Thursday, August 27, 2015

Analyzing the Disney Villains: Percival McLeach (The Rescuers Down Under)

Origin: The Rescuers Down Under (1989)

The movie is better than I remembered, but I think it's more processing than kids can handle. Maybe that's why it's Disney's smallest net gain (although it had a small budget).

It seems like whenever Disney makes the setting part of a character, it fails. Lilo and Stitch did the same thing with Hawaii. It comes off as propaganda. Maybe it's because the world is smaller and these places aren't exotic anymore. Maybe because we don't care about worlds we can visit. We want either worlds we know with fantastic characters (like New York style superheroes) or totally new worlds with ordinary characters (like Lord of the Rings and Guardians of the Galaxy).


Motivation: McLeach joins the over-populated league of villainous hunters.  Fortunately, he's the last one in my list (unless you count Shere Kahn). But unlike others, he's a poacher, meaning he captures or kills animals illegally.  What he does with them from there, I don't know. I assume he sells them to some other party, dead or alive. Hopefully, he doesn't get taken advantage of because of his 3rd grade education. I expect his plan is early retirement, maybe with the golden eagle - his particular goal for this movie.

Character Strengths: I really don't know. Same as the other hunters, I suppose. Tracking, knife skills, doesn't need supervision, loves working with animals. And he can lie pretty effectively. Well, at least enough to fool a nine-year-old.

Evilness: The voice of George C. Scott adds a lot to McLeach's character. You can tell the guy is having fun.  This and Patton are his finest performances because he makes the part his own.

McLeach follows on the heels of Madame Medusa. Both are in the business of kidnapping small children to do their dirty work. But where it was clever for Medusa to have uncharacteristic sociopathy (greed and child abuse), McLeach is just another in a long line of overly masculine hunters searching for that trophy. Said trophy is probably the last one, so points for that.

Tools: Having a pet Komodo dragon is pretty neat, but you gotta wonder how much he'd get paid for that. Maybe it's his backup plan. And the way she's animated makes her look like a snake with legs, not a lizard.  That, and its gremlin-like voice, results in something that crosses the uncanny valley to something creepy, not a comical henchman.

Complement to the Hero: I don't really get Cody. Is he an orphan? How did he find this golden eagle? What does the eagle get out of it? I get that it's a lion and the mouse thing, but still, it just invites trouble. And how can he talk to animals? Why does he have the same ability Penny does? Are they long lost cousins? And of course, Cody suffers from whiny kid syndrome -- acts like a twelve-year-old, even though he's nine.

Fatal Flaw: McLeach's method of defeat does not reflect his personality. It's all pretty much by accident, so the most you could say is that either A) he needed to pick more capable henchmen or B) needed to take less risks.

Method of Defeat/Death: Cody is suspended in a cage over a river. McLeach is about to shoot the rope in order to drown him, but Joanna accidentally knocks him into Crocodile River. But that doesn't kill him (too "Temple of Doom" I guess). The crocs swim away after a beating.  Thinking he's won, he doesn't see the giant waterfall behind him. Joanna even waves him goodbye. Personally, I think he could have survived it.

Final Rating: Two stars

Ichabod Crane (The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad)
Lady Tremaine (Cinderella)
Governor Ratcliffe (Pocahontas)
Pinocchio's Villains (Pinocchio)
Sykes (Oliver and Company)
Alameda Slim (Home on the Range)
Rourke (Atlantis: The Lost Empire)
The Evil Queen (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs)
Ursula (The Little Mermaid)
Dr. Facilier (The Princess and the Frog)
Gaston (Beauty and the Beast)
Willie the Giant (Mickey and the Beanstalk)
Hades (Hercules)
The Queen of Hearts (Alice in Wonderland)
Jafar (Aladdin)
Shan Yu (Mulan)
Man (Bambi)
Clayton (Tarzan)
The Horned King (The Black Cauldron)
Mother Gothel (Tangled)
Cobra Bubbles (Lilo and Stitch)
Cruella De Vil (101 Dalmatians)
Madame Medusa (The Rescuers)
Captain Hook (Peter Pan)
Amos Slade (The Fox and the Hound)
Madam Mim (The Sword in the Stone)
Claude Frollo (The Hunchback of Notre Dame)
Scar (The Lion King)
Prince John (Robin Hood)
Edgar (The Aristocats)
Ratigan (The Great Mouse Detective)
Maleficent (Sleeping Beauty)

