characters are constantly brought back as soon as it is convenient), it would be interesting of Adam is actually younger when Dean and Sam meet him, and they make the decision to leave him with a relative of his mother, hiding the Supernatural from him, because they want him to have a normal live. That would naturally cause resentment in Adam, which would be hashed out further down the line when the angels start to use him. Similar elements, different story, and the opportunity to explore some ideas which never got the attention they deserved, that’s what I want to see. In case someone is curious: I also would love to see the fight for the seals in greater detail, a more creative take on the cage, the pagan gods as a third party and more of the fight between the various angels. I also felt that the show really should have explored the relationship between Castiel and Jimmy Novak instead of forgetting about the latter for multiple season just to explain then that he has been in heaven for quite a while. And without the budget restrains, it could create a more complete world, in which the Winchester adventures actually have a large impact. What happens when there is suddenly an increase of paranormal activities which can’t be ignored, when there are people declaring themselves to be god and others who leave their families because they agreed to be a vessel or have been hijacked by a demon? There are numerous options for a rewrite, which honours the original while still being its own thing.

How should the series look like?

I discovered that I actually don’t like the Anime style at all, though my issues are more with the Anime style of storytelling than the actual drawings. See, Anime storytelling is extremely melodramatic, with a lot of telling instead of showing. But that is more or less the opposide of what makes the show work. Yeah, it is sometimes corny, but what makes it so great is the underlying realism, the constant demystificing of our beliefs. Angels are just dicks. Demons exist, but they can be defeated. Yes, it has its dramatic moments, but it can also be funny or just really horrofying. So what the show would need is a drawing style, which allows it a lot of freedom to design certain elements of it really freaky and go all creative with it. Supernatural is also a series which likes to play around a little bit on a meta-level. Therefore I like the idea of mixing different kind of animation. Normally stop motion would clash horrible with traditional animation, but it could be used here for a deliberate “off-feel”. The important part is that they pick a style which allows the characters to show a lot of emotions in their faces, as well as some really creepy imagenary. So perhaps traditional animation with a realistic touch to it is in order, but with an emphasis on the character animation.


Inside Out (2015)

What is it about?

It’s a view into the mind a girl, showing how her emotions struggle with some big changes in her life.

Why do I want it?

Of all the properties I put on this list, this is actually the one I want the least. Inside Out works just fine as stand-alone movie. But Pixar currently has a bad case of sequilities, so they will revisit one of their most successful properties sooner or later. And if they do, I just can’t see them figuring out a story which doesn’t feel like a repetition of the first movie. So, why not go smaller? Focus on small events in Riley’s everyday life, and let the emotions comment on it. And yes, that is more or less like Herman’s Head, but doing the same concept with the perspective of a teen as centre could yield a nice little show for this demographic. Just keep it small, and simple.

How should the series look like?

CGI. That’s the style of the movie and they should stick to it. I can actually see the emotions working if they based them on the concept drawings, but I somehow can’t see Riley in this style, so it would be better to stick to what works.


So, that is my list. There are other adaptations and/or sequels I would like to see at one point, but those are the ones I would love to see specifically as animated TV show. What do you think? Do you agree with my picks? Or do you have some ideas on your own? I would love to hear about them.

 

 

 


Batman V Superman under watch

I don’t like Man of Steel. I could launch into a long explanation why, but it basically boils down to me not liking Snyder’s work as a director. He is all about visuals, and while I enjoy something impressive to look at, I still need a cohesive story to enjoy a movie – unless it is something along the line of Fantasia or Yellow Submarine. I couldn’t relate to the characters in Man of Steel and since Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was mostly made by the same team, my hopes that I would like the result were not that high. I thought the trailers looked bad (safe for the scene with Affleck watching the buildings crumble) and already spoiled most of the movie. But I honestly didn’t expect that the reaction to the movie would be that negative.

Anyway, I didn’t watch it in theatres. Call me a sheep for listening to critics, but I would rather take the opinions of people with knowledge into consideration than watching a film simply because it is sold as an “event movie”. I also didn’t bother to try keeping away from spoilers. I knew that it wouldn’t be possible to keep myself in the dark until the movie is available anyway.

So, now I do have the opportunity to watch the movie and considering that a lot of people claim that this is for comic book movies, I will do the following: During this first watch I will pause the movie and jot down notes roughly every ten minutes. Then I will watch it again for an overall impression. And then I will watch the uncut version. Let’s see how this movie holds up, and how it relates to the stuff I already heard about it.

