So long, farewell!

Hey, everyone!

We just wanted to make a formal announcement for what you’ve probably noticed already: we aren’t blogging anymore at The Side of Wonder. It was a great and fun experiment, and we loved reading new books and watching new movies so we could review them, but now it’s time for us to move on to other things. Emily is busy at work on her novel, and Clare is busy applying to graduate programs, with most of her energy applied to her new project Ampersand Literary.

We plan to leave this website up so people can still access our reviews, but there won’t be anything new here. Thanks for all the fun, though!

Best,

Clare and Emily

Epic

epicHow often do you sit down and watch a movie with no pre-set expectations? When Disney releases a new film, there’s so much hype and anticipation that it’s hard to do. With Pixar, it’s impossible to do. Audiences expect a lot from these animation studios, and they usually deliver. But there’s nothing surprising about sitting down, expecting a great movie, and getting one. Many times, it’s far more exciting for me to sit down to watch a movie for which I have no expectations–good or bad–and then be blown away by an amazing story.

That happened when I watched the movie Epic. I had to google the animation studio that produced this film because I had no idea who it was. Blue Sky, it turns out, which is owned by Fox Studios. Anyway, I sat down to watch this movie with my brother, who had already seen it and swore that it was hilarious. I loved animated movies, especially the funny ones, so I watched it with him, and yes, it was hilarious. But while I adored the sense of humor, there was so much more depth to this movie than I could have ever anticipated.

There are two issues that I always here in the YA lit world–a lack of diversity and strong, interesting female characters. These problems aren’t relegated to young adult literature, though they are very prevalent. These issues affect film, literature, and every art form imaginable. People are always demanding more diverse characters and better female characters. Well, Epic offered both of those things.

Okay, so the three main characters were white, but the fourth (voiced by the one and only Beyonce Knowles) was a strong, interesting, fun black female character. How often do you see that in a movie? Not enough. Tara, the queen of the forest, protects the forest from harm, regrowing things can start to rot and defending her subjects from the evil boggins. She’s a warrior that can defend herself, but also a caring queen who looks after even the smallest person or plant. She’s a great character, and animation, film, literature, and the world could use more like her.

Epic-2013-Movie-Character-Poster-5But at the same time, Tara’s character is not defined by her race or gender. Being a black woman is not part of her character motivation, or even an issue. Being queen, that’s what drives her character. Epic doesn’t try to hit you over the head with it’s diversity agenda. It reminds us that while our gender and race are a part of us, they are not the only things that define us. We are more than our skin color, more than our gender. Our experiences shape who we are, our relationships shape who we are. Tara finds her identity in protecting the ones she loves, and that is not shaped by race or gender. And kuddos to Blue Sky Studios for having diverse supporting characters as well, creating “leaf men” that are men, women, black, and white, proving once again that diversity is not important to fill some kind of quota, but rather a reflection of reality.

Another thing I really liked about this movie is the relationship between Tara and her captain Ronin (Colin Farrell). Where a major studio might hit you with a straight up romance, Blue Sky offers you something different but much more meaningful. Tara and Ronin’s history is hinted at–they were childhood friends and share a close relationship–but nothing romantic is ever explicitly said or demonstrated. They don’t kiss or say “I love you”, but they don’t have to. You see through their actions–their banter and self-sacrifice–that they truly care for each other. A+ for original character development.

Ronin’s relationship with the hero character, Nod (voiced by Josh Hutcherson), is also original. Nod’s characterization harkens back to the hero stereotype. Nod feel confined by expectations, wants to run off and do his own thing. But Ronin shows him the value in standing for something bigger, and their banter is pretty great too.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the humor, though. Aziz Ansari (of Parks and Rec fame) is a hilarious slug with a snail BFF (Chris O’Dowd). I mean, Epic is just a win-win-win-win movie. I watched it three times in five days and it was just as great every time. When it was released, it flew under the radar mostly, probably because it doesn’t have “Disney” in front of the title. But it is a great film, with a lot to teach kids and adults. The message is great, the writing is entertaining, and the animation is good. Watch it and see for yourself!

Epic-official-characters-poster

Inside Out

Inside_Out_2015_film_posterI have come to expect great things from Pixar; I think everyone has. All of their films have been amazing, from Toy Story to Ratatouille, each Pixar movie has entertained and delighted. That isn’t to say that some films weren’t better than others. Wall-E isn’t exactly the kind of film you watch over and over again, but you can’t call any of their movies bad. That’s a lot of pressure for an animation studio as it churns out its latest movie. But once again, Pixar comes through with Inside Out.

