Category: Cartoons


(Before we get started, I will like to say that this is not a spoiler free post. It should also be noted that it can be triggering for some readers as well, due to discussions of rape.)

Dan Harmon, the creator of the genius sitcom “Community”, has just recently along with Justin Roiland created a brand new animation that blends science fiction with black comedy. It follows the chaotic adventures of Rick, an alcoholic rough-personated scientist and his grandson Morty, a timid boy who semi-willingly goes along the madcap dimensional adventures instigated by his grandfather. The storylines are filled with gore, death and tragedy. The humor is quite dark, and the stories don´t always have happy endings. It is in the same mode storytelling as a slew of cartoons meant for adult audiences such as “Drawn Together” and “South Park”. However, when one looks beyond the gore filled scenes, one can see that “Rick and Morty” is a show that explores deeper themes as well. For instance, “Rick and Morty” is one of the few television shows that depict rape culture properly, without buying into myths of victim-blaming or simplifying ideas about who is a rape victim or who can be a predator.

Morty (right) and Rick (left)

Morty (right) and Rick (left)

The pilot of “Rick and Morty” show cast the series as filled with dark humor that joked about death, violence and trauma. The plots consisted of Rick dragging his fourteen year old grandson to all sorts of terrible dimensions, much to the rest families dismay. Mortys family consists of the dimwitted, insecure but goodhearted Jerry (his father) who Rick loves to belittle. Beth, Morty´s veterinarian mum and Ricks daughter. And Summer, Morty´s sister who wants to join in on her brothers and grandfathers misbegotten adventures. Rick and Morty’s travels are often dangerous, violent places that are filled with all sorts of peculiar creatures. The main selling point was its bleak sense of humor; however as the first season progressed it increased it´s serious world building and in the process was able to actually say some important things about violence.

In the first seasons fifth episode, “Meeseks and Destroy”, Morty asks Rick to allow him to decide what kind of adventure to have, since up until then, Rick had been the one who called all the shots. They make a deal that if Morty is able to handle the adventure he picks he will be allowed to choose every fifth adventure. They travel to a world that resembles the generic fantasy scenario, where Morty decides to help a poverty stricken village. In a reference to “Jack and the bean stock”, Morty and Rick climb up a bean stock and accidentally get the first giant they encounter killed. After being released from murder charges for the accidental Giant-slaughter, Rick and Morty end up at a tavern in the groundside village where things take a dark turn. Frustrated Rick goes off to gamble and Morty goes to use the restroom. There he meets a soft-spoken jellybean-shaped man who offers advice to Morty, which Morty initially appreciates. Suddenly, the benignly, supportive Jellybeanman begins getting uncomfortable close to Morty. The encounter proceeds into an uncomfortable scene where the Jellybeanman attempts to rape Morty, accusing Morty, all the while, of being a “tease”. Morty fights the Jellybeanman off, and, after the encounter, walks back out to meet Rick.

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The scene is played straight; it is not used for black comedy in the slightest. This is not only remarkable because the show itself tends to poke fun at dark subjects, but also because rape jokes in today’s television shows while full of such references to sexual assault rarely show the trauma which “Rick and Morty” conveys in this brief scene. Shows such as “Two broke girls” and “Robot Chicken” tend to use rape as a throw away punch line and shock value. Casual jokes are made at both female and male survivors dispense. The problem, particularly with rape jokes, is that they tend to minimalize the violence of rape, and tend to more often fall into common victim-blaming, misogynistic language (or homophobic, if the joke is about male rape). The problem with such jokes are that they take a huge global issue (one in three women and one in six men have experienced sexual violence world wide) and treat it without any caution or seriousness. But in “Rick and Morty” the attempted rape of Morty is treated seriously; the writers cleverly decide to let the scene be gritty.

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“Rick and Morty”, having the Jellybeanman accuse Morty of being a tease, underline the continued instance in media of making victim-blaming jokes and the writers highlight how rapists themselves use victim-blaming to further their abuse.

After escaping the restroom assault of the Jellybeanman Morty silently tells Rick he wants to go home. Rick sees the Jellybean man leave the restroom and figures out what happens. Then an incredible piece of writing takes place; Rick doesn´t pressure Morty into telling him what happened. He doesn´t blame Morty in any way. He does what many survivors have claimed is the best thing to do; he doesn´t say anything, but let´s Morty know that he´s there for him. Rick shows Morty the cash he´s won gambling and tells Morty they can end thier adventure and giving Rick praise for the choice of adventure. Having Rick not pressure or blame Morty is incredible and a good moral to send: give abuse survivors space but also make sure they know you´re there for them. The episode however does give into some fantasies; in the end of the episode, when Rick and Morty are leaving the world, Rick quickly shoots (and kills) the jellybeanman, unbeknown to the already departed Morty.

