About Me

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Lake Charles, Louisiana, United States
Hello, and welcome to my blog! I like to write about children's literature, fairy tales, feminism, and pop culture in general. I've recently earned my Ph.D. in children's literature at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. I also review children's and young adult books for Kirkus and teach English at Sowela Technical Community College. Oh, and I like cats! [Banner image artwork by Yuki Midorikawa]

Monday, December 16, 2013

GIRL POWER!! (almost) -- Frozen and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

They're strong female characters ... honest they are.

Note: I will indicate when I’m about to go into ***SPOILER ALERT*** territory for each film, so no worries on that account.

This weekend I saw two highly anticipated films (well, at least highly anticipated for me): Frozen and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. On the surface, you wouldn’t think either of these films had anything to do with one another. But I’ve been thinking about both of them—especially about what’s bothered me most about both of them—and I don’t know. Perhaps you’ll be surprised by the conclusions I’ve drawn; perhaps you’ll agree with me, or disagree with me.

I’ll start with Frozen. First, and this may have nothing to do with Disney or the film itself, but the film was preceded, as usual, by several previews for future films. The first I remember had to do with Lego characters come to life. The main character is a male “everyman” kind of Lego guy. There is a female Lego who will obviously be or become his love interest. And then throughout the rest of the preview there was only one other female Lego with a speaking part (a Wonder Woman Lego—there was also a Batman Lego, a Gandalf Lego, and other male famous characters). Two speaking females in a preview that featured perhaps 10-15 speaking characters.

The next preview was for a film called The Nut Job. This appears to be about a squirrel and a mouse who are obsessed with stealing nuts. There were ZERO speaking female characters in this preview, and possibly zero female characters shown at all—one of the animals may have been female, but the scenes moved so fast I couldn’t tell. Either way, none of the main characters appear to be female.

The next preview was for the Smurfs sequel. As usual, Smurfette is the only speaking female character.

The final preview I can recall is for a film based on the Coca-Cola polar bears. Two characters talk in this preview, a father bear and his son. There are three other bears. I’m going to assume this is not a polar bear family with two dads (perish the thought) and suggest that the other adult bear is female. Perhaps one or two of the remaining siblings is female. But they didn’t speak during the preview.

So that’s three speaking female characters in four previews. Combined, the four previews probably had about 20-30 speaking characters.

Finally, there was an animated short featuring old school Mickey and friends. In the short, Minnie is kidnapped and Mickey has to save her. “Help! Help!” she screams throughout most of the segment. Mickey eventually rescues her, and they dance and almost kiss (another character humorously jumps between them before their kiss can happen).

Okay, finally, onward to Frozen.

***SPOILER ALERT** (for Frozen—proceed with caution if you haven’t seen the film, or skip to Smaug)

At this point, I’m already frustrated by the portrayals of female silence and helplessness I’ve just witnessed leading up to the film, so I am probably a bit of an ogre for the first 15 to 20 minutes or so. I found the dialogue amateurish and the pacing way, way off. But then we get to the coronation party, and things finally seemed to come together, narratively speaking.

I do want to say before I go any further that two things I loved about Frozen were the songs and the relationship between Elsa and Anna. These were perfect; Anna’s song “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” and Elsa’s “Let It Go” brought tears to my eyes.

Now, on to the stuff that bothered me.

Of course there is romance. To be honest, I thought the song between Anna and Hans was quite cute. The writers seemed to be showing how these two dorky souls had managed to find one another, and a genuine spark was struck. Of course, it’s ridiculous to meet and fall in love with someone in one day, so Elsa’s refusal to bless their engagement I felt was fitting (and doubtless a conscious rejection of old school Disney Princess romances). But it seemed clear they liked each other, and I liked that neither seemed all that “traditional.”

When Elsa offers a firm “NO” to Anna and Hans’ request for a blessing, it kind of tells the audience that true love doesn’t just happen the way it does in fairy tales (read: previous Disney films). I liked this, but it was expected. Disney is not about love at first sight anymore. It’s too savvy for that; it knows audiences have rejected that kind of romance.