Friday, August 07, 2015

Things I Like: This Report on Misogynistic Disney Characters by Haley Callahan

We're living in a tumultuous time for gender dynamics.  There is an Internet Civil War going on, as happens when the winds of change start a-blowin'.  GamerGaters are fighting Social Justice Warriors are fighting Sad Puppies are fighting Feminazis are fighting misogynists are fighting ableists are fighting Tumblr.  Everyone seems to want something and no one seems to know what that is, but they're willing to fight for it.  Mostly through comments and pestering e-mails.

And I'm just sitting here eating popcorn.

I don't know.  I dabbled in the wars in the early years, not to hurt anyone, just from my own confusion.  Now that my confusion is cleared I have no reason to participate.  But it bothers me that so many key types are being wasted on a loud majority.  They're like the kid in the back who was bad, so now the whole class has to stay behind.

And there's no shortage of people voicing their opinion.  But that's all they're doing.  Voicing.  Shouting into the wind (where the wind is YouTube).  Shouting but no one listening.  No one attempting to educate.  Those that are, without some agenda or a presentation with more holes than a kindergartner's paper snowflake, are the ones I listen to.

Cue Haley Callahan a.k.a. T-Belle, The Philosofan.  I first heard about her when "Some Jerk With a Camera", one of my new favorite Internet reviewers who I recently discovered (and might warrant his own "Things I Like" in the future), tweeted this video -- misogynist Disney characters.

Now from my ongoing analysis of Disney villains, I know that most of the negative male portrayals tend towards the poncey-side (Captain Hook, Governor Radcliffe) or masculine gun nuts (Percival McLeach, Rourke).  Not to mention that anything controversial, even from a villain, is anathema for the family friendly Disney.  Even villains can't smoke, because the kids might be influenced.  Duh, that's why they're the BAD guys.

Anyway, I had some expectations based on my existing knowledge.  But what kicked this into my forebrain was the examples I didn't think of.  I don't want to spoil anything for you, in case you click the link (although the answer's right on the thumbnail).  I'd rather you go in for yourself, fresh, like I did, so you can have the same feeling of discovery and "huh, I never thought of that before" that I did.

"But, Eric," you say, "that can't be all that makes you think the whole world needs to know about The Philosofan."  You would be correct.  Because the presentation is what really sells this.  Her history in show choir contributes a lot to the entertainment value of the video.  I love how she personifies herself as a "mama lion".  The few female reviewers there are, you don't see many of them claiming a defensive role.  They're more deadpan snarkers or chirpy fangirls.

Basically, each entry starts with a monologue by the "villain" illustrating how insidious their misogyny is.  It made me understand what it's like to be on the receiving end of this kind of treatment, and opened a new lobe of sympathy.  And it all caps off with a bombardment of all three characters assaulting our protagonist in different ways.

You can see her getting forced into a corner by these arrogant bastards, sociopathic liars, and deceptive pomps, laying on the hate thick, shrinking her down to the size of a pea.  You can feel what women must go through when they find themselves on dates with these manipulative assholes, or worse, relationships, never seeing what hit them.  Geez, if I was in the same position, I might have fallen for it.  And the ending?  Well, I didn't see it coming. (It's been a long time since I saw Kill Bill.)

So go watch it, and tell me you don't fall in love with her.  Sadly, her other videos don't reach the same level of impact, but I look forward to what she produces in the future.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Daughter's Treasure Island

So I try to write about positive things as much as I can.  But as you know, it's difficult.  It's much easier to point out what's wrong with something that what's right with it.  Because what's right, the good stuff, should be there by default.  We only notice when it's not there.  But that makes positive memories hard to come by.  So I store them when I can.

So I'm reading Treasure Island to my seven-year-old for bedtime these days.  It's not the actual text, it's an adapted version for... children?  Lazy readers?  People of the future who won't know antiquated words?  Anyway, it's this one.  Judge for yourself.  I'll just say I didn't realize it at first and thought it was easier to read I expected.