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The show also dwells into deconstructing rape culture myths. In episode six, “Ricks Potion #9”, Morty is shown pining after his crush, Jessica. He´s gloomy for not having a date to the schools dance, and is obsessed with the idea of Jessica. Utterly love struck the boy turns to Rick for help. His grandfather tries to ignore Morty, but after Morty has a protracted outburst about how he always helps Rick and never gets anything back, Rick gives in and hands his nephew a potion made from animals DNAs that will make Jessica fall forever in love with Morty, wanting to mate with Morty for life. While the potion is a success, it turns out its success spreads through bodily fluids and therefore becomes an epidemic due to flu season.

Jessica after the drug kicks in

Jessica after the drug kicks in

Everyone at Morty´s school dance becomes infected and aggressively falls into a deep love/lust with Morty. Students and teachers alike start to fight over Morty, creating a fairly funny scenario. Rick turns up to help Morty via one of Ricks favorite mode of transport, his spaceships. While the whole world becomes more and more infected, Rick desperately tries out different potions to find a cure. Unfortunately this just leads to everybody on earth turning into horrible looking monsters.

When Morty starts to complain that Rick is being irresponsible, Rick then says to Morty: “All I wanted was for you to hand me a screwdriver! But instead you had me buckle down and…make you a…roofie…juice serum, so you can roofie that poor girl at your school. Are you kidding me, Morty?! You’re really gonna try to take the high road on this one? Y’know your-you’re a little creep, Morty! Your-you’re just a little creepy creep person!”. This speech brilliantly points out the ethical problems with love potions, and points out the predatory nature of Morty’s request. (Though our western society has come to give some acknowledgement to the horrid problem of drugging and raping; as the Finnish-Swede journalist Johanna Koljonen has said: “The problem then lies in that we then believe that only nasty, horrible men could do such things. The reality is that even so-called sweet, nice boys and men could be rapists”.)

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Having instigated a drugging for assaultive, forced physicality Morty shows us the everyman and sympathetic protagonist, the nice guy, attempting sexual violence while denying, with the common thoughts of our society, what it is. This critique of the offensive action, and its insidious ideological justification, is a brave, important move for a television show. When asked why they rape, a lot of men express the opinion that they felt entitled. Morty, in his weakness, felt entitled as well. He may be a “nice boy”, but he has bought into societies misogynistic views and therefore did something horrible. Morty of course admits to Rick that he was wrong, which happens less in real life, but the fact that a show actually depicted a common mental state that any man (the “Privileged Person”) could have and then points out how this mentality devastates the women and girls (and actually the entire society, which this action comes to destroy) is straight out fantastic to see. This sense of entitlement of a “Privileged Person” for the “lesser person” of the “Oppressed Body” is a problem, and it should be more often addressed in these ways.

The show is also a great example of understanding that anyone could be a victim to sexual violence. Mortys dad, Jerry, gets held at gun point by a woman in the season finale. She tries to force him to have sex, but is rescued by Beth at the last minute. Beth even calls the woman “a rapist”. When Beth says she couldn´t have guessed from the woman’s looks that she was a rapist, Jerry angrily points out that it´s nonsense to assume you can tell such things from ones looks. It is true; looks are deceiving, and the sad truth is that rape culture is deeply ingrained within our society. This means that while men are taught that they may be entitled to a woman´s body, women are taught that men are always eager for sex. Therefore anyone, regardless of gender or race or age, can be a rapist. Both Jerry, Morty and Jessica were nearly raped in the show; and the perpetrators were both male and female. “Rick and Morty” is clear in its message that rape is rape.
Rape is often an shoddily used tool for drama or a lazy source of comedy on television, but “Rick and Morty” is able to avoid most of the insensitive tropes foisted upon us by the pop media.

Jerry held at gunpoint

Jerry held at gunpoint

“Rick and Morty” is careful with this subject, showing a full understanding that when discussing sexual violence it is important to respect the sufferer of the assault and consider the personhood of the survivor in our interactions with them.

Lastly, while bringing the subject up, it is about time that we as a culture actually talk about the culture that creates predators and gives them a set of rationalizations for their brutality , instead of minimizing them and stripping them of their justifications of violence .

Awareness Ribbon for sexual violence

Awareness Ribbon for sexual violence

(Spoilers, dear readers)

One of the newest “The Simpsons” episodes, “Brick like me”, was an experimental episode which was mostly Lego based animation. It was a clear and unashamed reference to “The Lego Movie”, as it copied the film’s formula style and message. It was an interesting idea, but poorly executed. For one, the episode wasn’t brave enough to just fully center on Legos; large parts of the episode were still animated in the traditional Simpsons Style. The episode was lacking in jokes, and much of the characterization (consistent within the show’s trajectory) was nonsensical. For instance we are given a joke which implied that Homer was used to being sexually rejected within his marriage, this comes off as bizarre to those who have been following the show as many episodes have actually portrayed Marge and Homer as quite happy (and playful) in their sexual life. This was of course one of the new writers’ many jokes where women are portrayed as unfair shrews (whose supposed “horrible actions” stem from the fact that they don´t do whatever their husbands wants. This is a problematic portrayal of marriage since it implies that a husbands desires are more important than the wife’s comfort zones), despite it going against the Simpsons female characters established personalities.