So then, of course, the *ahem* hits the fan, and Elsa disappears. Anna goes to look for her, leaving Hans in charge. Hans proves to be a considerate interim leader; he offers free food and cloaks to the people during the magically-induced winter. Later, when he goes to track down the missing Anna, he tells the others to find Anna but not hurt Elsa.

Enter Kristoff. Initially, there is excellent chemistry between Anna and Kristoff, though it isn’t romantic. They don’t appear to be attracted to one another. Anna hasn’t forgotten Hans, either. The rock troll song “Fixer Upper” is thus incredibly awkward; the trolls get the wrong idea about Anna and Kristoff—or do they?

I’ll be honest. At this point I still thought Kristoff was meant to end up with Elsa, and Anna would be with Hans (after a more suitable “let’s get to know each other better” period). But the end of this number—and this is way, way towards the latter half of the film—made me realize things weren’t going to end up in that manner.

So Anna returns to Arendelle and is reunited with Hans—who turns out to be a villain. This is the twist that almost made me walk out of the theatre.

Watch out kids. He's evil.

Elsa has been captured at this point and is in an Arendelle dungeon. Fortunately, she manages to free herself. Once again, she attempts to flee the city so that she does not put anyone in danger.

Anna is dying from an earlier accidental attack from her sister. She is aware of Hans’ betrayal and now realizes Kristoff is the one who loves her (note that she has spent approximately 24 hours more with him than Hans). So, basically, she decides to love him, too. There is a smaltzy scene at the end when the two are trying to run towards one another, but are hampered by the magically wintered weather.

Hans goes to attack Elsa, who is helpless in her grief, believing Anna is dead. Anna runs to protect her, but finally turns to ice. Elsa weeps over her sister, and her love for Anna is what both brings Anna back and helps her to finally control her powers. The End.

Disney so wanted this to be a girl power kind of princess story. But the drama with the princes actually made it more about them (and the romances) than about the sisters.

If the pairings had been Anna and Hans and Elsa and Kristoff—or if either male character had never existed, and the other were paired with Anna, with no outside conflict—then the focus would have remained on the relationship between Anna and Elsa. There was plenty of villainous outside drama in the form of an “evil” diplomat character who planned to have his cronies kill Elsa. The “Evil Hans” doppelganger (there is seriously zero indication throughout the first hour or so of the film that Hans isn’t as dorkily nice as he seems to be) would thus have been unnecessary.

In the end, we are left with two helpless princesses: one overcome with grief and her inability to control her own powers, and the other who has literally turned to ice. The penultimate moment is when Elsa’s love saves Anna, but this scene is bookended by Hans’ betrayal and Kristoff’s return.

This isn’t really a story about sisterhood. This is not the story of Anna and Elsa. This is the story about Anna and Elsa… but also about who Anna should marry. It’s something of a Princess’s Guide To Picking A Prince. Anna is told that her initial choice is wrong, so she goes for the other one. Why? Because he was nice to her. Sure, Hans was nice to her, too, but he turned out to be evil. Definitely not husband material, that one.

Early on, Anna gets told she’s stupid for thinking she’s in love with Hans. Instead of letting her experiment and try to have a relationship with the boy she likes (rather than just marry him straight off), she’s told she’s stupid—and this turns out to be true, because Hans is, in fact, evil. The alternative is that she love Kristoff instead. He’s nice and not evil. Better put a ring on THAT one.

CONCLUSION:

1. Judging from the previews, filmmakers still feel uncomfortable producing films that reflect the gender diversity of their audiences. Male to female character ratio in films for children still seems to be about 10/1.

2. Disney still cannot make a “girl” movie without making that movie about romance. Note that I’m not saying a movie featuring a female lead can’t have romance in it. But it doesn’t always have to be ABOUT that romance. It can be about… well, sisterhood, for example. Or the relationship between a mother and her daughter (see: Brave).

All right then. On to Smaug.

***SPOILER ALERT** (for The Desolation of Smaug)

So, this isn’t really a movie review, but I’ll just say I really loved the film. Fantasy nerd and self-professed elf lover here. Plus the amount of fabulousness Lee Pace’s Thranduil brings to the film is reason enough to watch it.