The novel's biggest obstacle is the roundabout story.  It's not like Harry Potter or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  Characters aren't neatly introduced and stay in the picture all throughout.  Captain Bill looks like he's going to be Jim's pirate friend throughout the story, but then dies one-third of the way through.  You expect clearly drawn lines between good guy and bad guy, but Long John Silver, Ben Gunn, and Captain Smollet throw all those expectations into the water.  I had the same issue with Les Miserables in fifth grade.  It took multiple readings of just the summary to understand what was going on.

Anyway, if you remember, there's the part in the beginning where Captain Bill asks Jim to be on the lookout for a man with one leg, and pays him nicely for it.  It's a throwaway line in the first chapter and easily forgettable.  The issue never comes back.  Much more exciting stuff happens in the meantime -- pirate fights, the black spot, treasure maps, pursuit by pirates, organizing a trip to treasure island.

But MY daughter caught it.  As soon as they Long John Silver appears and he has a one leg, she gets all excited, "ooh, ooh, Dad, that was that guy, that one guy the captain was looking for, remember?"  And I said yep, you're right, he did say that.

So yeah, just wanted to call that out for you all.

Monday, August 03, 2015

Some HP Recovered

Thankfully, some consistent days on writing, bearing down on my to-do list, and upping my doses of medication, and I seem to have recovered somewhat from the disappointments of writing.  Still haven't gotten any agent bites, but at least I resolved my query letter.  Whether it's better or not, I don't know.

I'm still working on the princess crossover.  It's getting damn large.  I understand how some writers can write 500,000 word epics, but I don't know how they revise it.  Mine's only up to 146,000, but the idea of going back through it all is intimidating.  I worry about the time consumption.

But I figure as long as I'm writing, I'm getting out my million bad words.  Let's keep going.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Princess Peach in Punch-Out? Preposterous!

I just saw on Punch-Out!! - Did You Know Gaming? (relevant section) that Princess Peach was planned to be in Wii Punch-Out. That fired all kinds of neurons in my brain, since it's been thinking about women and stories and video games.

It can't be denied that there a lot of video games out there that are unkind towards women. There are lots of games with good women too -- well-rounded characters that exist beyond a simple goal to be obtained. Princess Peach is not one of them.

She has a presence in nearly every Mario game, but when she's not a simple option for Mario Kart or placeholder, she's simpering in a castle. Rosalina has more personality than her. She wasn't even in the first New Super Mario Bros, and games where she has been playable and fleshed-out... have their flaws.

But if she was in Punch-Out, what would that mean? Is it feminist? Anti-feminist? I almost regret it not being included because the analysts would have a field day with that one, all for some silly in-game bonus. The equivalent of Marvel's post-credits scenes.

Now on one hand, we're clearly dealing with a man punching a woman. And there's no doubt that, traditionally and visually, this is an unfair fight. A well-trained boxer versus a twiggy-armed princess. No count. One punch would cause a concussion.

On the other hand, this isn't real life. This is a video game. Besides Princess Peach, you're also fighting a flamenco dancer, a literal "turban-head" from India who wears Bengal tiger pants, a Russian who is LITERALLY chugging a bottle of vodka in his corner, and an obese island king who may or may not be totally human. Like Insane Clown Posse, you would have to be a moron to take this seriously. It's cartoon violence.

But it's still violence. And none of these characters are women. This is Nintendo. Not Mortal Kombat, not Tekken, not even Street Fighter. Any fighting females are doing it with parasols and frying pans against turtles and mushrooms*. You would NEVER see Princess Toadstool strapping on a set of boxing gloves. It's not her identity. Which is probably another reason the feature was cut.

I'm hoping the real version would have had less cleavage than this.  Not practical.  Ask Ronda Rousey.
But when I think of the weirdness and novelty of competing with Princess Peach, I feel a small pang of regret for what could have been. When I think of what kind of girlish squeals she'd make (see Mario Power Tennis) or her twiggy arms power-punching, I can't help but smile. And that's right -- I said "competing". It's not just a Grand Theft Auto-style beatdown. You're on equal footing in a sports arena. In fact, moreso, because she would be a bonus character. A challenge.