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In another episode of this new Simpsons trend of belittling women (and their concerns and struggles) we find a scene where Lisa complains about Christmas gifts being too commercial and that she intends to buy fewer, but more significant presents for her family. Millhouse responds to Lisa´s plan by asking if she’s doing so merely to make herself feel good. Lisa then lectures Millhouse angrily that women only want to be listened to and heard, but never really questioned about what they say. This is mere reiteration of the stereotype of the babbling and empty communication of women. This is a sad dismissal- and not a funny one – of the concerns and thoughts of Women, who have been kept out of the public sphere of debate and discussion and now want places and relationships where they can be heard and taken seriously within dialogue. Lisa, while at times a bit arrogant, has listened and learned from men’s critiques many times. One instance which comes to mind, and which informs her character for many of the shows that follow, is the episode “Lisa the vegetarian” which finds Lisa taking Apus words of tolerance towards meat-eaters to heart. Another episode shows Lisa deciding to celebrate Christmas with her family, despite her being a Buddhist, after discussing and contemplating Belief and Celebrations with her Co-Buddhists Richard Gere, Lenny and Carl.

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The new writers are more concerned with their abilities to make sexist jokes than to capture the lovable, progressive story lines that made Simpsons great and notably Lisa a Standout in her stances to the male status quo. Not only did the episodes of the past “Simpsons” deliver great political satire, brilliant plots and subversive storytelling, it was also in fact one of the few shows that depicted both its female and male characters as complex and fully-realized human beings.

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This dismissive inclination towards women is best captured in the episode “Brick like me’s” (Season 25) last few minutes, when Lisa goes to see “The Survival Games”, a parody of Suzanne Collins “The Hunger Games”. The problematic depiction of the books and films by this episode lies in that the main characters are portrayed as being solely interested in nothing but a love triangle between the female protagonist and the two perfect boys vying for her love interest. This is compounded when we see Homer viewing and complaining that the film is not violent enough (despite a 12-year old child being paled to death and one of Katniss’ love interest being nearly whipped to death, to name a few gory things from the films and books). Marge hushes Homer since she wants to pay attention to the heroine trying on dresses.

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If anyone has seen the films or read the books, they will be able to tell that the writers of “Brick like me” have not the slightest clue of the actual content, intention and trajectory of both the Book and Film Series (and its very odd given the Characterization of Liza that she wouldn’t “understand this intention of the Author”) . The love triangle is nearly absent in the second “Hunger Games” film, “Catching Fire”, and is a small portion in the novels. Suzanne Collins actually did this deliberately; Katniss’ relationship with Peeta (one of the “love interest”) is mostly for show, as it creates a possibility to survive the games. In actuality it is in fact mostly a burden for the heroine to perpetuate this facade.

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Katniss’ main goal is to protect her little sister and friends. Collins depicts Katniss as someone who has little option than focusing on survival of self and family, and romance must take the back seat to the important realities of life. When Katniss is forced to try on different dresses, she is shown as extremely uncomfortable and emotionally out of place in both the book and the film series. In the books, she states that she has zero interest in fashion and clothes. She feels objectified and humiliated while forced to dress up in a mandatory show before the actual killing begins. The novel devotes the majority of its time to her hunting skills, her intelligence and how she solely rescues her entire family from starving to death. But since “The Hunger Games” has a female protagonist, the writers of “Brick like me” have decided, without actually getting familiar to the subject they ridicule, that the main protagonist being a female must be focused on boys and dressing up (fantasy). By also having Homer, while watching the film (some rows behind Lisa, but with Marge in attendance), complaining that he hasn’t got to see kids fight to the death and that’s all he wants, the writers continue their blind denial of the main point of the whole franchise: This Series of Katniss is a critique of our cultures obsession with violence and disregard for the fellow person. That the children are sent to die for entertainment is supposed to be a horrific dystopia – not something the viewer is meant to enjoy.

Additionally Katniss is the True Human and therefore is the outsider to the Political and Cultural oppressions. The fashion scenes are also a satire of that very culture of oppressions, both legally and socially, which the “The Hunger Games” series resist. Katniss’ description of the fashion show can be summed up by Katniss seeing it as form of distraction; an opium for the masses. The short scenes of Katniss trying the dresses are not for eye candy.

The fact that “Brick like me” ignores the social and political commentary that exists in “The Hunger Games” seems to be solely because the protagonist is a girl and that the fan base consists of lots of young girls and women. The new “Simpsons”-writers don’t critique anything that really happens in the films and books; they taint it for being what they consider “girlie”. They ignore the male fan base that the franchise has also accrued, actually implying that such a fan base doesn’t exist by having Homer complain non-stop. This is misogyny, plain and simple. The writers dismiss that a woman writer can actually write novels that tackle political issues such as poverty, disability and political oppression. They dismiss that despite the protagonist being female, she is not obsessed with romance. In fact Katniss’s lack of interest in romance is part of what has made her into such a feminist icon; to have a female protagonist prioritize other things than dating was seen as a breath of much needed fresh air to many female readers. And they dismiss that boys and men can enjoy media aimed at young women. It implies that by being female centered, it is automatically shallow and empty.