My one criticism, which kinda-sorta relates to the same issues I had with Frozen: Tauriel.

Firstly, I don’t hate the idea of Tauriel. Actually, I love it. The Tolkien books are kind of a chore to get through, but on top of that, there are approximately five female characters in 1000 or so pages (Hobbit and LOTR combined—actually, are there any female characters in the Hobbit?). Yes, add some female characters, please. (Hello, Galadriel; so lovely to see the most powerful person in Middle-Earth yet again. Yes, I know you’re not in the novel. And I am totally okay with that.) Just, if you’re going to create a female character, try to avoid the following:

1. Don’t create her just so she can be The Female Character.

2. Don’t center her story arc around a romance.

3. Make sure she fits into the pre-existing lore.

Well, guess what happened? 

1. Don’t create her just so she can be The Female Character.

Yay for female elves who aren’t either Galadriel, Arwen, or random background harp players! I assume that since Tauriel is the Captain of the Guard that there will be other female elven soldiers in Mirkwood, right? Right? 

In fact, I’m sure there will be other female elves period, right? 

Wrong.

Yes, Tauriel is the official Token Female Elf of Mirkwood.

In fact, she is even referred to as “She-Elf” by a captured orc. Apparently there are elves, and then there are she-elves. It must be lovely to be the default gender. I guess I and half the human population on earth will never know.

2. Don’t center her story arc around a romance.

This was particularly disheartening because Jackson and his writing team did so well with characters like Arwen and Eowyn in the Lord of the Rings trilogies. In those films, Eowyn’s motivations for riding to Gondor were altered from the book in the best possible way. In the book, Eowyn rides to Gondor in hopes of meeting up with her unrequited love, Aragorn. In the film, Eowyn rides to Gondor in hopes of kicking ass. Which she does.

Arwen was initially written and filmed as participating in the Battle at Helm’s Deep. However, luckily the writers realized that Strong Female Characters do not have to be warriors. The much sought after “strong female characters” of late are actually simply well-written characters (who are also female). (See “I Hate Strong Female Characters” by Sophia McDougall for further insight.) Arwen’s writers realized she did not need to be a warrior, though she did need to be more present in the narrative. And she was.

Tauriel’s writers (yes, the same people, but still) wanted her to be a strong female character. So they made her a warrior. But since she IS female, they also gave her a romance.

Let me get this straight. I'm 600 years old, 
but I ran away from home to be with a guy I just met. 

To put it briefly (this post is already long enough; I’m sure we can all agree), Tauriel’s motivations for leaving Mirkwood and disobeying her isolationist king are centered around romance (going to find Kili). They didn’t have to be. She was already vaguely set up as a character who was curious about the outside world—hence her interest in a dwarf, an outsider. But she leaves Mirkwood for decidedly that reason. Her final scene is as a healer at Kili’s bedside. Note that this mimics the book version of Eowyn, who puts down her sword and shield to become a healer.

I think it’s important to point out that Tauriel’s actress, Evangeline Lilly, herself a Tolkien fan, was initially reluctant to take the part. She only agreed to do so if there would be no romance for Tauriel. Unfortunately, this all eventually changed. A love triangle was even added, something she was very adamant about not taking part in—though Yours Truly believes the love triangle is only partially constructed, boosted by the wrongful assumptions of Thranduil regarding Legolas’ supposed interest in Tauriel.

So far, Tauirel’s role in the film is 1) Female Elf, and 2) Kili’s love interest. Try to reduce the part of any male character in the film similarly. You can’t, can you?

3. Make sure she fits into the pre-existing lore.

This one is a nit-pick, and not really related to my issues with Frozen. But I do wish the writers would explain to us why someone so young is the Captain of the Mirkwood Guard. Or why she’s the only female guard. When you’re so caught up creating The Female Character, you may tend to forget things like depth, plot, and background. Ah well.

