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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Veronica Mars

Veronica-Mars

Kristen Bell is beloved by fans for her turn as snarky sleuth Veronica Mars.

I moved across the country right before my junior year of high school. I went from a huge public high school to a private school with a graduating class of 22. I was shy, scared, and very, very lonely for that first year. There were many things that helped me get through that year: my family, my faith, my friendship with Clare, several girls in my class with whom I was slowly becoming friends, and a television character named Veronica Mars. Perhaps that sounds crazy. And, maybe, it is. But it’s the truth.

Veronica Mars is a television show that aired from 2004 to 2007. The plot is as follows:

CAPRA  DOHRINGVeronica (played by the amazing Kristen Bell) has a good life– loving parents, cute boyfriend, popularity at school– until her best friend Lilly Kane (Amanda Seyfried) is murdered. Veronica’s father Keith (Enrico Colantoni), who is the sheriff in the fictional California beach town Neptune, accuses Lilly’s father of the murder. Keith is fired, Veronica’s mother abandons them, and everyone in Neptune turns against Veronica and her father. A year later, as the show begins, Veronica works for her father, who is now a private investigator. She helps her father solve cases, navigates the hostile social waters at her high school with plenty of snark, and works to solve Lilly’s murder.

The show’s creator, Rob Thomas, recently said that, “Veronica’s superpower is that she just doesn’t give a s*** what people think about her”. Veronica Mars is more than a Nancy Drew figure for teenage girls growing up in the 21st century. She is a flawed character who faces many challenges and hard knocks, but has the strength and courage to pick herself back up again time after time. She’s dealt a bad hand, but she faces the world with sass and snark and refuses to back down. She stands her ground, stands up for others who can’t, and makes sure that people who abuse their power pay. Veronica Mars is a hero.

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Veronica and her dad, Keith, have one of the funniest and healthiest parent-child relationships on TV.

Veronica Mars was my hero in high school. She showed me, and countless others, what it was like to stand up for herself and others no matter the personal cost. She didn’t kick ass, never resorted to violence unless it was in self-defense. She went against a lot of “strong” women in movies who paraded around in leather, wielded swords, and were little more than eye candy or love interests when it came right down to it. Veronica used her intelligence and wit to overcome her adversaries. She helped me realize that I had the strength to do the same.

Others feel the way that I do, because last March 91,585 fans funded a Veronica Mars movie via Kickstarter, raising $5.7 million dollars in the process. The entertainment industry has been abuzz about the movie ever since, because of the revolutionary way in which the film has been made. And fans have been abuzz because the cast and crew of the film have made it clear that the movie is a labor of love and gratitude for the fans that made it possible.

veronica-mars-poster-636-longThe film Veronica Mars premiered last Friday, March 14th. And, of course, I went to see it that day. Here are my thoughts. Spoilers will follow.

Like I said, the cast and crew made it clear from the day that the movie got the green light that this was a labor of love and gratitude for the fans that made it possible in the first place.

Veronica Mars is a movie that is 100% totally and completely geared towards its fans. A street busker sings the catchy theme song for the series. Wallace (Percy Daggs III), Mac (Tina Majorino), and Dick (Ryan Hansen) are back. And, of course, Veronica’s old flame, Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring) is present and smoldering. Veronica and Keith trade barbs and witty banter. Veronica punches long time enemy Madison Sinclair in the face.

And if you’ve seen the movie, you’ll know why I’ve been listening to this song pretty much on repeat since I saw the movie:

As a fan, Veronica Mars was everything that I wanted and more. Did the movie feel more like back-to-back episodes of the television show? Yes. Did I care? No. But when the movie ended, my elation was mixed with concern. As a fan, I love the movie. As someone who saw Veronica as my hero growing up, I’m a little disappointed.

When the movie opens, Veronica has put her past behind her. She’s about to accept a job as a high powered lawyer in New York City. But when Logan is charged with murder (again), Veronica drops everything to go and help him. Throughout the movie, as she and Logan reconnect and grow closer, pieces of her life begin to slip away. Piz breaks up with her? Check. She loses her new job as a lawyer? Check.

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The cast reunited at the movie’s premier.

Her father is, understandably, worried about her. He doesn’t want Veronica to let go of the advances that she has made in her life. But Veronica doesn’t listen. It makes it a bit ironic when she sees Madison Sinclair at her high school reunion and says, trademark smirk in place, that Madison must have been waiting there since graduation. But the joke falls a little flat when the movie ends. Isn’t Veronica right back where she started? She’s given up her life in New York and is working as a P.I. I feel like Veronica didn’t grow much in the film. In fact, in some ways, it felt like she reverted. “I’m an addict,” she confesses at the end of the film, to explain the decisions she’s made.

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LoVe is truly epic.

Not that I’m complaining, mind you. I love the movie. I loved seeing all of the characters. I loved seeing a Logan who has his act together, who actually stands a chance of deserving Veronica and treating her well. I love the way that the movie sets the stage for sequels, if any (hopefully!) follow. I am a fan. This movie was tailored to me and my desires.

As a fan? I am so happy with Veronica Mars. As someone whose hero was Veronica for so long? I guess the jury’s still out.