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!

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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.

Jurassic World

Jurassic-World-The-GameJurassic Park was the biggest box office hit of the summer before it even came out. The anticipation and excitement over this film was almost unprecedented, and with good reason. Everyone loves the original Jurassic Park films. How can you not? There’s dinosaurs, pretty music, and Jeff Goldblum. The original Jurassic Park movie is a classic, and right now Hollywood is into rebooting 1970’s classics. Star Wars is the obvious example, plus the rumors over another Indiana Jones film.

But of course, creating a new part of an established cinema legacy comes with a lot of pressure. Everyone loves the original Jurassic Park movie(s), so they are expecting a spectacular film. Something reminiscent enough of the original franchise to evoke nostalgia, but something creative enough to feel like something new. I believe the box office numbers will support the thesis that Jurassic World achieved both of these things.
Chris Pratt as Owen

Chris Pratt as Owen

I’m not going to lie; I teared up a little the first time Jurassic World played John’s Williams beautiful theme. That, more than anything else for me, brought forth a strong feeling of nostalgia for the original movie. But Jurassic World also included some comedic references to the original film (one of the tech guys is wearing a classic Jurassic Park shirt and gets grief about it from Bryce Dallas Howard), as well as an actual visit to a ruined part of the original park. These scenes tied the new movie to the old, but they didn’t dwell on the past. Rather, they honored it as they moved forward.

After three Jurassic Park movies, the real challenge for the creators of Jurassic World was to find a new twist to the old story–park full of dinosaurs, dinosaurs get loose and eat people. We’d already had the bad boy T-rex, the menacing raptors. So Jurassic World went for something totally new: a brand new dinosaur. It was staged perfectly. The park needed something new to keep people’s interest, and so did the movie, so a new hybrid dinosaur is born. It’s intelligent, big, and very carnivorous. Audiences had a new ‘king’ dinosaur to hate/fear/wonder at with the Indominus Rex.
Bryce Dallas Howard as Claire with Chris Pratt

Bryce Dallas Howard as Claire with Chris Pratt

But the people behind Jurassic Park didn’t just stop at something as basic as creating a new dinosaur. They also evolved the old ones, particularly the raptors. Anyone whose seen any of the old Jurassic Park movies knows that the dinosaur you really have to fear is not the T-rex, but the raptor. But in Jurassic World, raptors have formed a tenuous relationship with their trainer (Chris Pratt). Now, some of the dinosaurs are the good guys.

The actors are great. There are the required children–every Jurassic Park movie has to have kids. The kids are a little cliche with their parents going through a divorce, but almost getting eaten by dinosaurs brings them together. Bryce Dallas Howard and Chris Pratt are the stars. Howard is the no-nonsense manager of Jurassic World, efficient if a little cold at times. Chris Pratt is the raptor trainer, for lack of a better title. As the kids attest, he is awesome. And he and Howard have great chemistry.
Nothing brings brothers together like trying to avoid getting eaten.

Nothing brings brothers together like trying to avoid getting eaten.

The supporting actors are also great. The owner of the park, played by Irrfan Khan, reminds the characters and audience why Jurassic Park/World is so special. He keeps the big picture in mind. There are also a couple of tech/operations characters that keep things fun and engaging.

I don’t think anyone will be disappointed by Jurassic Park. The dinosaurs are amazing, the characters are a great. It is a great homage to the original films while making the franchise fresh and relevant again. I loved it. All my friends who have seen it loved it. It is definitely the must-see film of the summer.

Why Eccleston Is My Favorite Doctor

Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor in Dr. Who.

Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor in Dr. Who.

If you had asked me who my favorite Doctor was in high school when I first started watching Dr. Who, I would have told you what any teenage girl first introduced to Dr. Who would have told you: David Tennant. I mean…what girl wasn’t taken in by 10’s adorable charm? Tennant was funny, cute, and an excellent actor. It was going to be hard to imagine Dr. Who without him.

But if you had asked me in college who my favorite Doctor was, I would have told you Matt Smith. I was not prepared to like the 11th doctor, based on my undying loyalty to Tennant, but Matt Smith completely won me over. His Doctor was, too, funny, cute, and adorable. And Smith is also an excellent actor. His performance was amazing, and he truly proved that his Doctor could be as good as Tennant’s.

But upon watching Dr. Who again–third time, I know, I have issue problems–my favorite Doctor is Eccleston.

Eccleston and Billie Piper as Rose Tyler.

Eccleston and Billie Piper as Rose Tyler.

Eccleston is often overlooked and even forgotten when people think about all of the Doctors since the reincarnation of the British television show, even though he was the first. People got so swept away by Tennant and Smith, and Eccleston was only the Doctor for one season while Tennant stayed for three, that it became easy to forget Eccleston. But I think the main reason Eccleston was forgotten was because Dr. Who became a “fandom”. It became part of the geek world, a world mostly run by fan girls who like their men handsome, British, and adorable.