So there you have it: my thoughts on both these films. Criticism aside, I will say that I enjoyed The Hobbit immensely and am planning on giving it a second and third viewing if possible before it disappears from theaters. As for Frozen, it tends to jump wildly from amazingly well-written (those songs!) to shabbily written and paced. I can’t recommend it, especially to the parents of young children (for the reasons written above).


Caveat: I was in the theatre with two families; one had a girl, the other a boy. The boy and his family left an hour into the movie. The girl wondered aloud, “He’s bad…?” when Hans was revealed to be a villain. My thoughts exactly, kids.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Disney kneeling at the alter of boys and their parents with "Frozen"


Poor Disney – on the fast track to angering its consumer base yet again.

Ever since the perceived “flop” of The Princess and the Frog, Disney has sworn off fairy tales forever. (It must be sobering to realize you’ve constructed an empire for girls, only to realize that now only girls will watch your movies.) Naturally, this swearing off was rapidly followed by the supposedly more boy-friendly release of the re-titled Tangled, Brave, and now, coming this November, Frozen.

Tumblr is already abuzz about the protagonist Anna’s appearance. (Some artists have even taken matters into their own hands.) But not only have Disney yet again shied away from creating a princess of color, they’ve also even decided that the distinctly Scandinavian-sounding name of “Gerda” isn’t generically white enough. (Though it seems odd that when your predecessors are named Mulan, Merida, and Tiana, your own producers find it prudent to dub you “Anna.”)

And that’s not all. Take a look at the film’s IMDB record and you’ll notice a rather surprising number of male voice actors. Anyone familiar with Andersen’s “The Snow Queen” knows that it’s chalk full of female characters, including a female crow, a robber girl, and a princess who insists on marrying a man her equal in intelligence.

These characters seem to have been replaced with others named Olaf, Kristoff, and Hans.

So Disney takes one of Andersen’s genuinely feminist tales and replaces its cast with men.

Okay, Disney. We get it. You screwed up with the whole princess thing. You want boys to start watching your movies again. And you know girls (or the parents of girls) don’t mind watching movies that allegedly appeal to boys.

Do you think if we complain enough they’ll change it the way they changed Tangled back in 2010? If you do want to protest, just remember to do so with your wallet. It’s the only language they’re capable of speaking.

And on a related note, there was all the recent hubbub about Merida finally being accepted in to the pantheon of Disney Princesses.

But not before she underwent a makeover, of course.

Oh, Disney.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Rape Culture, Video Games, and Extreme Gendering


Recently a debate occurred on The Young Turks (and no doubt elsewhere around the web) as to the causes of today’s teen rape culture. “Rape culture,” for the uninformed, refers to the callous disregard some people (male and female alike) have for the act of rape. Lately, the news media has been inundated with stories of teen girls being raped and later “slut-shamed” as a consequence. (If words and names like “Steubenville Rape,” “Audrie Pott,” and “Rehtaeh Parsons” mean nothing to you, then I suggest you do a bit of Googling.)

The journalists in the video argue whether video game culture is the source—or one of the sources—of rape culture. Two correspondents who are also gamers argue that teenage use of words like “rape” and “gay” on Xbox Live are not as meaningful as the non-gamers are wanting to believe. The non-gamers disagree, and the assumption continues that video games, which increase aggression and contain violence, are prompting, if not actively promoting, teen rape culture.

I believe the crew at TYT—and all of those who agree with them, which likely encompasses the majority of those talking about rape culture in the media right now—are going about this all wrong. Video games are not a source of rape culture. They are merely a symptom.

You're going to make me save the entire galaxy ... in boob armor?

Video games have a problem with gender. The majority of video game companies are consistently urged to create and market their product to a demographic that does not include female gamers, gamers of color, older gamers, or LGBT gamers—all of whom exist and exist in tremendous numbers. (Combined, I would even suggest that they outnumber the stereotypical teenaged, white, straight, male gamer.) In RPGs (“role-playing games”) that allow the player to create a character of either gender, the male version of that character is almost always used in advertising campaigns. Female characters in video games are often underdressed or inappropriately dressed when compared to their fully-armored male companions. Female characters may serve as token members of a team (“the lone female soldier”), may be excluded from combat (“the female pilot/technician”), or may serve as mere objects/prizes to be rescued (“the princess”). All of this is true, and projects like Anita Sarkeesian’s cover the topic well.