Inside Out is about the emotions inside of your head that make you who you are–Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust, and Fear. These little guys control your feelings and actions; they are what make you tick. This story focuses on Riley, a twelve year old girl from Minnesota, and the emotions in her head. Riley is a happy kid who loves her family and playing hockey. Riley’s family moves to San Francisco, which, as you can imagine, really sends the emotions of a 12-year-old spinning. Amidst the chaos inside Riley’s head, Joy and Sadness get separated from headquarters and lost in long term memory with Riley’s core memories–the memories that shape her personality. Now, Joy and Sadness must work together to get back to headquarters before it’s too late for Riley.

As expected of any Pixar movie, Inside Out is very funny. The whole theater I was in was laughing out loud, kids and adults. It’s very fun, but also pulls on the emotional heart strings. The voice acting is very good, starring Amy Poehler as Joy, Phyllis Smith as Sadness, Mindy Kahing as Disgust, Lewis Black as Anger, and Bill Hader as Fear. Every character is entertaining, and it’s very funny to get a look at the emotions in other people’s heads (stay for the first few minutes of the credits). And much of the humor is very clever, so it will entertain adults as well as children.

Inside Out - Emotion Poster Collaboration

The only thing I didn’t like was one of the characters who helps Joy and Sadness, Riley’s childhood imaginary friend Bing Bong. I understood the purpose his character served in the plot, but he was too, too weird–like a pink cotton candy elephant. Even in the fun, imaginative world of Riley’s head, he didn’t fit with the rest of the characters. I’m sure the kids in the theater liked him, but I thought he was too weird and discolored the flavor of the middle part of the film.

But Inside Out isn’t just a funny children’s film. As also expected from Pixar films, it had an important message. The message may surprise children, but probably not adults. The message was that sadness has a place in our lives. While we want children, and adults, to be happy all the time and not suffer the pain of feeling sad, sadness is a part of life. And even though it hurts, it serves a good and noble purpose. It makes us sympathetic to others, empathetic to others. Because we have felt sadness, we can comfort those who are sad. Sadness also lets others know we need help, so they can comfort us. It can bring people together as much as joy can.

sadnessjoyLife is a mixture of every kind of emotion–joy, anger, fear, disgust, and sadness. They all serve a purpose. Inside Out is a must-see movie for children and adults.

An Ember In The Ashes

emberAs Emily can attest, I am a huge fan of any book with a Roman feel to it. I love historical fiction set in the Roman Empire, but I also love new worlds that are influenced by Roman culture, like Marie Rutkoski’s The Winner’s Curse. However, even more exciting than a world based on Roman times is a world that blends Roman culture with Eastern culture in one epic tale.

Sabba Tahir’s book An Ember In The Ashes follows two main protagonists. On one hand, there is Laia. Laia is part of a family and people group at the bottom of the social pecking order. Her parents, famous revolutionaries, are both dead, and she lives with her older brother and grandparents. But when her brother is arrested and her grandparents killed, she agrees to become a spy in order to save her brother. She’s sent to spy on the leader of a prestigious military school by posing as a slave. As a slave, she’s abused and beaten and almost killed several times, but her love for her brother and her determination to save him keep her going despite all risks.

Then there is Elias. Elias is one of the top students at said military school. His mother is the woman abusing and beating Lia, though their relationship is anything but loving. Elias is troubled by the ways of the world, having more compassion and morality than his peers. He wants to escape the torture and evil that is this empire, but instead he gets roped into competing to be its next emperor. Meanwhile, he’s also trying to sort out his feelings for Lia and his best friend/fellow student/fellow competitor Helene.

Sabaa Tahir

Sabaa Tahir

There are so many aspects about this book that I adored. Laia and Elias are both great narrators, and the supporting characters (even the bad ones) are great. The drama between all the characters really sucks you in as a reader. I couldn’t put this book down. It was refreshing to have a new spin on the traditional love triangle, where the boy is confused over his feelings for two girls. Though, Lia also had feelings for two different boys. But I enjoyed a circumstance where the boy had to figure out how he felt about two girls rather than one girl who had two boys pining after her.

I like that Laia is strong, but also weak in some aspects. She is very human, afraid of scary things but willing to face them for her brother’s sake. I like that Helene is a total badass, a strong girl in the midst of a sea of boys, but she’s not just strong. She has feelings and emotions like a girl, and is sometimes weak as well. I think that’s one of the key aspects to creating human characters. People are strong and brave, but we also have weakness and get scared.

And, as I hinted at earlier, the world building is incredible. The school and characters in/from the school have a very Roman feel, but the mythology is very Eastern. And with the competitions to be emperor, this was everything I wanted The Hunger Games books to be. Tahir blends these two cultures to create a new and interested setting for her story. She’s totally drawn me in, and I cannot wait for book 2!!!