It is a great shame that women and girls as consumers of culture are still looked down upon and ridiculed due to their gender.

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This is not to say that all culture aimed at women has always been good; or have avoided the misogynist, “Twilight” and “Fifty Shades of Grey” for instance do deserve to be critiqued for their romanticizing abuse and their echoing of traditional gender roles. Even the “Hunger Games” films can be critiqued for whitewashing characters and keeping characters able bodied when the book described them as disabled. But no culture should be critiqued solely for centering female characters and for being loved by female consumers; it is shallow, sexist and shows a wilful ignorance. Even worse this ignorance goes, in fact, against what “The Simpsons” used to speak and stand for. Lisa was never ridiculed for her interest in Barbie dolls and ponies, despite being what our society considers “girly” interest.

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Why have the writers suddenly changed their tone and start to openly mock women who consume culture, when in the past this was strictly averted? One can only wonder.

(Spoilers for both “Frankenweenie” and “Alice in Wonderland” (2010)!)

As a director and visually insightful storyteller, Tim Burton has been a critical darling as well as an icon and initiator of Popular Goth Culture. Successful as a director, writer and producer, Burton has done some truly fantastic films, such as “Beetlejuice” (1988), “Batman” (1989) and “Edward Scissorshand” (1990), with the latter film being a film classic and arguably still his best work to date. After 2005, Burton has had a bit of a creative decline which can, perhaps, be pinpointed in his being too overly productive (Looking at his resume at IMDB, it’s stated that Mr. Burton made two films in both 2005 and 2012) and stuck in the trap of his own brilliant style and quirky narrative deployments. His current work has also grown towards the habit of filming adaption’s of previous existing films, novels and plays, and many of his critics have claimed this to be an ongoing error and a major cause of his fall from his high style.

Tim Burton working on "Frankenweenie"

Tim Burton working on “Frankenweenie”

However Burton is, and has always been, good in plying at the fresh fields implied in the adaption’s he has tackled. His darkly comical version of “Sweeney Todd” was extremely engaging and fascinating, as was his vision of the comic book hero Batman. Making his own personal interpretation of already existing ideals is not necessarily a bad move. The problem lies more in that Mr. Burton doesn’t seem to always think through the interesting aspects of the stories he re-creates.

Adding to the faults which have motivated criticism of Burton’s work since the new millennium, and which can be seen in his latest work “Alice in Wonderland” and “Frankenweenie”, Burton has begun to rely more on demonizing marginalized groups in the guise of shaping his villains and uses the soft narrative contrivance that conflates the normal attractive, or beautiful, guise with that of the good person of the narrative.

Victor and Sparky

Victor and Sparky

“Frankenweenie” is a re-make of a short film Tim Burton made when he was just starting out as a film maker. The story centers a young boy, Victor, who through a logic-free science brings his dog back to life. The story begins with showing Victor being a loner who instead of wanting to have friends prefers the company of his dog Sparky while making inventions and homemade films, starring of course Sparky. After introducing their protagonist, who at this point should be mentioned is white, cis-gendered, male and non-disabled (his character modeling is made personify the cute, i.e. fits our society ideas of what is a decent looking person would entail), the viewer gets a glimpse of his schools class: they consist of a heavily over-weight boy named Bob, a Japanese-American boy named Toshiaki, a girl with pale hair and giant black circles around her eyes, a boy who is most certainly a person of color (possibly having roots in the Middle east) named Nassor and a hunchbacked boy named Edgar. At first it’s a refreshing scene, seeing so many different types of children; especially seeing children of color and disabled children, since these groups are often ignored in mainstream films and media. But very quickly it turns out the roles for all these children are the roles of antagonist. Everyone is a bully. Victor is the victim.

Nassor (left), Edgar (beneath Nassor), Weird girl (next to Nassor), Elsa (right), Toshiaki (next to Elsa), Bob (next to Toshiaki)

Nassor (left), Edgar (beneath Nassor), Weird girl (next to Nassor), Elsa (right), Toshiaki (next to Elsa), Bob (next to Toshiaki)

The Weird girl, the one with pale hair and the sullen eyes, warns Victor that something will happen to him in the near future since her pet cat has had a vision. The vision being that one of its feces is shaped like a “V”; apparently the cat Mr. Whiskers has had feces in the shape of a letter that each student’s name begins with and shortly after something big has in fact happened to the kid in question. Victor blows this warning off since he doesn’t believe in this odd take on a superstition. Fair enough, however Victor is rather dismissive of the Weird Girl (who doesn’t even get a name) and openly shows her with his hostile body language that he doesn’t want to talk to her. He just says curtly “sure” and quickly leaves. I myself am a hard-core atheist and find superstition illogical, but for the sake of goodness, when someone is just trying to be nice and warn you without being offensive, you should at least be polite back.