9:46

This was both better and worse than I expected. Better because some reviewers said that the dying scene of Bruce parents is incredible stupid staged. I don’t think that it is. It works fine (aside from the fact that real pearls are not connected on a string and would therefore never fall apart like that, but that’s really a nitpick). But what is the deal with young Bruce floating in the bats? They could get away with it if they cut after this to Bruce waking from a nightmare, but they go to what happened in Metropolis. Which, imho, should have been how they started the movie, with the first time Batman saw Superman, to set the tone of this movie. By starting with Batman, they made it from the get go a Barman movie in which Superman happened to be in it. I already know that the scene with the parents dying will become important later on, but this could certainly have been put as a dream sequence of flashback later on in the movie (preferable parallel to a defining moment Clark remembers from his childhood, to show the differences between the two characters). The scene in Metropolis itself, well, I still liked the bits and pieces we saw in the trailer, but more or less everything else is so much worse than I imagined. So the employees of Wayne industries are too stupid to leave the building when the world is falling apart around them? I also can’t get behind Bruce driving like a maniac through the city, it is a wonder that he didn’t kill any of the people trying to flee from the destruction.

15:10

Oooookay, the ten minutes are not over yet, but let the record show that I am confused. Why are we suddenly 18 months later? Why is this alien stuff somewhere in the ocean and not recovered by some government or Superman himself? Who is this guy looking happy because of the green stuff? Is this supposed to be Kryptonite? If yes, how does this guy know that it is important? And what is the deal with Lois and the terrorist? First the CIA is involved, and then suddenly another group starts to shoot, and the Superman rescues Lois and apparently something went really wrong because some sort of committee holds him responsible for…whatever. We are barely 15 minutes into this movie and I already feel totally lost. It’s like I have seen pieces of at least five different movies so far.

20:45

The movie looses points for unnecessary nudity. Otherwise…I think I might have liked the discussion between Lois and Clark if I had known what the f… happened in Africa. And why do we keep discussing an event we didn’t even see but during which apparently a few people died through unintended consequences and not the big event we actually did see during which countless people died because Superman was carelessly crushing into buildings? Also, the editing in this movie is awful! The cut to Batman being a vigilante which is so brutal that even the victims he rescues are terrified of him came out of nowhere.

25:32

Hallelujah, two cuts in a row which made sense. But you know what would have made even more sense? If Clark watching the news about the Batman would transition into a proper scene instead of just a moment of him seeing that Batman exists (because apparently that is news to him after all this years? I don’t get it). After all those self-important dialogues between Bruce and Alfred, it would have made sense to contrast Clark’s point of view immediately after. This would have  been the right place for the “I don’t care about the effect of my actions as long as you are safe” talk.
Also we get our first scene with Lex Luther. I am not sure if we actually get his motivation in this scene, but the argument that humans should be prepared just in case that the “gods among us” act out is actually a good one (especially since it is basically Batman’s reasoning). It become apparent though that the scene with the kryptonite earlier was pointless. Back then it didn’t have any meaning (even less if you are not comic book nerd enough to know that green stuff in a superman movie usually means kryptonite), and we get the important explanations now. But why does Lex need an import licence? Nobody knows what this stuff is, so shouldn’t he be able to import it as much as he wants? And what is the Metahuman thesis?

27:45

Okay, I have to pause again…what was this with the wall of crazy? Whose work was this? Also, what is the deal with the Daily Planet? You don’t just give one reporter “sports” for a day, journalists are usually specialized on specific topics they have a broad background knowledge about. I also don’t see how some graffiti on a statue (really, that was the priority of the city after all the destruction?) is a bigger end of the “love affair” with Superman than him actually being accused by a committee of being responsible for countless deaths.

29:55

I now understand what some critics meant by the overblown soundtrack. The score when Lex walks to the alien ship (without safety suit for some reason) is positive obnoxious, which becomes even more evident since it is multiple times interrupted to show the talk with the white-haired guy – whoever that is. Why do we need to see this? Why can’t we simply shown that Lex has access to the stuff and be done with it? Why is it so important who gave him access?

33:13

Can this movie stick with one story-arc for more than a minute? It has been barely more than 4 minutes and in this time we saw Bruce conducting his terrorist investigation (I don’t care about), Clark acting like a douche by telling Perry White what the paper he is working for a just a little bit more than a year is standing for as well as Lois’ bullet investigation (I also don’t care about) and finally the import discussion between Lex and the Senator (which is equally boring). Can we perhaps go back to either Batman v Superman or the question of accountability for Superman? Please?

