Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Fairy Tale Media Fix: Moana



Okay, so I’m kind of behind on this one.  With a posting schedule of once each calendar week, sometimes things fall behind.

Anyway, as everybody knows, Disney recently released its new animated movie Moana.  The story follows a young girl and future chief from the Pacific Island of Matanui as she defies her father to sail off in search of the demigod Maui to make him return an item he stole from the mother island of Tafiti.

This is the one I’ve been waiting for.  Say what you will about Disney, but they’re often the most interesting when they’re introducing the wider world to lore and literature that they might not have known about before.  At least, to those of us who are folklore buffs.  They did it before with movies like Mulan and now Moana is introducing people beyond the Pacific to the legends and myths about Maui.

What did I think?

Honestly, I loved it.  The film is beautiful.  The cast does amazing work voicing the various characters.  Dwayne Johnson brings his usual charisma to the character of Maui.  The real stand out is newcomer Auli’I Cravalho who voices Moana herself.  Expect big things from her.  The music by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Opetaia Foa’i and Mark Mancina is great.  My favorite is probably “You’re Welcome”, Maui’s song which actually references about five or six different stories about Maui (Zalka Csenge outlines that on her blog HERE).  And yes, the movie has gotten praised for centering on a strong heroine and showcasing non-White, non-European cultures.  The movie’s a great time.  Go see it if you haven’t yet.

Honestly, the biggest criticism I’ve seen of it from the critics is that it feels too traditionally “Disney”.  Pretty much every online critic I watch (Black Nerd, Doug Walker, MovieBob, etc) has pretty much echoed the idea that the story follows almost every traditional Disney trope about the strong, young princess defying her strict parent to follow her heart, etc.

But I ask, is that really a bad thing?  Or at least, might it be a good thing to some audiences?

Maybe I’m not a particularly good reviewer (and I will cop to this since I kind of fell into this whole thing).  However, while watching the film I didn’t notice how familiar the story was at all.  Perhaps it’s because for a kid who grew up with the “Disney Renaissance”, the formula was kind of comforting.  Heck, in his review Doug Walker talks about the “Disney Checklist” and how you can check off all the tropes as you go along.  But the only time that’s ever happened to me while watching a Disney film was when I watched Frozen, which made a point of subverting a whole lot of the tropes.  By subverting the tropes all they did was call attention to them which ended up pulling me out of the film and made it difficult for me to enjoy it.  Moana doesn’t subvert anything.  It plays it straight and I’m fine with that.  There are a couple of little things I noticed.  I give the movie props for actually making Moana good at things.  Remember in Mulan how Mulan wasn’t very good at meeting with the matchmaker before she left and wasn’t very good at being a soldier until she went through a music montage’s worth of training?  Moana doesn’t do that.  She’s actually a very good leader-in-training.   Making her incompetent would have been a really easy way of showing how she “doesn’t fit in”.  Instead, it’s just her wanderlust that sets her apart.  The one place where I could criticize this movie with sticking to formula is the inclusion of Moana’s animal sidekick Hei-Hei, who is pretty much useless.  They could have done without him (I’m still amazed that they hired Alan Tudyk from Firefly to voice him.  Who hires such a good actor to just make clucking noises?).

My biggest letdown regarding this movie isn’t about this movie itself.  It’s about how no one else jumped on the bandwagon.  I was hoping once word came out that Disney was basing a movie around myths and folklore from the Pacific Islands that publishers would rush to put out books of Polynesian folklore and legends.  But I’ve been to the bookstores and there’s nothing.  It’s not to say you can’t find anything, but it takes some digging.  Before the movie came out, I tried reading Hawaiian Folk Tales by Thomas J. Thrum and found it a bit hard to get through as an outsider.  The combination of names I couldn’t pronounce and unfamiliar mythology made the learning curve a bit too steep for me.   Of far greater help was YouTube, which hosts a number of animations based on Maori legends adapted by Peter Gossage.  Here you can find stories like “Maui and the Sun” and “The Fish of Maui”.  Also, apparently a story entitled The Magic Jawbone collected by Hartwell James is accessible on www.fairytalez.com.  I haven’t read it yet but it could be good.

Yes, the best image I could find was a cereal box.  Thanks for asking.
Anyway, it’s been suggested to me by a colleague that those of us who are folklore savvy look into some indigenous reviews to find out what they did well.  I tried to find some but came up a bit short.  Maybe my readers can offer some help (post any links you have in the comments below).  The main thing I did find was that many people have criticized Maui’s design as looking too overweight.  Near as I can tell, that’s probably more because of the visual shortcuts taken in animation than any ignorance or intended insult.  Animation tends to depict strength through sheer size and they tend to use rounder shapes and softer textures to communicate that someone is “nice” or “lovable”.  So, Disney’s attempt at making Maui look like a lovable strong-man rather than a big, scary antagonist ended up making him look kind of chubby.    