The idea/theme of Punch-Out is that these characters are stronger than you. You're a little guy taking on giant Turks and 'roided out Dwayne "The Rock" Johnsons. And you beat them. That's the charm of Punch-Out. But that charm is not present with Princess Peach. It is with Donkey Kong, which is why he fits.

So my big question is -- is this okay? It's a fair fight. You're competing, not striking out of anger. For some reason, we have a thing in our culture where girls fight girls, boys fight boys. But god help you if a boy fights a girl, even if circumstances demand it. It's kind of unfortunate because when it is provoked, it leads to some fascinating results.

There is truth to the fact that, by law of averages (for very wide definitions of average) men have more upper body strength.  Which by some odd corollary translates to "all women are weaker". In honorable fighting situations, that makes sense. But sometimes, it's against moral code for any manly heroes to fight someone weaker.  So it's up to the woman to take out her equal, toe to toe.  While warriors on both sides to sit back and watch the "catfight".

But this is a video game. And in nearly every video game, it's you against the world. Everyone else, whether by virtue of strength, magic, or number, is stronger than you. And it's your job to rise from underdog to champion. The human can think beyond logic, so programmers give all video game opponents an unfair advantage. If Princess Peach is one of those opponents, does that not make it fair? Does that not make gender an irrelevant issue?

I wonder Sarkeesian would say about that.

*Some exceptions, like Samus Aran and Super Smash Brothers, may apply. But Samus is wearing a genderless, identity-less power suit, and the other is the digital equivalent of smashing toys together.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Books I Read: May - June 2015

Chicken Soup for the Writer's Soul by various authors

If you haven't noticed, I could use a little pick-me-up for my writing these days. Or maybe a Phoenix Down or Philosopher's Stone. We all need some motivation some times. I was hoping that this book could add a little gumption to my typing fingers. But the articles just don't give much to inspire. In fact, a lot of them did the opposite. They told me just how much more others achieved with so little to start with. The "genius" authors as I call them -- the ones whose success and talent cannot be duplicated or learned. It just comes naturally to them. People like Alex Haley and Harper Lee and Garry Marshall.

And that's the other thing. This book is out of date. We've got people talking about Vietnam and writing in the 1930's. These people didn't have to deal with self-publishing saturating the market or eBook piracy or (god, forbid) Fifty Shades of Gray.

And some of the stories have a Christian spin on in. As in "God was sending me a message to write this book", which is the bane of every slush reader and query letter. Anyone who says they were commanded to write a book by God scares me.

So if you're looking for something to keep you writing, look somewhere else. It has just as much chance of bringing you back down. Bit of a poor effort when it's got the opposite effect.

Life Itself by Roger Ebert

I cannot, for the life of me, remember why I wanted to read this book. I think it was because I watched the documentary Life Itself, but I can't remember why I watched that either. I guess I was coming around to the fact that one of Roger Ebert's underappreciations was his proficient writing. He wrote thousands of movie reviews and somehow never ran out of material, never lost inertia. He even wrote a book about the history of the rice cooker. Who does that? Especially if you're known for being a movie critic.

Back in the before time, there were people who were famous for no particular reason, just because of their personality. They produced things, but they were more known for being celebrities. People like Charles Nelson Reilly, Charro, Whoopi Goldberg. Roger was a gentleman scholar, but you'd never know it from his humble Chi-town roots. He waxes on about the beauty of London and the disgusting destruction of the elder rustic for the modern commercial. Then a chapter later will discuss how great Steak and Shake is (I wish they had one in Minnesota, it sounds tasty).

It reminds me of a blog compilation. The story has little of his life and more of his opinions, statements, and essays. He doesn't talk much about film or writing, except chapters dedicated to people I didn't really care about (like Werner Herzog). He's not terribly clever, but he's a straight-shooter. Don't come here for an autobiography, but come here to learn a little about the man who helped us appreciate the art of story-telling a little more.

The Martian by Andy Weir

The world's longest word problem.