47:33

Thank god there is actually something like coherent storytelling for a few minutes. More or less. The cuts make sense for a change and the movie stops jumping around like a bunny on a sugar rush for at least a few minutes during the party. But next to nothing in this works. If Wayne Manor is destroyed, where is Bruce actually living? Does Lex know who Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne are in their spare time? It seems that way. And why Clark attacking a random millionaire whose name he didn’t even know a few minutes earlier (worst reporter ever) over batman? I am also not into the montage which follows. It looks beautiful, but the idea of a family which is about to drown taking the time to write the superman symbol on their roof and he is hovering dramatically over them instead of starting to rescue all those people before it is too late ruins it for me. It’s just…so stupid. Beautiful, but stupid. (and yes, I am aware of the underlying symbolism…I like the Jesus imaginary even less here than I did in Man of Steel. And there I already felt that it was too on the nose).

51:35

I feel lost again. I guess that Lex would use leg-less guy to make trouble for Superman makes sense, but what is this whole thing about mysterious woman (well, Wonder Woman I guess, but that hasn’t been revealed yet) stealing the hard-drive just to give it immediately back? That is kind of a pointless detour, isn’t it?

56:00

WTF was that? I mean I dislike dream sequences on principle, but this was one of the most confusing things I have ever seen. The Mad Max part apparently only exists because someone realized that it has been already too long since the last action beat, but what really threw me off is the moment in the end. Who is this guy screaming at Bruce? Is that the Flash cameo everyone is talking about? But Bruce doesn’t know the Flash yet, does he? So how can he dream about him? Or alternative futures? I don’t get it.

59:13

Finally the whole things with Bruce’s investigation makes sense. But the editing has gotten even worse. What is the point of Perry asking where Clark is (and why he hasn’t fired him yet is beyond me, it is one thing to insist on a story but another thing not to do the work which was assigned to you), only to cut then to Lois who is apparently working on uncovering what the audience already knows, that there is a weapon which would hurt Superman.

1:04:30

Oh, great the movie has finally remembered that it is called Batman v Superman, and not Lex Luther v the Senator or Lois Lane, investigative reporter. Took only one freaking hour! And now we got a confrontation with next to no built-up. It is odd, I have at this point a pretty good idea what the public thinks about Superman, but not why he is so obsessed with Batman’s action. On the other hand I have no idea what the public thinks about Batman, but I know exactly why he is so obsessed over Superman.

1:13:32

I know I repeat myself, but I don’t get it. How could anyone know that Superman would come to rescue Lois? Did leg-less guy send the messages, or did Lex ensure that he never got his money and send those himself? What is the point of those messages anyway? And how does one conclude from a jar of piss that something terrible might happen in the next moments? But you know what, the biggest problem I have in all this is that Superman finally had the chance to declare himself – and the movie didn’t let him. What a waste! And what was the point of the whole Committee story then if it leads to nowhere? I mean we already have what happened in Metropolis to make humanity angry with Superman. Than we have this mysterious Africa incident. But no, we need to set-up a third incident to justify…whatever. Can’t we just get to the fight? Please?

1:21:04

So…I guess Batman stole the Kryptonite off-screen? And Superman now believes that he can’t be a hero because he didn’t notice the bomb? I think this was the gist of his speech, but I am not sure if I follow the logic there. The training montage is useless filler which could have worked if parallel to it we would have seen Superman preparing himself for his battle with Batman but, well, at this point Superman doesn’t even worry about Batman any longer, does he? And what is Lex doing now? Making strange experiences? Why? I thought his plan was to pit Batman against Superman in the hope that Batman is somehow strong enough to destroy him? Wouldn’t it have been way easier to plant a kryptonite bomb instead of a regular one?

1:25:53

I really hate to interrupt again, but the movie is jumping around yet again. So apparently he population is totally okay with Superman destroying a city by fighting people from his planet, but when a bomb goes off beside him he is somehow responsible, even though everyone thinks that wheelchair guy did it? On the upside, the movie finally does what it should have done all along, parallel Superman and Batman to each other by showing both of them having a talk with their father figure (at this point I don’t even worry why Superman sees dead people…I just roll with it). I guess Superman was raised by farmers and Batman by hunters? This is a thought which is certainly worth exploring. Too bad that nothing in the movie beforehand built up this distinction between the characters, and muddles it by throwing in some strange story which seems to boil down to “if someone dies because of Superman’s actions it is never his fault”.  And why we go from that to Superman’s mother getting kidnapped, I have no idea.