 But what tends to receive far more coverage (understandably so) is how real-life female gamers—not characters—are treated by their male counterparts. It would likely come as no surprise to non-gamers that female players take some ribbing from male gamers when they attempt to enter the traditionally masculine sphere of video gaming. But most are probably unaware that this “ribbing” often goes far beyond insecure teasing. See “Fat, Ugly, or Slutty” for more specific examples, and understand that this is not unusual—it is common. It is the norm.

Because that's why girls play games.


When male gamers joke about raping their opponents, or when they send lewd and violent messages to female gamers, they are evidencing symptoms of a sickness currently engulfing our culture. It is the sickness of extreme gendering.

Extreme gendering starts at an early age. Companies like Disney market toys and other products exclusively for one gender or another. They tap into childhood insecurities about identity and give children something to cling to and identify with: gender. A child who may have never thought of him or herself as “different” may be overwhelmed around the age of 3, 4, or 5, upon first entering pre-school or school and being thrust among so many other children. Children are told early on by corporations that they are either GIRLS or BOYS; this influences their behavior, their speech, their clothing, their method of playing, even the way they are supposed to think. Parents who perpetuate this myth of extreme gendering do their children a disservice, but they can hardly be blamed, or at least fully blamed. A child would have to be raised in a vacuum to escape what I will point blank refer to as indoctrination. Companies are making billions off of convincing parents and children that boys and girls not only want but NEED certain (and wildly different) products.

Children thus grow up believing that they are incredibly different from fully half of the rest of the population. I think this has gone far beyond the “boys have cooties” or “no girls allowed!” form of play that my generation (and countless generations before mine) engaged in. When you believe you are so different from another person that the two of you have nothing in common, indeed, that her brain even works differently than your own, then how can you respect her in the same way as you would respect another of your “kind”? Thus harming a girl is different from harming a boy. A girl’s body is different from a boy’s body. And doing a “girl” thing (boy-on-girl rape) to a boy is hence deeply humiliating for the receiving boy. Hence why “rape” is both an ultimate insult in a multiplayer environment and yet equally so a casual one.

I think we as a culture need to take a step back and think about how we both present and understand gender. Gender is a social construct; sex is biological. Biological differences between sexes should be studied and presented to young people in the form of comprehensive sex education. Girls’ bodies should not be a mystery to boys, nor should boys’ bodies be a mystery to girls. But our similarities should be emphasized as often as our subtle differences; we are all thinking, feeling human beings, and our inherent sameness as a species makes us all equally worthy of love and respect.

Anya has no bra. Anya needs no bra.


Rape is about power.

Rape is not about sex. Teen boys do not rape unconscious teen girls and then send pictures of the act to all of their friends because they are horny. They do so to express power. Power can only be exerted over another individual when the powerful feels he is inherently better, inherently different, from the one he has overpowered. A boy does not rape someone he respects.

There’s quite a bit more to say about this topic, but I think I’ll end it here for today.

Let’s think about how what we say and what we do demonstrates to our kids about gender. Let’s examine how WE see gender. Let’s not allow corporations to convince our children that they are so different from one another that they need not respect one another—that one body is so radically different from another.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Pixar's Brave and the Fear of Romance

New information just released about Pixar's latest, BRAVE: it seems the movie's heroine, Merida, won't be going the way of the Disney Princess.

An article at TIME tells us that "This is a fairy tale without romance."  Instead, the focus of the narrative will be on Merida's desire for adventure in favor of romance.  While her mother wants to keep up the tradition of having Merida marry a prince, Merida isn't listening.  The article insists that this is more a story about a girl defying her mother, something to which all teenage girls should be able to relate.

(Wait -- where have I seen that before?)

Ready for adventure -- no man required.