But anyway, if you still haven’t seen it, go see Moana.  Heck, I may go see it a second time.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Unboxing The Princess and the Goblin.

I got something in the mail!  Let's see what it is!
That's right, in the interest of diversifying what I put up on the old blog, I've decided to create some video content.  I shot this using my Iphone and came to one inevitable conclusion: I need to get a real video camera if I'm going to do this.

Anyway, this is a game that I supported on Kickstarter.  It's so rare for people, at least on this side of the Atlantic, to acknowledge George MacDonald's work that I had to throw some money their way.  There may be more stuff like this in the future depending on how things play out.  I'm not the sort of reviewer that people keep sending tangible stuff to (I'm looking at you, Black Nerd Comedy).  At best, I'll get an advance reader copy of a book in the form of a MOBI file for my kindle.  So, it would mostly be stuff I support on Kickstarter or stuff I order from Amazon.

In terms of other stuff, I have seen Disney's Moana and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and have thought of posts to do connected to them.  At the same time, Kubo and the Two Strings is out on DVD and I'd like to spotlight that.  Also, I still haven't seen The Tale of Tales (I'm still working my way through the new edition of the book which I wanted to read first.  On top of that, I wanted to do some retro reviews of the Cannon Movie Tales films.  There just aren't enough hours in the day for it all.  Also, has anyone else noticed that it's been a long time since I've done a "Folk Tale Secret Stash"?

I'll see what I can get around to as I move forward.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Beauty and the Beast trailer reaction.

In the past few weeks, we’ve gotten our first real trailer for Disney’s new live action (and also lots and lots of CGI) version of Beauty and the Beast.  Disney actually sent me an e-mail letting me know that the new trailer was up.  It must be because I’m such a big deal reviewer for fairy tale material.

Yup, that’s totally got to be it.

Okay, I’ll admit it.  They really did it because I had just cashed in a whole lot of Disney Rewards Codes and they had gotten a hold of my e-mail address in the process and were sending e-mails about pretty much everything.  But anyway, I thought we could take a look at the trailer and I’d point out some things that jumped out at me.

But first, the trailer:
(Trailer is property of Walt Disney Studios)

-          -Interesting shot with the painting.  You can see the faces of the young boy and the father are slashed but not the mother’s.  This may indicate an alteration to the Beast’s back story.  The back story in the original animated film was that he turned away an old crone who tried to stay at the castle for the price of a rose.  She turned out to be an enchantress who cursed him to be a Beast.  The time frame was always a bit strange, though.  He was supposed to lift the curse before his 21st birthday and the servants say they were cursed for ten years.  So, he was 11?  This all differs from the back story in Villeneuve’s original story in which the prince turned away the advances of an amorous fairy.  I think Disney wanted to suggest that the Beast also needed to learn a lesson, just as Belle needed to learn how to love a Beast.
-           
      -The famous scene from the original fairy tale where Belle’s father tries to steal a rose from the Beast’s garden.  I’m so glad they opted to put this back in the story for this movie.  I think the writer of the animated version , Linda Woolverton, made a conscious choice to leave it out.  I believe she didn’t like the idea of Belle wanting this rose.  I can kind of see why, seeing as Disney movies are often held up by a lot of longings and “I wants” and wanting a rose seemed a little unambitious.  But I don’t think the rose was ever meant to be Belle’s aspiration.  It was always supposed to be a little thing with a big consequence.  Also, it makes a bit more sense for the Beast to be mad because Maurice tried to steal something rather than him just trying to seek shelter in the castle.  Another thing from the original tale that we didn’t see in the animated version was that the Beast’s garden was supposed to be half in summer and half in winter.  I wonder if we’ll see that in this one.
-           
      -The Beast looks a bit more human here than I expected.  I think that might be necessary though, if they want to really show him expressing human emotion.  It’s like how Spider-Man always seemed to lose his mask in the movies when he had to show a lot of emotion.
-         
          - I like the look of the objects here.  It was so hard to tell how they’d be done through the still images.  I especially like how the faces for Mrs. Potts and Chip are the designs painted on the ceramic.  That approach could actually be used for certain other fantasy characters in the future (the Scarecrow from Oz is the first one that comes to mind).
-           
     -That library still looks fantastic!  Though, maybe not as good as the animated one.
-           
     -They managed to pack a lot of emotion into the last scenes in this trailer.  The one thing Disney has always had a talent for is tugging on the heart strings.

Anyway, the trailer certainly has me interested.  Even if it doesn’t turn out that great, I still want to see what it is they try to do. 