1:33:44

I just realized that Lex knows more than he should. Not only did he apparently know the true identities of Batman and Superman all along, he also knew that it was time to kidnap Martha before the bat signal turned up in the sky. And he somehow knows that Superman will be there to rescue Lois no matter where she is, but is unable to realize that his mother is in danger.

1:37:37

Okay, those are the infamous Justice League tie-ins. And let me tell you: Nothing about this works. For one, the nature of the scene. Having a character look at footage is the laziest thing I have ever seen. Two, the placement. It’s like those TV shows when the big fight starts, but no, we go on an advertising break first. It’s ruining all the tension. And three, the snippets itself might make sense for the comic book fans, but for the general audience? I was barely able to piece together what the first two are about, but the third one, which I guess is about Cyborg, means nothing to me. And if I didn’t know that a Cyborg movie is scheduled, it would mean even less. Because I know nothing about this character, I had never heard that he even existed before DC made their announcements. So, after this useless detour, can we finally go to the fight? Which will be pretty one-sided if Superman only wants to ask for help, because…Batman is somehow better suited to find Martha?

1:54:07

Is it just me or is the fight somewhat disappointing? I am not sure what I expected, but certainly not Batman dicking around the whole time, throwing literally a kitchen sink at Superman, instead of simply grabbing the spear and doing what he came to do.
The solution of the fight has already become a meme. I think I am not quite as down on the idea in itself as everyone else seems to be. Granted, it is strange that Superman would call his mother “Martha” instead of “mom” but let’s imagine that the scene was set up in a way that it looks more similar to the scenes of the murder of Bruce’s parents. Than the use of the world “Martha” might cause him flashing back to the moment and realizing that he now has taken the position of their killer in the scenario. But the way it actually is set-up, it’s really very stupid.
Batman freeing Martha (and I am still not sure why Batman and Superman don’t work together on this one. It would be a great bonding exercise), looks somewhat cool. Over-the-top violent but it is at least a better action scene than the title fight.

2:03:30

I liked the fight in space. I would have loved to see more of this. I am not sure, though, what to think about humanity literally nuking their messiah-figure. Also, this should be a very emotional moment, having to make a decision like this. But no one in this control room actually knows Superman and last time I checked the world was on a “we hate Superman”-trip.

2:09:02

Wait a minute…how do Batman and Lois both know that they would need the spear? Neither of them were present when Superman discovered what Lex had done. And even if I assume that they have both incredible good deduction abilities, how does Superman know that Lois threw the spear into the water for no reason?
Speaking of the spear, wouldn’t it have been a better plan for Batman to leave the monster on the thankfully abandoned island and fetch the spear instead of leading it closer to the city? I question his strategy there.
And speaking of strategy, shouldn’t Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman agree on one? They are standing together, but they aren’t really fighting together. They just happen to fight the same monster at the same time.

2:14:35

I think I would have loved those scenes, if they were part of another movie. One in which Superman is such a compelling character that I actually care if he dies or not. But Wonder Woman, Batman and Lois standing around Superman’s fallen body, this is some really beautiful imaginary (lifted from religious paintings, but in this case, I can ignore this fact).

2:23:40

And they ruined it by cutting from a perfectly staged scene to Lex getting his head shaved. Who the f.. cares? Why not go directly to the two funerals. Which, at the very least, work for me in a sense that they pay tribute to Superman’s dual existence – only that we never really saw him being either Clark Kent or Superman all that much and let’s be honest here, Perry White just lost the worst reporter he ever had on payroll.
Also, Batman waxing poetically about how he failed him feels false considering that he is talking about a guy he hated for nearly two years to a woman who never even talked to him.
And finally, what is the whole scene in prison about? Is that another dream? Is everyone in this movie a pre-cog? I just don’t get it.

 


 

Honestly, this was exhausting. But I am glad that I decided to watch the movie piece by piece, because I have the feeling that without pausing in-between in order to put the puzzle pieces  together, I would have been even more lost than I already was. Also, it was a good thing that I spoiled myself, because I don’t think that I would have recognized the Flash otherwise.

I originally wanted to watch the movie without interruptions immediately after, but I think it is better to let this sink in and rewatch the movie tomorrow, with a clear mind. Supposedly it is better the second time around.