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After this exchange with the Weird Girl we see Edgar, another of Victor’s classmates approaching to ask of Victor a favor. Edgar, in this scene, is shown having trouble understanding personal space, so Victor being uncomfortable with how close Edgar gets to him appears reasonable to the viewer. Nevertheless, Edgar has approached Victor to simply suggest that they work together on a science project since neither of them have any friends. Victor responds simply that he wants to work alone, while crawling away from Edgar. Why? This revulsion is never explained. Edgar is not being mean. He is simply stating that they could work together since both are friendless. Victor denies the request but no reason is forthcoming, though Edgars socially “odd looks and behavior” seem swimmingly obvious.
The pivot point of the narrative of “Frankenweenie” comes when Sparky the dog is run over by a car and killed and we follow the trajectory of grief this brings to Victor. Victor’s obsession with Sparky’s death is transfigured when, during a science lesson, he is enlightened by how the muscles of even the dead respond to electricity. This inspires Victor with the plan to attempt the same technique to bring his dog back to life (as even Mary Shelly was inspired by the like experiments in her day to incorporate them into her “Frankenstein”). Victor succeeds in reanimating his pet, but wisely decides to keep the fact that he has awoken his dead dog a secret. This attempt at concealing the reanimated falls apart when Edgar spots Sparky chasing a cat. Edgar then proceeds to blackmail Victor into showing him how he brought the dog back to life. If Victor doesn’t show Edgar how he was able to bring his pet back to life, he will tell everyone about Sparky. Victor then reluctantly demonstrates the technique with a gold fish.

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Before this point, the film was a typical Burton kid film: comfortable macabre with a light heart. A boy brings his dog back to life because he loves his dog so much. But then Edgar starts blackmailing Victor, bullying him into bringing a gold fish back to life. Edgar happily goes to school with the re-animated gold fish. It is then reveled that all of the other students are bullies: after Edgar blackmails Victor, he is cornered at school by Nassor who threatens him. Nassor makes it clear that if Edgar doesn’t tell him what he’s hiding, he’s in trouble. Simultaneously, Toshiaki and Bob are shown bickering about the upcoming science fair. Bob claims Toshiaki is the “smart one” out of the two, stereotyping the over-weight Bob as naturally stupid and Toshiaki as the naturally smart and science-obsessed one. Toshiaki is also shown being sinister and malevolent, as illustrated when he decides that a proper way to win the science fair is by forcefully strapping Bob to a small rocket and launching it off the roof, all while speaking in poor English. Toshiaki in short embodies every negative stereotype against Asians imaginable.

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While it is refreshing to see a children’s film with a diverse cast, it is unfortunate that the entire diverse cast is in fact demonized. The only character that belongs slightly to a marginalized group and is not demonized is Victor’s science teacher, Mr. Rzykruski, who is an immigrant (but, he is not a Person of Color like Nassor and Toshiaki. Make of that what one will). Mr. Rzykruski is shown being an energetic and supportive teacher who is falsely accused of inspiring children to do deadly experiments. This results into an awesomely funny speech while he tries to defend himself, which will be linked below. (The science teacher’s design is strongly modeled after the deceased legendary actor Vincent Price, who worked with and strongly influenced Mr. Burton. Mr. Price was a major inspiration for Tim Burton’s first short animation, “Vincent” (1982)).

Mr. Rzykruski is the one to tell Victor he should become a scientist, which brings up another major problem with the film.

Whether it was intentional or not, the film sends the message that only white, “decent looking” men should be involved with science. The science replacement teacher the class gets is a woman, who formally taught PE. One of the students proclaims she knows nothing about science, to which she then snaps that she knows enough. The problem here is that there is an extreme lack of women in science as well as their being many harmful prejudices against women that make it difficult for them to take place in science. By having the female teacher being mean and ignorant of science is not progressive. It is also an outdated stereotype that strong women are mean.

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In the films climax all of the kids Victor has interacted with decide to bring an animal back to life. After Victor’s secret is reviled Toshiaki, Nassor, Weird girl, Edgar and Bob all try to bring an animal back from the dead. After blackmailing and threatening, the kids enter Victor’s room, looking for the device that brought Sparky alive. The children all decide to experiment and to try to bring an animal back to life. Edgar brings a rat back to life, Toshiaki his pet turtle, Nassor his hamster and Bob sea creatures. Weird Girl tries the technique on a dead bat, but accidently mixes the creature with her cat. As one can predict, all of the creatures become uncontrollable monsters that start wrecking and terrorizing the city. The only explanation that is given for the significant different results of bringing the animals alive are that one must “love” the science or experiment. The explanation does not hold up, for Toshiaki and Nassor brought back their pets; sounds like there was a hint of love in that experimentation. True, they are more concerned with winning the science fair, but they actively chose their own pets instead of random dead animals. Weird Girl most definitely loved her cat. And lots of great science has been driven and performed by curiosity and ambition, which Edgar and Weird Girl probably were embodying in their own experiments. So the message of the film is that only white, non-disabled, thin males should do science. Everyone else – People of Color, women, the disabled – will only cause trouble. The film hammers home the message by even having Victor figure out how to destroy all the monsters and save the town. The person who no doubt has most of the privilege saves the day, proving that only white men can do science and fulfill its consequences. The statement about “loving science” becomes only an excuse for prejudice.