Pixar seems almost gleeful about revealing this.  I'm fine with a girl not needing romance in her adventure.  I mean, boys can have adventures without romance, right?  Well, there was Dreamworks' HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON.  A boy, his dragon, an adventure.  And a little bit of romance.  Well, and there was Pixar's own WALL-E.  A (boy) robot, a spaceship, an adventure.  Oh and a (girl) robot he has a massive crush on.  

Not romantic AT ALL.

Does removing romance from a girl's narrative like BRAVE suggest that girls must eschew romance in order to "go on adventures" and be "just like the boys"?  Can't a strong girl save the day and get the boy, too?

Small wonder why Pixar seem so proud of themselves.  The revulsion many contemporary mothers, grandmothers, and aunts feel towards the Disney Princesses is finally beginning to have an impact on the market.  Even Disney itself has promised to stop making fairy tale films.  (Presumably, "romance" and "fairy tale" go hand in hand for Disney.)

What do you think?  Is the film sending girls the wrong message?  Isn't desire a part of growing up?  Can girls really not have their cake—and eat it, too? 

Monday, February 20, 2012

Misadventures in Dubbing: The Borrower Arrietty

After seeing the American dub of the Studio Ghibli film "Kari-gurashi no Arietti," or "The Borrower Arrietty," (distributed by Disney in English as "The Secret World of Arrietty"), I was left feeling as if I'd watched and understood only about 80% of what I knew deep down had to be a more than decent film.  I have always found Studio Ghibli films to be horrendously dubbed, and this one was really no exception.  So I did my best to hunt down the original Japanese version of the film.

Here is a list of the differences I noticed -- but take these notations with a grain of salt.  I would probably have to return to the theatre and rewatch the American dub to be absolutely certain about some of these:

Arrietty

(1) Japanese:
The most obvious difference is in the character of Shou.  "Shou" is a common Japanese name for a boy.

(1) American:
Shou's name was changed to "Shawn" for the American dub.  This seems a rather bizarre attempt to Anglicize a character who is in all other respects clearly Japanese.  There are numerous instances of books, products, papers, and other items bearing Japanese lettering.  Shou/Shawn eats with chopsticks in several dinner scenes, and both he and Haru (the housekeeper) leave their outside shoes at the door and wear slippers indoors (a uniquely Japanese custom).  Why change nothing but the name?  Niya the cat also receives a name change: Nina.

(2) Japanese:
In the Japanese version, Pod is clearly disappointed in Arrietty's botched first borrowing.  When he catches her prowling around inside the walls of the big house, he chastises her quite sternly, earning an obedient apology from her.

(2) American:
In the American version, Pod (voiced quite excellently by Will Arnett, whose wife, Amy Poehler, voices Homily, Pod's wife and Arrietty's mother) is a kind and forgiving man who even boosts Arrietty's confidence by congratulating her on not panicking when Shawn spots her during their midnight run.  This comforting/congratulatory dialogue replaces a more mundane exchange in the Japanese version.

Shou

(3) Japanese:
A topic is broached in the original version that doesn't appear in the American one: divorce.  It is revealed that Shou's parents are divorced; his father is no longer in the picture, and his mother is chastised by his mother's aunt ("Aunt Sadako") for leaving for a business trip and neglecting her sickly child.

(3) American:
Here there is no mention of divorce.  Shou simply reveals to Arrietty that his parents are too busy to take care of him.

(4) Japanese:
Pod and Homily share a rather cryptic discussion about a big "change" that must occur now that Arrietty has been seen by the "beans."  The audience is kept in the dark until Arrietty herself figures out that her parents are planning to move.

(4) American:
The original cryptic discussion between Pod and Homily is dubbed so that audiences are immediately aware that the family intends to move.  It's unclear if Arrietty is also made aware of this, and that it was never a secret to begin with, perhaps suggesting that Pod and Homily, as kind, loving parents, would never keep a secret from their daughter.

(5) Japanese:
In a pivotal scene between Shou and Arrietty, Shou blithely speculates that Arrietty's entire species is on the verge of extinction.  He thoughtlessly ignores Arrietty's insistence that he stop, seemingly unaware that his words are hurtful to her.  When he finally does apologize, he reveals that he is the one who is going to become extinct (he reveals he is going to die because of his poor health).  Shou's selfishness and seeming inability to acknowledge Arrietty as a fellow thinking, feeling (albeit small) human being is juxtaposed with his  childish and very real fear of dying.  In essense, he is a boy who copes with his own mortality by reveling in an obsession with death.