 


 

So, I rewatched it. It is better? Well, kind of. It is less confusing if you actually know what is going on, that Lex knows the whole time who Batman and Superman really are, and the second time around I realized that Clark maybe heard Bruce talking with Alfred over the intercom during the party and confronted him because of that. But this is not a “I understand this movie now better because I see new connections” experience. It is a combination of not expecting the characters to behave in any logical manner and filling the gaps in the movie through a lot of research. I shouldn’t need to research anything to understand a movie. And if I had trouble with what the movie expected me to know, I honestly have no idea how someone who has no idea what “The Killing Joke” or “Under the Red Hood” is about is supposed to deal. Apparently the Chinese audience was confused about Wonder Woman, and I can certainly imagine this. If you don’t know about her, her whole subplot makes no sense whatsoever. I would have most likely thought initially that she is supposed to be cat woman.

But before I go into plot points, I want to discuss the technical side of the movie. The editing is atrocious. I can’t think of another movie which does such a bad job stringing scenes together. There are three aspects to it which combined make for a very unpleasant viewing experience: The lack of establishing shots, the length of the scenes and the sudden transition between them.

See, usually a movie is edited in a way that there is some kind of connection between the scenes. There are a lot of way to do this, but the most basic methods are either visual or verbal cues. For example, a character does an upward motion and then the next scene, even though it is set elsewhere, this motion is either continued or mirrored. There is nothing of this kind in this movie. It just jumps from one scene to the next and to add to the confusion, it sometimes gives verbal cues which makes you expect a cut to a certain character which then doesn’t turn up (the Perry White scene I mentioned is an example of that). Since there is neither a proper transition nor an establishing shot, I always needed a few seconds to figure out where the movie went and what is going on in the scene in question, but due to the scenes being so short, I got pulled out of the movie again just when I settled into a situation. One of the reasons why Batman works so much better than the other characters in the movie is because he gets more scenes which have a proper length (he also tends to get better dialogue in general). I think you could have done the movie a lot of good by simply rearranging some scenes. The scene with Wonder Woman looking at all those files should have been the end of the second act and not somewhere in the middle of the third, Lex Luther in prison shouldn’t cut into the funeral scenes, those scenes belong to the very end of the movie (or even better into a mid-credit scene).

Then there is the sound design. Now, I don’t have an issue with the score itself, but I hate the way it is used. In some scenes it is so overbearingly loud and obnoxious that it comes off more like a laughing track. Yes, a score should influence our emotions, but it shouldn’t practically scream at the audience “see how badass this character is! Be impressed!”. Especially not if said character is simply walking down a hallway!

And finally the action scenes. When they are good, they are really good, but at times they feel more like they were lifted from a computer game. I can’t exactly pin down why, but it makes it hard to be invested in them. And what is with all the lens flares during the chase scene? I was barely able to figure out what was happening on screen.

Well, I guess this is enough about the technical aspect (and really, those are film making 101 problems), let’s talk about structure and narrative. I am pretty much a “plot and character” kind of gal. That doesn’t mean that I nitpick every detail in a movie, there is always room for suspension of disbelief. But I need to like the people on screen, I need to know why they do what they do and the narration should work towards a specific point. This movie, though, has no less than five different story-lines which barely connects with each other.

Let’s take it from the top. There is Batman. And I certainly know why so many consider him the best part of the movie. Because he is the only one who has a storyline which actually has something to do with the advertised title fight. He has a reason to be angry with Superman, and most of his activities are about obtaining a weapon against him. There are only four issues with his storyline: For one it is never really addressed how the public sees him opposed to Superman, two, I am not sure if he was retired and now returned or had been around all the time but got harder all the time (in general the movie assumes that the audience will reach the right conclusions over his past just from a destroyed suit, but the only thing we have are fan theories) three, he is a hypocrite because he actually does exactly what he accuses Superman of and fourth his arc is unnecessarily complicated and isolated. Wouldn’t it have more sense if he had worked with Lex in order to find a weapon, instead of tracking the work of someone else? How did he even know that Lex had discovered said weapon?