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As a side note, it’s also worth mentioning that the meanest adult in the film is a bald man. He bullies his “pretty” niece and yells constantly at Victor. So people who fit our society’s ideals of “unattractive” are also bad since beauty and looks is what marks out the parameters of a good person.

Another case in point is the work of “Alice” by Tim Burton which moves along the same direction in the demonization of marginalized groups. In “Alice In Wonderland”, the villainous Red Queen is given an abnormally large head. The Mad Hatter in the film revels that residents fighting against the Red Queen use a slogan that goes: “Down with the Bloody Big head”. Even worse, the White Queen is hinted at being a bit dangerous (has served human fingers in a jar), yet she’s the one the audience is suppose to root for and the happy ending is encapsulated in the storyline with her being crowned Queen in the instead of her repugnant sister the Red Queen. The film implies that the White Queen should be the ruler, since she’s “prettier” and the lack of attractiveness on the surface pierces deep into the soul (causes or is caused by is never fully explored). Using the Red Queens looks (which may be a form of disability) as a way to critique her is placed on the viewer as a “given” and hints if not commits ableism. It also hammers home the message that only the attractive should be in positions of power and visibility.

The White Queen and The Red Queen

The White Queen and The Red Queen

This rejection of the outliers of accepted “looks” in Alice (the Red Queen has a “misshapen” head) along with placing the hunchbacked Edgar in “Frankenweenie” as a villain and mostly to blame for the problems in the film (he’s the one to push Victor to show him the device and then tell about it to others) makes a disturbing new pattern in Burton’s film. Indeed, the man who once defended people’s rights to not fit into our society’s norms now appears to be demonizing the very same.

The menagerie of children in “Frankenweenie” are supposedly a reference to different horror films, with each character being a reference to classical horror genres and it is no surprise that Burton wants to express an ode to these influential and important classic horror films. The problem lies with the ill conceived and notable disregard of the historical context of these films. The majority of these films were made in times when a lot of marginalized groups were completely deprived of rights, dismissed by the society at large, seen as problematic to majority culture, marginalized by negative imagery, and were nearly always portrayed negatively in cinema. So casting these old stereotypes into his film does not work without insight to the historical ethnicity and becomes double edge sword cutting towards the highly offensive. You simply cannot have a privileged person being the victim and all the marginalized groups being villains. Yes, even the privileged can have difficult lives, but that does not take away the fact that we still live in a highly hierarchical world where those of marginalized groups struggle to be engaged equally in the social, cultural and political. When Victor is the hero and is shown as the only one we should like and the only one who should be allowed to do science that hierarchy is strengthened. And that is fairly harmful, if not irresponsible.

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Tim Burton has been and remains an important filmmaker. There is no other director quite like him. In his earlier works, Tim Burton has even strongly defended outsiders and probably doesn’t mean to be offensive. It is crucial that he should start thinking more about what roles he gives to marginalized characters; then he will once again be on top of his game.

“All of the great artists get censored!” – Linda (voiced by John Roberts)

“Bob’s Burger” is an animated series created by Loren Bouchard and premiered on television in 2011. It centers on the misadventures of the Hamburger restaurant owning Bob and his family. The family consists of his wife Linda, who is perky and peculiar, and their three children: the continually exaggerating Gene, the socially awkward Tina and the sly, mischievous Louise. “Bob’s Burger” is packed with great lines and quirky dialogue, and finds its way to dealing with impressive subjects from time to time. The show is also pleasant in its interesting depiction of a working-class family; “Bob’s Burger” is not a “down-to-earth” realistic but does portray the plight of this class’s persistent economic trouble, which is important and appreciable to represent. And it is firmly refreshing to see a show that is which is finally female-friendly (i.e. free of overly sexists jokes) in this genre (naturally excluding the “Simpsons”).

Left to right: Louise, Bob, Gene, Tina and Linda

Left to right: Louise, Bob, Gene, Tina and Linda

In “Bob’s Burgers” first season, the eight episode “Art Crawl” tackled the issue of censorship. More specifically the episode was about censoring art, as well as has some amusing musings about cultural assumptions about art itself.

The episode begins with Bob walking around the neighborhood with his kids as they check out the neighborhoods annual street event focused on art. The event is an “Art crawl”, where people display their indolently done paintings. Bob points out quickly that he does not want the children to think that the Art crawl represents what real art is meant to be or obtain. Considering how artist and art have at times been the punching bag for mainstream comedy, it’s pleasant to have Bob make a sincere defense of art. Tina then suggests that they visit a museum to learn more about Art. This is met with strong protest from Bob and her siblings (this is met with the idea of a “art visit” is going to far). Already in the first four minutes of the episode lazy and stereotypical attitudes towards Art, especially mirrored in television culture, are confronted and parodied. Bob points out the “art festival” is a profoundly narrow idea about what Art both is and entails. The scene defends art as a cultural form, stating that it is much better than many may believe, yet uses a singular relatable scenario as showing Bob falling into the common and routine avoidance of culture.