Eccleston is indeed British, but few fangirls would classify him as handsome, at least traditionally. And even fewer would label him adorable. But that’s why I love him so much as the Doctor. Eccleston’s Doctor is not adorable. Yes, he’s fun and adventurous and has a quirky sense of humor, but he’s not adorable. At times he’s dangerous and angry and unpredictable. Eccleston is the one actor who shows us that the Doctor is capable of dark things. He shows us the pain and anger that comes from losing your entire planet, all the people you love, and the loneliness that can plague the Doctor.

Doctors 1-11

Doctors 1-11

Even though I love shows like Joss Whedon’s Firefly or J.J. Abrams’ new Star Trek reboot, I’m not much of a sci-fi person. I can only handle so much of aliens and UFOs and campy British television. It’s why I can’t binge watch Doctor Who–eventually I need a break from BBC special effects. But I love Doctor Who so much because the show is built on deep, heavy, palatable emotions. I mean, the whole premise of the show reeks of painful feelings: a man who has lost everything he loves–his family, his home, his people, his planet–is doomed to travel throughout time and space alone. I mean, that alone gives me so many feels. Of course, there are good feelings–the love the Doctor has for Rose, his friendship with Donna, his happiness with Amy and Rory. But at the end of the day, the Doctor has to say goodbye to his companions and continue alone.

Eccleston, better than any of the Doctors, captures the raw emotions of the Doctor. He’s the only one who seems truly dangerous, who can show in his face the anger festering under the surface. He gave the Doctor a bit of a dark side, and he reminded viewers of everything the Doctor had lost. That is why I love him so much, and why 9 is my favorite Doctor.

(Also, you never forget your first Doctor.)

(And 9 loved Rose first.)

Star Wars For A New Generation

The internet stopped several days ago with the release of a new teaser trailer for the upcoming Star Wars film. Unlike the first teaser trailer, this one showed us not only some new characters, but more importantly, some old ones. Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) narrated the trailer, while Harrison Ford (Han Solo) made an appearance at the end with his favorite furry friends. These two specific additions to the new trailer caused quite the sensation around the internet, and around the world. And while there may be split feelings about reviving the Star Wars franchise, I think it’s safe to say that the majority of people cannot wait for the Christmas release.

Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford will all return in The Force Awakens.

Mark Hamill, Carrie Fischer, and Harrison Ford will all return in The Force Awakens.

Sure, maybe the purists are upset, but judging solely based on the cast and the trailer, I would say that The Force Awakens could be a great movie. It looks promising so far. But even if the film ended up not being everything everyone hoped it would be, I don’t think it would damper the hype, at least not much.

The Force Awakens is going to be Star Wars for a whole new generation. For people like me (young adults), our parents were the ones who saw the original trilogy in theaters. We saw the new movies in theaters, and although those movies were largely disappointing, the original trilogy was part of our childhood. We watched those movies when we were little; we grew up with them. The original characters, like Luke Skywalker and Han Solo, are incredibly nostalgic for us.

starwarsAnd now there will be movies for kids today to watch. And for us, the nostalgic generation to watch. And for the original generation to watch. This Star Wars movie is going to be for everyone. It’s going to revive one of the greatest, most loved franchises in all of movie history. It’s going to appeal to every age/gender/demographic audience. But more than being just a guaranteed blockbuster, The Force Awakens is going to be a beautiful moment for those old enough to have seen the original trilogy in theaters, those of us who grew up watching the movies as children, and an exciting beginning for a whole new generation of Star Wars fans.

Atlantis: The Lost Movie

Atlantis-The-Lost-Empire-DVD-L786936166095There are quite a few overlooked Disney movies—The Black Cauldron, Oliver and Company, etc. I can understand why some of these movies are less popular than Beauty and the Beast or Tangled, but sometimes I have no clue why these movies aren’t more appreciated. Maybe they stray too much from the traditional Disney story formula, or maybe the timing of the release was off, the main character was not a princess, or there were no catchy songs like “Let It Go”. Still, these Disney movies deserve as much love and accolades as Frozen, maybe even more. I’m thinking of one movie in particular right now, Atlantis: The Lost Empire.

There are so many things I love about this movie. I love the main character, even though he is not a princess. (I have noticed that Disney movies with male primary protagonists are not as successful as movies with female leads, even when there are main characters in every gender.) Milo is not a traditional hero. He’s a bit of a geek, ok, a total nerd. He’s scrawny and awkward, but passionate and intelligent. And his dreams are as big as Ariel’s or Belle’s. He wants to find the lost kingdom of Atlantis, and sets out to do so with the greatest rag tag team ever.