Then there is Superman. Who is just there. I guess he has a hang-up about Batman’s brutality, but this is hard to buy when he himself is smashing humans through walls. Nothing about Superman really worked. I hate to rag on actors when they are trapped in such a clearly ill-advised movie, but Superman looks constantly constipated. He is a horrible reporter, a questionable saviour, but what it is even worse, none of the stuff which was set up in Man of Steel was picked up again in this movie. The killing of Zod isn’t even mentioned, the destruction of Metropolis serves as a motivator for Batman, but in order for the public to question Superman, the movie (or Lex) feels the need to set up not one but two unrelated incidents (because people totally care about the death of some terrorist on the other side of the world more than the fact that their city got destroyed in a 9/11 event). Shouldn’t it be the other way around, that Superman has to sway the opinion of those people who hold him responsible? But then it is perhaps a good thing that Snyder blew up congress before Superman could declare himself, because he apparently never understood why so many people had issues with the destruction in Man of Steel. It was never the fact that there was a perceived death toll, but that it felt like destruction for the sake of destruction, with no deeper meaning behind it, caused by a Superman who didn’t seem to care. I don’t need a “there are no people around” disclaimer, it is frankly insulting. What I needed was an exploration what the destruction of Metropolis meant for Superman. Even the one person who has a good reason to accuse Superman isn’t allowed to act in their own volition, but is manipulated by a villain. But you know what, Superman is a dick in this one. The only time he actually voices some sort of opinion is when he says that he doesn’t care how many people die as long as Lois is safe. He freaking should care!

Speaking of Lois, her arc is the most coherent one, but also the most useless one. Her motivations are clear, her actions make mostly sense, but what is the point in her looking into those bullets when what she discovers has no impact on the plot whatsoever? For all the screen-time she gets, the only time she is relevant is when Superman has to rescue her. Which he has to do no less than three times, the third time being a totally useless detour which does nothing but add running time to an already way too long movie. As a general rule, the movie treats female characters terrible. They are only there to look sexy, be in danger or getting killed off. Even Wonder Woman doesn’t escape unscathed.

Don’t get me wrong, there are moments in which I genuinely liked Wonder Wonder. I am one of those who doubted Gal Gadot’s casting, not because of some nonsense like her built, but because I wasn’t sure if she is a good enough actress to carry a movie and able to sell the confidence I expect of the character. Well, I am still not sure about her line-delivery, but in the battle scenes, she shined. And I don’t mean her looking impressive while holding a shield, this moment was actually very corny. No, I mean the way she smiles before attacking Doomsday even harder, and the moment at the very end, when she is standing beside Superman’s body and looks toward the sky. There is something about it which worked really well, even though I like Wonder Woman better as ambassador of peace than as warrior. But she somehow managed to sell her actions as “I enjoy this, but I don’t necessarily like it”, if that makes any sense. Thus said, her arc in the movie is terrible. She seems to be only there to set up the Justice League and nothing of this makes sense. If she wants the photo, she needs more than just a copy, she has to destroy every exemplar available of it. Why should she first steal the data from Batman and then give it back to him because she…couldn’t crack the encryption? Honestly, that’s just stupid.

But the actual main plot of the movie is neither of those arcs. At the end of the day this movie is not Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, it is Lex v Holly Hunter: Dawn of Doomsday. There is way more time spend on Lex’s shenanigans than on anything else. I count no less that six different plots he has going on: He sets up Superman getting blamed for Africa, the bomb at the congress, is sending both Superman and Batman letters, imports the Kryptonite, kidnaps the people who are closest to Superman in order to force him to fight and is experimenting with alien technology. All this his needlessly complicated and his main opponent in all this is neither Batman or Superman, not even Lois Lane by investigating him, no, it is a random Senator who gets blown up halfway through the movie.

None of those arcs I just mentioned  work on their own all that way. But they also barely connect with each other. If we assume that Batman and Superman are the heroes of this piece (yeah, I have to assume this, I don’t think that this is obvious) and Lex is the villain, I would expect one of two things: Either that the heroes spend a lot of screen-time with each other, so that the movie can built up to the conflict between them escalating (or them teaming up, whatever the movie in question is going for), or that they spend a lot of screen-time with the villain, so that we can see two opponents seizing each other up. But instead those characters share exactly one scene before the third act, two if you count the brief encounter between Batman and Superman. That’s it. The first time you watch the movie, it is as if you are watching three different ones which got shoehorned together somehow (with some tie-ins for future movies thrown in). During the second watch you at least know that a lot of what happens is orchestrated by Lex somehow off-screen, but that makes the experience barely better.