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The show also plays with the myth of the unstable and conceited artist as well. Gayle, Linda’s extremely insecure and erratic sister whose art the family is not allowed to critic, is a an embodiment of this trope (it is mentioned that she had eaten lipstick to become “red inside”).

Linda's sister, Gayle

Linda’s sister, Gayle

However, the idea of the unstable artist is also satirized. The youngest child of the family, Louise (voiced by the always awesome Kristen Schaal ) sees the potential in making money in the “Art Crawl” phenomena and tries to get her siblings Gene and Tina to make street art for her. However her siblings express themselves as “true” artists, to which Louise then decides that she must cut off her brother’s ear, in reference to a supposed action done by Van Gogh. This highlights how people focus on outsized legends and absurd stories to constantly create the odd mythical presence of the mad artist which alienates these workers in Art from the normal working class. The constant mystification art, and the creation of art, to the point that art and artists are viewed more as characters from ridiculous melodramas instead of being engaged with as serious creators of our visual culture.

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However the most prominent theme of the episode is censorship. Other popular cartoons have dealt with censorship before, for instance “The Simpsons” episode “Itchy and Scratchy and Marge” and the two-part “South Park” episode “Cartoon Wars” (which was later discussed again in the episodes “200” and “201”). These two previous shows dealt with censorship through fictional controversies, i.e. with the Simpsons cartoon violence and with South Park the representation of the prophet Mohammed. In both of these cases the object of controversy was not a product made by a family member. In “Bob’s Burger” this is the case.

Gayle, Linda’s sister, visits the family for a while and hangs her new paintings around the walls of Bob’s restaurant in tandem with the neighborhood Art Crawl event. To Bob’s horror, Gayle has devoted all of her works to the depiction of various animal’s anuses. Bob surmises, quite correctly in fact, that the paintings will have a negative effect on the customers eating in his establishment. Bob makes the case strongly to his wife, Linda that she has to tell her sister that Gayle has to take down the paintings. When she refuses, Bob comes up with a scheme to take down the paintings without Linda noticing. He also decides to come clean with Gayle and state that he just doesn’t want the paintings hung on the walls of his restaurant. This plan quickly changes after Edith, the elderly woman who runs the “Art Crawl” event, shows up to complain about Gayle’s paintings. Bob explains that the paintings have been removed, to which Edith than replies: “Good, they were indecent” adding “I won’t allow them to be shown”. Bob becomes furious after hearing Edith state that she won’t allow people to see this art given her own interpretation of what art should be available, and therefore hangs all of the paintings back up. Bob’s actions are strikingly similar to an old saying: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”, that Voltaire among others have used when defending freedom of Speech and expression. Bob absolutely hates Gayle’s paintings but will not let her work be censored by authoritarian personas. He decides to make a stand since he feels that someone has tried to rob him and others of their choice to express themselves. Edith continues to protest against the paintings while Bob tells Gayle to paint more. Bob fights back against censorship by encouraging more provocative art. So Bob takes his protest against censorship a step further – he not only will defend Gayle, but encourage her as well. Bob takes the idea of defending a person’s right to express themselves freely, but also encourage them to express themselves in a way he doesn’t like.

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The Episode “Art Crawl” takes an interesting turn on censorship when the family discovers one morning that the paintings have been vandalized. The animals have been given pink underwear as a cover up. Bob assumes the person responsible is Edith and heads over to her store. There he confronts Edith and vandalizes her artworks in revenge (by giving all of the paintings in her shop “anuses”), only to find out later that it was his wife Linda who vandalized the paintings, since she was so disgusted by them. While Edith wanted to censor the paintings, Linda is the one who actually takes to vandalism to censor. The family pays Edith for the damage caused and Linda realizes that she should have perhaps just honestly told her sister her opinion of the paintings. The episode portrays the vandalism as an act of censorship, which it is. Edith praised the vandalism act but did not do it herself. Linda did because she could not express her dislike. Naturally, it is harder to critic art when someone close to you is the creator, but it is pointed out that Linda should have just voiced her opinion. Once again the importance of expressing one’s self is highlighted. It is also stated that Bob’s anger was understandable, but his action of changing Edith’s paintings was over the top, since he also does a form of censorship by editing Edith’s paintings against her will.

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“Art Crawl” illustrates the measures a person will go to fight against censorship. Bob can’t stand people bossing others about their expression. It rings a truth about censorship in the real world; to defend freedom of speech, people must sometimes defend things they despises themselves. “Art Crawl” strongly defends freedom of speech, realizing that we will not always like everything culture produces, but censorship is not, nor is ever, the answer.

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At the site “Nerve” they have made a list of the most to the least feminist Disney Princesses. I was overjoyed seeing Tiana From “the Princess and the Frog” and Fa Mulan from “Mulan” being at the very top, i.e. considered highly feminist – those two are aweseome animated characters! As a added plus, Belle from “Beauty and the Beast” was criticized for making Stockholm Syndrome look like true love. Glad to see that pointed out.
Here’s the link.