In other Disney related news, they have now apparently hired Marc Foster, the director of World War Z to direct their upcoming Winnie the Pooh project.  This seems like an odd choice until you realize he’s also the man who directed Finding Neverland.  Then things start to make a lot more sense.  As is usually the case, just the existence of this project has drawn its fair share of detractors.  This seems strange though, considering Disney has never shied away from doing Winnie the Pooh projects.  The Mouse has made at least four different TV shows starring that silly old bear.

Anyway, until next time.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Fairy Tale Media Fix: Okami-san and her Seven Companions.



I can hear someone shouting it already: “Not another weird Japanese thing!”

Yes, another weird Japanese thing.

The anime Okami-san and her Seven Companions is based on a series of light novels by Masashi Okita.  A light novel, for the record, is like a novella that’s primarily aimed at middle school and high school students. 

The anime and light novels revolve around a high school student named Ryoko Okami (note: Okami translates to “wolf”).  She works for the Otogi High School Student Aid Society, colloquially known as the Otogi Bank.  The way the Otogi Bank works is that students come to the bank when they need a favor and in return the student will owe a favor to the bank when they need it.  In her duties at the Otogi Bank, Okami often works with her best friend Ringo, a young girl who always wears a red hood and cape and Ryoshi, a shy boy who has a serious crush on Okami and is a crack shot with a slingshot.  She also works with a number of other eccentric characters at the bank.  Okami comes across as a tough girl but she’s also got a softer side that she hides because of traumatic events of her past.  For the record, this is one of those shows where I can't find any free use pictures to post, so here's a link to all the pictures I can't use.

If I wrote that out right, then you should have at least picked up on the aspects that allude to “Little Red Riding Hood”.  Okami is the wolf, Ringo is Red Riding Hood and Ryoshi is the hunter (yes, I know that it was actually a woodsman in “Little Red Riding Hood” as in a tree chopper, but people often seem to confuse Woodsman with Huntsman which they seem to have done with this show).
Truthfully, I’m not entirely sure how to approach this type of show.  This is unfortunate, seeing as along with stuff like Grimm and RWBY, I seem to be watching these types of shows more and more.  I’m not even all that sure what to call it.  There’s an element of parody for sure.  However, there’s also something else that I’m not sure what to call.  Is it homage?  Is it pastiche?  My vocabulary fails me.

Basically, it’s a show that’s made to function on two levels.  There’s the show itself which is a romantic high school comedy sort of thing about a tough girl who’s not so tough underneath helping others for her job.  But then, underneath that, there are all sorts of references to European fairy tales, Japanese fairy tales and Aesop’s Fables.

I mean, the laid back Bank president is clearly the grasshopper from “The Ant and the Grasshopper” while his super-industrious and organized assistant is the ant.  Bank flirt Tarou Urashima and his girlfriend Otohime Ryugu are clearly the fisherman and the turtle princess from the Japanese tale “Urashima-Taro the Fisherman”.  And . . .

Okay, I’ll admit it, I had to look a lot of that up.  Even Tarou’s name wasn’t a good enough hint.

And that’s one of my problems with shows like this and it’s sadly a problem that lies more with the audience than with the show’s creators.  While it’s great if you can pick up on the underlying references, some people (including myself apparently) can be a little too dense to pick up on them.  It should be okay if you can’t because of the show’s two layers but if you can’t and feel you should, you’re going to feel like a real dummling for not getting it.

Take the character of Otsu Tsurugaya, for instance.  She’s a character who works at the Otogi Bank and spends most of her time cleaning up while dressed as a maid (yes, I know there’s some weird Japanese-ness there, you’ll have to bear with me).  She’s also very fixated on repaying favors.  In one episode, Ryoshi saves Otsu from an errant baseball.  So, Otsu swears to be his servant and works herself to the point of exhaustion.  Then her friends step in to try and help her break from her “repayment fixation”.  When I first saw this episode I just thought Otsu was a completely original character and they just decided to create an original story around her.  Then I looked online and found out that Otsu is based on the crane from the Japanese tale “The Crane Wife”.  And it all hit me like a brick.  The episode matches with that story on a lot of levels.  That’s the thing though.  I know that story.  I’ve read that story in both prose and as a comic (it was one of the tales in the first Storyteller graphic novel).  But I simply could not recognize it out of its usual context.

Don’t get me wrong, there are other stories I recognize within the show.  I recognized the “Little Red Riding Hood” elements right away.  The first episode has a Cinderella theme that’s easy to pick up.  There’s a Momotaro-based episode which is easy to recognize.  I just feel kind of thick for being a fairy tale blogger who didn’t pick up on any of the other stuff.