 

So, I have discussed the technical aspects and the plot, but what is with the actual themes? After all, a movie so stuffed with Jesus references and quotes should have something to say, right? Well, not really. I think that Dawn of Justice tries to say something, but whatever it is, it gets lost because most of the references are just that, meaningless imaginary which don’t really figure into a large theme, and the little bit the movie has to offer in this direction is undercut by the movie itself.

One example: Lex “reasoning” for creating doomsday is that if man (meaning Batman) can’t win against god (meaning Superman), the devil has to do it. Well, for one this goes against something he says earlier about the devil coming from the sky, but the bigger problem in this is that the very first thing the movie does is lifting Batman into the air, making him more than man.

Another example: As I said, I am not as down on the Martha scene as other people are, but I don’t think it works. What I think the writers is going for is that Batman suddenly realizes that Superman has a human element to it, that he does have a family he cares about and that he himself shouldn’t be the judge, jury and executioner for someone else. This whole idea is undercut twice, first by Batman making a sarcastic remark about Superman’s parents before the word Martha is uttered and then by Batman going to safe Martha by acting as judge, jury and executioner for a bunch of people. I guess he has learned his lesson about killing just as well as Superman did when he killed Zod, meaning not at all.

If this movie has a theme at all, then that fascism is a great thing. Now, all Superhero stories have a fascist element to it. After all, they tend to be about people with special abilities who use the power they have in order to enforce their will on other people, and they do so outside of any written law, but following their own set of rules. This context is not escapable, and the only way to deal with it, is to question the actions of the hero once in a while. The Senator actually has a point that Superman flying around the world doing whatever he wants is a problem. But this is a point of view which gets literally blown up in the movie and is replaced by Pa Kent’s not so uplifting story about rescuing the own farm on the expense of another one. Sure, actions often have unintended consequences. But that doesn’t mean that one should dismiss said consequences. But that is exactly what the movie ask the audience to do. Dismiss this guy in the wheelchair. Dismiss the question what a Superhero should be allowed to get away with. Dismiss all those people Batman killed or endangered. All this isn’t important, as long we can watch a long, manly brawl.


 

You might have noticed that I didn’t really address the “should Batman kill” question so far aside from pointing out that him doing so by the end of the movie undercuts the arc he kind of is supposed to have. Because that isn’t really important. Now, if I would write those movies, neither Batman nor Superman would kill. Superman wouldn’t smash people through two walls, he would show his superiority by solving problems like this without hurting anyone. And Batman would be the last person I would pick to assemble the Justice League, because I consider him a loner who is not keen of working with anyone, unless it is an impressionable teenager he can form after his own ideals. But all this is not really important for the question if this is a good movie or not. It would be important if the question were if this is a good adaptation, but since everything about it already fails on the most basic level, it is not a question I even have to consider. But then, perhaps the extended cut improves on the movie.


Later:  Well, it does in some regards, but not in others. The editing is a little bit more fluid, which makes this way less of a headache to watch, and I actually like Clark a little bit more in this version because he has some scenes which explain why he is so zoomed in on Batman. Him staying after the explosion makes a big difference in how I see his character. It is also helpful to know that the wheelchair had lead in it, even though this is yet another instance of the movie assuming that the audience is aware of a Superman weakness which never got established in this particular movie-verse.

On the other hand, though, Lex schemes just multiplied, because he is apparently also paying people in prison to kill criminals with the bat brand, and he sets up the home of wheelchair guy to make him look more guilty (though why he should go through all this effort makes no sense to me, isn’t the idea to frame Superman?).

Also, this cut officially kills of Jimmy Olsen. Why? It is a pointless event which does nothing but prevent any other writer from ever using one of the most important characters of the Superman stories.

All in all the extended cut makes the movie more watchable, but that’s it. It is still a horrible movie. I might even go so far to say that this is the worst Superhero movie of all time along with last years Fantfourstic and Catwoman. Oh, there are a lot of other movies with a lower production value, worse acting and more problems overall. But you know what those movies didn’t do? They didn’t try to lie to the audience. They didn’t pretend to have anything to say just to waste the time of the viewer with meaningless references. They didn’t advertise for the sequel in the middle of the third act. They didn’t spend an insane amount of money conning the audience into the belief that they will see a big event movie. And they are bad on a very simple level. I can easily sum up the problems with those movies in a few sentences. With Dawn of Justice I just wrote a long article, and I haven’t even touched some of the aspects I hate about it, like the toxic masculinity it idealises or the way Snyder rips off the work of famous artists for his praised cinematography. Dawn of Justice got a lot of attention, but the only attention it deserves is imho as an example how not to construct a script and put together a movie.