If you don't like math, you're going to hate this book. The first 13% of the book is nothing but engineering problems of how he's going to survive on Mars, just by himself, with the handful of utilities NASA sent. It goes through all the math needed to create crops, combining Earth soil with Martian soil to grow bacteria to grow potatoes, how many calories he needs from potatoes for how fast they can grow and how much he can grow until he runs out of days and how much he needs per day and the water he needs to make and how many molecules of hydrogen he can get for the oxygen and so on; all using only the tools he has available. Someone with less than a college degree wouldn't be able to understand this.

Someone said the whole book is like that scene in Apollo 13 where they're trying to figure out how to make a CO2 scrubber with plastic wrap and cardboard. And I can't disagree. That's not to say it's not a good book. It is. It's just quite heavy with engineering and less so with plot developments and characterization.

The main character has a sense of humor, thank god, and he writes his log entries so the layman can understand. But it's almost to a fault. He sounds too blue collar sometimes to make me think he was taken on a NASA mission (similar to Gravity taking an untrained schoolteacher on a spacewalk).

The appeal of this book is the science. It is kind of fun watching the guy work through a problem and solve it, using science (and in an accessible language). But that is not going to appeal to everyone (like I called "The Historian" out for being just a guy doing research).

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

A re-read. I got a bunch of books from ThriftBooks.com (shout out!) which includes a bunch I want my kids to discover. This is one of them. It's more disjointed than I remember, but I guess Alice in Wonderland and Wizard of Oz were too. It's still a classic, blending logic and imagination in wonderful ways. The biggest flaw is that I never got a sense of the obstacles the main character has to face. It never seems like he's suffering. Dorothy's homesick and Alice is neurotic with the paradoxes and chaos. Milo's just cruising. Needs less scenery and more protagonist.

Heartbreak Hotel by Mona Ingram (UNFINISHED)

Was this person writing a movie? I know it's "show, don't tell", but you've got to play to the medium. Like all great authors recommend, it starts with a description of the weather. Then it methodically introduces us to each character. One. After. The. Other. Just character soup.

It's full of first chapter mistakes and nothing happening. It's supposed to be about a girl coming into a hotel but she has no characterization, no personality. It's just a laundry list of characters coming in. Here's the maid, here's the ski instructor, here's the cook, here's the concierge, here's the billing manager. I couldn't finish it.

A Summer in Amber by C. Litka

A pastoral regency romance. Takes place in an alternate 1900 where there's cell phones but no cars. A Ph.D. is assigned to a quaint country house to transcribe a mad scientist's papers. But more important, the tempestuous daughter of the town's leader is catching his eye. She's a good character, as is the main character's cantankerous boss. But other than that, a lot of them don't have distinguishable personalities.

The prose is influenced by Jasper Fforde's slipstream, but the science fiction elements have no bearing on what happens. Nothing moves the goalposts back. The main character always has his antagonist in the palm of his hand, so there's no tension. I liked the fantastical elements, I wished there could have been more of them.  The romance is the best part, and thankfully that's the main part of the plot.

The biggest flaw is that all it does it explain what's happening. There's no chance for the reader to make his/her own interpretations on motivations or character flaws. It has that early 20th century habit of spelling out everything that's happening for the reader. Not in an amateur way -- the story sounds professional -- but it means there's no element of surprise when someone's backstory comes to the foreground or a twist results. And as a result, it's hard to get invested for what's going on.

The Ables by Jeremy Scott

This is for a younger audience than I thought. It's a simple comic book plot, but a decent one. It's got some cliches. Doesn't break out of a mold or do anything to distinguish itself. It's no "Steelheart" or "Soon I Will Be Invincible". It's supposed to be about disabled superheroes, but the disabling doesn't come up much.

It's fun to see them come up with ways around it (like hooking a telepath to a viewscreen of the blind guy's POV). But they find ways around it quickly and it ceases to be an issue. Katawa Shoujo did a better job of dealing with the day-to-day hardships and it had a variety of characters -- thematically exploring who lets their disability define them and who doesn't. There isn't much of the daily life struggles they face, like the handicapped guy getting stared at. That's the sort of thing I wanted to see. In fact, I think one guy gets his arm back at some point. And my biggest complaint? No girls.