It’s not a bad show, really.  The idea of the Otogi Bank is an interesting twist on the way good deeds are often repaid in fairy tales.  The show has kind of a slyly dirty sense of humor, which I don't usually go in for but which works here.  For example, the character of Momoko who is based on Momotaro often makes reference to how she gets followers by use of her “dumplings” (read as: breasts).  Also, whenever Tarou is being too much of a flirt, his girlfriend drags him away for some sort of unspecified “activity” and he always resurfaces acting like a perfect gentleman.  The characters are fun.  Okami herself, with her tough girl attitude and soft heart underneath is a good protagonist.  It’s especially heart-rending when you find out about her back story.  I won’t give much away but it features a really dark inversion of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”.

The show just has a tendency of making its best assets also be its biggest flaws.  One particular example is the narrator.  Yes, the show has a narrator.  It’s kind of a throwback to fairy tale anthology shows of the past (think the narrators of Folktales from Japan or Edward Everett Horton in “Fractured Fairy Tales”).  However, the difference is that this isn’t your typical dutiful storyteller.  Instead, the narrator in this show is snarky, opinionated, prone to editorializing and often a little bit inappropriate.  There are moments when the narrator will just say something so out of line that the characters will actually look straight at the camera as if they were calling the narrator out on it.  It’s hilarious.  There’s one problem: the narrator has a tendency of talking over the characters so you can’t hear them.  I’m not sure if this is the case in all versions or if it’s just the English dub.  But it is so annoying and ruins what was really a fun idea.

I like the show despite its double-edged sword moments.  It might not be for you, though.  Before seeking out the DVD or paying for episodes on Amazon Instant Video, check out the first and second episodes which Funimation posted for free on their YouTube page.  And if you’re having fun with Okami-san on YouTube, you might as well check out some of the fun AMVs that fans made of it like this one and this one.

Before I go, I’m also just going to direct you folks to some articles about fairy tales in anime.  Here’s the Geek and Sundry article that helped me discover this show.  And here’s another article I discovered because someone retweeted it into my Twitter feed.  There’s some interesting stuff in there.

Until next time, keep looking for that happy ever after.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Adam's Fairy Tale Mixtape, Side B.



Hey, everybody.  Greetings again from the Enchanted Condo!

Sometimes it’s funny how things find their way around to you again.  Take, for instance, my post on Andrew Lang.  It was just a one-off post from March 2015 in which I made a funny analogy to Lang being a DJ creating mixtapes out of various fairy tales.  Some people thought it was a neat little idea.  I got a few comments on it.  My storytelling associates seemed to think it was clever.

That was about it.

At least, it was until late October when one of my fairy tale blogging colleagues, InkGypsy, posted THIS over at Once Upon a Blog.  It seems that Gypsy had been thinking about this idea for a while.

Well, that post was enough to give the idea of the “fairy tale mixtape” enough of a signal boost that two others picked up on it.  One was Monash University professor, R.C. DoRosario (who I have mentioned before) who posted her fairy tale mixtape HERE.  The other is a poster by the name of Nike Sulway who posted her mixtape HERE.  I’m going to be honest, I know little about Ms. Sulway but she seems to be an author and is very knowledgeable about fairy tales.

So yeah, that’s pretty neat.  People who are more knowledgeable than me about fairy tales are playing around with my idea.  Neat yet kind of overwhelming in a way.  Oh, well.  I’ll get over the overwhelming part.
So, when this stuff started to pop up, I was right in the middle of my planned Halloween/fairy tale TV show thing and couldn’t really respond to any of it.  But now, I have some time freed up and I thought it was about time to do the whole mixtape thing again.  You see, the people who ran with my idea expanded the list of stories from 10 to 20.  They also mixed things up by including poems, novels and films.  So, this is a list of 10 tales, books, etc. to supplement the list I made way back in the day.  This is the B side of the tape, so to speak.

11) Iron Hans (German, from Grimm)
12) The Ballad of Mulan (from China)
13) The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi
14) Swan Lake (the story from the ballet)
15) The Snow Queen (Hans Christian Andersen)
16) Thunder Boy (Iroquois tale)
17) The Girl who Married a Lion (African tale)
18) The Bamboo Cutter (Japan)
20) The Ballad of Tam Lin (English/Scots ballad)

Yeah, I decided to just drop Pinocchio in there.  Other people were including novels so I thought I could too.  Besides, though literary, Pinocchio is kind of walking in the same tradition as foolish boy heroes like Jack.  Beyond that, I included another Grimm tale but I tried to follow in the footsteps of my previous list and keep my choices rather cosmopolitan (it’s a big world with lots of interesting stories in it).  I couldn't find a link to the African tale I wanted to include, but it can be found in The Girl Who Married a Lion by Alexander McCall-Smith.  I also included a couple of ballads that I really like to give the mix a little more poetry.  I also included possibly the only Hans Christian Andersen story I really like and, inspired by InkGypsy’s list, added in the story from Swan Lake.  I am going to admit, I think the others were able to embrace the surprising aspects a little bit more than I could.

So, what do you think?  What's on your fairy tale mixtape?