The good news is that I haven’t quite given up on the DCEU yet. I still hope that I might at least get a decent Wonder Woman movie out of this, if nothing else. Those movies which have different screenwriters and directors than Man of Steel and Dawn of Justice might end up being worth the watch. Hopefully.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Captain America Civil War and the Future of the MCU

I’ll hold this article back until the movie is out in the US, but I wanted to write down my thoughts while they are fairly fresh. I won’t do a review of the movie just yet, because, let’s face it, more or less everyone else is currently doing it. Instead I will talk about the repercussions of Civil War, what it means for Phase 3 and how I think Marvel should proceed in Phase 4. (In case this wasn’t clear, there will be spoilers from here onwards).

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Marvel Musings: The Five Most Emotional Scenes of Phase 1

To clarify this titles, this is not necessarily about the saddest moments, but about those scenes to which I have the greatest emotional response. The moments which made me sit up in my seat, bite my nails or, yes, break out in tears. The more of a roller coaster, the better. As usual, I tried to stick with one scene per movie though.

5. Iron Man 2: Tony watches the recordings of his father

It was surprisingly difficult to find a moment which really touched me on an emotional level in either The Incredible Hulk or Iron Man 2. The former movie does have a number of moments which should work for me, but don’t because I never managed to connect with the characters. And the latter movie is just not focussed enough to built up a scene properly and then linger on it as long as it should. This scene is the exception, though. I am usually not into daddy issues at all, because the trope is just used way too often. But I really liked how this movie portrayed the problems without spelling them out. There is Tony, who believes that his father never cared for him, and this old recording which reveals that Howard Stark was an alcoholic who struggled expressing his feelings and was pretty much a broken personality. In a way Howard is what Tony might become if he isn’t careful. I always wonder what else happened to turn the carefree Howard Stark we know from the Agent Carter era into this self-hating man. But seeing him loosing his control on camera just makes me so unbelievable sad, for him and for Tony, who never got to know Howard Stark before he was weighted down by regrets.

4. Thor: Loki confronts Odin

Thor is pretty much packed with dramatic scene. There is Thor trying to lift the hammer, Thor dying, Loki falling into the void, and yet, I ended up picking this scene, mostly because it is the most relevant of them all. Neither Thor nor Loki actually die and Thor gets his power back. But the knowledge that he is an ice giant and the self-loathing which comes with it, that will always be part of Loki’s character. And I can’t stop wishing that the revelation had been less traumatic.

3. The Avengers: Tony flies through the wormhole

 Again, there were a lot of moments to choose. I came close to picking the old man making his speech or Coulson’s death, but in the end, there was so much to love about this moment. There is the movie subverting an old trope by not allowing Tony to connect with Pepper in his “last moment”, there is Cap having to made the decision to close the worm hole and Black Widow having to follow the order and finally Hulk coming to an unexpected rescue. It is a rollercoaster of excitement.

2. Iron Man: Tony is found in the Desert

I always felt that Marvel could have ended Iron Man with Tony escaping from the cave and I would have been totally satisfied. I realize that the general audience would have been angry for not seeing Iron Man in action, but what makes the movie so good is in my eyes the first part, which shows Tony surviving against all odds. This passage turned a millionaire into an underdog the audience can root for. When he stumbles through the desert and suddenly Rhodey turns up, I feel the elation of the characters, and when Tony then breaks down crying, I want to reach through the screen and hug him, too.

1. Captain America, The First Avenger: Steve and Peggy’s Goodbye

This one won by a mile. The only question was if I should pick that one or the moment when Steve wakes up in the present. But then, those moments kind of belong together. Steve waking up in the future would be only half as effective, if we didn’t know what he left behind. His last interaction with Peggy, hinting at everything which could have been and got cut short by his sacrifice, that is what makes this moment. And I feel that heart-break all over again when his first reaction to the realisation that he is in the future is “I had a date.” I am not a fan of time travel, but if it means that Steve and Peggy at least get that dance, I would get behind it in a heartbeat, even though I intellectually know that Marvel should never go back on what they did to Steve and Peggy. It would cheapen the scene.

 

So, hopefully I’ll manage to cover Phase 2 over the weekend. If not, well, next Wednesday I’ll watch Civil war. I expect me to be all obsessed with it, judging by the reviews. Either that or I will be shattered because my expectations were too high.  In any case, it will delay me writing about anything else for a while.