(5) American:
Shawn does not seem to share Shou's deep obsession with death, and he is more considerate of Arrietty's feelings.  In the Japanese version, he reveals that he wishes to protect her (not for her sake, but for his own, as he's been weak all his life and wants to feel useful).  This part of the conversation is left out in the dub.

(6) Japanese:
In the final scene, Arrietty gives Shou her hair pin for luck.  She assures him that he did, in fact, protect her.  Shou looks happy and relieved and promises that he will never forget her.  The film ends with images of Arrietty sailing down the river with Spiller (a semi-wild borrower who appears to have a crush on her).  The viewer is led to believe that Shou's morbid predictions were, in fact, mere selfish adolescent speculation: clearly, Arrietty and Spiller's budding romance suggests that the borrower species will carry on.  Shou's own future is left in doubt.  Did he die after his operation the way he believed he would?

(6) American:
Arrietty tells Shawn she is giving him her hair pin so he'll remember her.  He assures her that he will.  There is no mention of him having protected her since the original conversation about protection never took place.  Shawn's motives for helping Arrietty remain unanswered, causing his character to lack a fair bit of depth.  As Arrietty and Spiller sail down the river, Shawn's voice assures the audience that he did, in fact, survive the operation, and now stands a year later remembering his friendship with Arrietty.  Because Shawn also opened the narrative, he in effect frames it, somewhat confusing the audience as to who the hero of this story really is.

Homily, Pod, and Arrietty

My thoughts about these differences are mixed.  I'm sure it's apparent that many of the changes were made for the supposed benefit of American child audiences.  Touchy subjects like divorce and morbidity were removed.  Arrietty's father's stern demeanor was softened.  Shou becomes the less self-absorbed, but otherwise personality-less Shawn.


But I'm left wondering about the true root behind the various changes made.  Do we have a situation wherein certain material can be considered suitable for Japanese children but not American children?  Or is "The Borrower Arrietty" simply aimed at a slightly older audience than "The Secret World of Arrietty"?  The previews shown in the theatre clearly suggest that advertisers believe they are marketing to a very young audience.  Is it simply the American belief that all animated films are by nature created solely for very young children?  But films like "Shrek" and its sequels should have put such thoughts to rest.  Then again, "Shrek" was sternly criticized for the adult and crude humor that many felt was inappropriate for a child audience.

As usual, I don't have any definitive conclusions to make.  I wonder how others have felt about either version of the film.  Did anyone else wonder at Shawn's motivations?  Am I the only one who thought his framing of the narrative (when it was Arrietty's name in the title, not his!) felt a bit off?

On a personal note, it should come as no surprise that the voice acting and dialogue in the Japanese version are vastly superior to the American version.  I certainly intend to purchase the DVD when it comes out, and I more than likely will never watch the American dub again.


FYI: Do check out this article by Tim Maughan over at Tor.com.  Maughan talks about the film as an adaptation of Mary Norton's book and about the film's young director, a possible successor to the brilliant but sadly aging Hayao Miyazaki.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Trouble in Paradise: The Dystopian Romance

Dystopias are all the rage now in YA literature.  Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy did for the teen dysoptia what Stephanie Meyer's Twilight series (I must admit I refuse to refer to it as a "saga") did for paranormal romance.  And if you think that's a compliment...

Not to belittle Meyer's or Collins' efforts.  But Good Books do not always start Good Trends.  Or rather, sometimes Pretty Good or even Pretty Decent Books (says the girl who hasn't published a darn thing, save the occasional academic article) sell so well that they start mind-bogglingly dull trends. Seen on girl fall in love with a vampire, seen 'em all.