Milo and Kida

Milo and Kida

In young adult fiction there are two hot topics right now—the representation of female characters and PoC (people of color, or minorities, or just general diversity) characters. This issue isn’t limited to young adult fiction—it’s relevant to every kind of art and media forum—but it’s trending in YA fiction. Atlantis, however, is a perfect example of female and PoC characters done right.

There’s plenty of diversity. Obviously Kida, the princess of Atlantis, is her own ethnicity. But Milo’s crew contains a Hispanic female mechanic, a French geologist, an Italian demolitions expert, an African American doctor, a redneck cook, and one hardcore old lady. When it’s listed out, this may look like an affirmative action crew, but it is far from it. Each of these characters has a unique personality not confined to the stereotypes of their race. Except maybe Cookie, the redneck cook, but that’s kind of the point with his character. These are characters whose races are a part of them, but do not define who they are. They are defined by their hard work and dedication, their intelligence and skills, and above all their integrity. These are the kind of diverse characters books and movies need right now.

Milo's Crew

Milo’s Crew

The female characters also refuse to conform to stereotypes. They are not damsels in distress, but they are also not masculinized versions of themselves. They aren’t perfect—they have faults just like the male characters—but they are all strong. Helga Sinclair can kick every man on that crew’s butt, but she isn’t just a tomboy or a girl out to prove that she can fight as well as the boys. She has real character motivations, and a complicated conscience. Audrey Ramirez, the mechanic, is just as strong as Helga. She stands up for herself, does a “man’s” job, but never loses sight of the fact that she is a girl. I think that’s why I love these female characters. They don’t deny the fact that they are girls, they don’t try to cover it up and be like the boys. They know they don’t have to be boys to be strong. They’re women, and they’re strong as hell.

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And then there’s Kida. She’s a warrior and a princess. She looks after her people and defends them, but her greatest act is not one of battle. Rather, she loves her people so much that she is willing to sacrifice herself to save them, and that is the real strength of the story. The good guys come from all kinds of backgrounds, but they are united by their determination to do what is right. They all have different strengths and weaknesses—which makes them a great team—but they are all strong in that they are willing to sacrifice themselves to save each other. And that’s a message worth watching.

Cinderella

Cinderella-Movie-Poster-cinderella-7790337-580-814Picking your favorite Disney movie is almost impossible. Sure, we all do have our favorites, but choosing one sometimes makes me feel like I’m neglecting the others. Even though The Little Mermaid is my favorite, there so many Disney movies that are incredibly dear to my heart. One of these is Cinderella.

There are a lot of reasons to love Cinderella. It’s from Disney’s classic era. The animation is wonderful, and in fact Cinderella’s transformation scene was Walt Disney’s favorite piece of animation. The song are lovely, the characters fun. It’s a classic story that everyone is sure to love. But there’s something very special about Cinderella that makes it slightly different than other Disney movies.

Yes, all Disney movies have moral applications and lessons we can learn from them, but the circumstances Cinderella endures are far more like the situations we face in real life than other Disney movies. We will not—probably—ever face a sea witch named Ursula, or slay a dragon called Maleficent, or be trapped by a Beast in a castle. Sure, all of these stories teach us things we do need in real life, but we are far more likely to deal with people like Lady Tremain and her daughters than we are with Jafar or the Evil Queen.

cinderellaCinderella puts up with people who are vain, selfish, jealous, and cruel. They demand a lot of work from her, never show her any kindness, and are always focused on themselves. In short, the villains in Cinderella possess many of the bad qualities we are likely to see in ourselves and other people. People, in general, are more likely to be selfish than witch; more likely to be jealous of you than poison you. Cinderella faces situations that we face in real life, but she always rises above them with kindness and courage.

It’s extremely difficult to be kind to the people who are mean to you. It’s hard to think of the people who are easily overlooked. But Cinderella is always kind, always thinking of those less fortunate than her, and she never lets the hardships of her life stop her from dreaming. My favorite line from any song in Cinderella is from “A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes”, when she sings, “No matter how your heart is grieving, if you keep on believing, the dream that you wish will come true.”

cindDisney movies are always telling us to keep dreaming, to follow our dreams. But Cinderella is important because it reminds us that it will not always be easy to chase our dreams. We face hardships in life—difficult people and difficult situations. And Cinderella shows us that the way to defeat these real circumstances is not by using a sword or potion, but by being kind.

I mentioned this earlier with the live action Cinderella adaptation that recently came out (go see it, it’s amazing!), but kindness is a message that’s often overlooked. We are always told to be brave and strong, and we need to be in order to survive the difficulties in our lives, but we need kindness, too, if we are to prevail. Cinderella reminds us of that. We cannot forget to be kind, especially when life is difficult.