Admittedly, sometimes Good Books do start Good Trends.  Take Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy.  It basically spawned an entire genre.  Some might call that genre "high fantasy" or "sword and sorcery fantasy," but the truth is that those are branches of a single genre (fantasy) that was essentially breathed into being by Tolkien.  Yes, there were fairy tales, there was Jules Verne, there was myth.  But then there was Tolkien.

And there is fantasy in Twilight, too.  (Something about werewolves and vampires?  To be honest, I haven't read them.)  And there is Twilight in the Hunger Games.

I'm talking, of course, about the love triangle.  My sister tells me the love triangle is fairly nonexistent in the books; it's only in the movies that the Jacob/Bella/Edward triangle exists.  I'm skeptical of this.  I think what she means to imply is that Bella in the book never cares for Jacob in the way that she cares for Edward.  But the quintessential elements of the love triangle still exist: one girl, desired equally by two different boys.  

The "Who will she choose?" element is perhaps a figment of the film adaptation's imagination, but nevertheless, this, too, has influenced YA to a fairly significant degree.  The Hunger Games boasts the Peeta/Katniss/Gale love triangle; fans have even adopted Twilight fandom lingo and refer to themselves as "Team Peeta" or "Team Gale," despite the fact that Katniss very definitively ends up with only one of the boys at the trilogy's conclusion.  Such is the nature of fandom, which routinely exerts the ultimate power of reader response in the guise of fanfiction, fanart, and other forms of fan-created artistic expression.  Allie Condie's Matched, a dystopian romance -in truth, more of a romance with a hint of dystopia- boasts a love triangle of its own.  So does Cassandra Clare's Clockwork Angel (another paranormal romance, not a dystopia).  Of course, not all teen dystopias have love triangles (Veronica Roth's Divergent, for example), but many do.  Many do not necessarily tickle their toes in the love triangle pool, so to speak, but still include a heavy dose of romance as the premise for their so-called dystopic narratives.  

Recently, it was announced that the CW will begin airing a series called "The Selection" based on Kiera Cass's trilogy by the same name.  The premise is eerily similar to one of my favorite novels, Shannon Hale's Princess Academy.  (Interesting fact: Hale once turned down an opportunity to let Matel make the book into a Barbie cartoon movie.)  In both stories, a group of girls is promised the opportunity to marry a prince; of course, only one will be chosen.  The MTV article calls "The Selection" "The Bachelor" with a dystopian twist."  

And that's essentially what the teen dystopia has become: romance with a dystopian twist.  Book publishers obviously think that girls prefer to take their science fiction, their fantasy, their paranormal narratives, with more than a dash of romance.  No, girls want full blown (age appropriate) Harlequins with only a pinch of milieu, a dash of plot, a hint of narrative.  

It's hard to argue with them when the books they produce sell so well.  And perhaps I should be chided for judging a book by its cover - or its TV pilot.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Toddlers in Tiaras -- Sofia the First

Disney is set to induct its newest member into the Disney Princess pantheon: Sofia the First.

An article at Deadline informs us that Sofia's TV movie will air Fall 2012 and will be followed by a TV series in Spring 2013. Sofia will be the first Disney Princess who is the same age as her intended audience: around 4-6 years old, if her picture is anything to go by. Many parents, however, can attest that Disney Princess mania often begins much, much earlier.

Sofia is allegedly a commoner whose mother married a king, thus making her a princess. A Disney exec says this is to make Sofia more "relatable" to viewers, apparently conveniently forgetting that neither Tiana, Belle, nor Mulan were born princesses either. And poor Mulan even made the mistake of marrying a soldier, so no tiara for her.

Of course, Disney can't marry off a six-year-old, so Sofia's mother has to take the fall for her. Disney wants to make a character young viewers can relate to, but I'm not sure how many American children are lucky enough to have parents who marry into royalty.

The truth is that Disney is constantly looking for more ways to milk its Disney Princess brand (and for good reason, too ... it earns approximately 4 billion dollars a year). Disney keep saying they're turning away from princesses, but the allure of marketability keeps drawing them back.

Meanwhile, we're all forced to suffer through yet another Hollywood adaptation of a princess narrative. I never thought I'd say this, but ... Disney, please come back!

Just not like this.