The Disney Princesses, in all their glory, from left to Right: Jasmine, Snow White, Mulan, Aurora, Cinderella, Pocahontas, Tiana, Belle, Ariel and Rapunzel

“The PJ’s” (1999-2001) was a stop-motion animation created by Eddie Murphy, Larry Wilmore and Steve Tompkins. The show centers on the main protagonist Thurgood Stubbs (voiced by Eddie Murphy) who is the chief superintendent of and lives in a housing project with his wife, Muriel (voiced by Loretta Devine). The show as well as centering on the awkward adventures of Thurgood followed the escapades and personalities of the myriad residents living in the housing project. The show has been heavily criticized for depicting negative racial stereotypes of life in the projects by many social activists, including the great director Spike Lee, and the cartoonist Aaron McGruder even accused “The PJ’s” of being nothing but a host and list of stereotypes in his comic strips “The Boondocks”. I agree with these accusations, along with feeling that the show in a whole relied on labels and simplistic characterizing which didn’t always seem the reality of representation to either minorities or those of the captured classes who must deal with living in socially neglected lower income housing. The show seemed to also for the most part ignore the subject of poverty too often and neglected to touch on the subject of discrimination of lower classes. That is, except for the third episode in the first season.

Thurgood and Muriel

This episode, titled “The Door”, begins with the inhabitants of the building expressing consternation about the front door constantly breaking and leaving them victim to (what they perceive as) criminal elements of the neighborhood. Thurgood at first dismisses these complaints, but eventually is compiled to secure a new door for the building. Everyone falls instantly in love with the new high tech and exceedingly secure door, feeling it will give them the protection they need. These hopes are destroyed soon after the door is found to have been stolen – only to be returned by criminal gang who decide to occupy the project house.

What worked in “The Door” is that the viewer is exposed to the problems and dangers poor people must face continually in the milieu of there neighborhoods and in the social planning they are forced (by money) to inhabit. The shows succeed by detailing the residents of the project in the human terms of people striving to secure a place of living which is safe and protected. Though “PJ’s” was made for comedic effect, this episode features a heartbreaking scene where Thurgood strolls down the hallway of the building while the residents one by one look out of their apartment with statements such as: “I’m frightened!” to which Thurgood only can answer with the powerless reply: “I’m sorry”.

The Door” depicts the characters of “The PJs” as sympathetic and likeable, fully humanized. The show wasn’t able to do this in any other episode and was inclined towards a meager portraiture of characters to laugh at. The characters are depicted as poor (and also all of them are non-white), and simply laughing at them for this is extremely problematic and without empathy. Yet with “The Door” the characters actually display something thought- provoking about poverty: how vulnerable and trapped the people living in it are. This is an important subject to think about right now, especially with the ascendency of poverty, and the schism of inequality, has climbed in the past few years.

So check out the third episode of the first season of “The PJs”. It’s a very solid episode, even if the rest of the show wasn’t. The whole episode is featured below in three parts.

“One thing I love about speculative fiction is its ability to explore difficult topics. Because of it’s separation from our current timeframe, it can comment on Socio-economic and Cultural issues in really engaging and interesting ways” – Anita Sarkeesian

Recently, I’ve seen two fascinating films that take place in “the future”, which tackle subjects in both a political-satirical way as well as asking some basic questions about the general human condition. The six minute long “The Terrible thing from Alpha 9”, a tragicomic animation by Jake Armstrong delves into the human fears of otherness while the gritty and gloomy “Black Mirror: 15 Million Merits”, written by satirical and serial pessimist Charlie Brooker and Kanaq Huq looks to the trajectory of a society created by our own individual weaknesses. The reviews of these works will be featured in this series, “Sci-fi Speaks Of US”, presented in two parts; in part one I’ll review “The Terrible thing from Alpha 9”. Part two will contain a review of “Black Mirror: 15 Million Merits”.

“The Terrible thing from Alpha 9” is a completely dialogue free short, with the character’s actions (and some brief clips of news papers) being the only clues the viewer will get as explanation of what is going on and what the driving motivation is of the two lead characters. The animation begins with an astronaut landing his spaceship on a seemingly empty planet. He’s is in search of a “terrible creature” which has supposedly taken 40 lives. With grim determination the space travel holsters his gun and heads out to kill. However, upon stumbling across the terrible thing, the hunter is cut off guard. The blue, five-eyed alien jumps at the hero, knocking his weapon out of his hand and starts greeting him by licking his space helmet (in attempt of licking his face). At this point it clear to the viewer that the creature is perhaps not a dangerous vicious monster, but more of a dog-like alien which wants to be friends. Despite this possibility, the astronaut runs from the creature, resulting in the accidental death of the supposedly deadly hunter. After this decidedly odd turn of events, the viewer quickly learns what, in humorous actuality, happened to the 40 first “victims” of this creature. The viewer is left with a lingering glimpse of a lonely and desperate creature that yearns for friendship and continually fails to find it. A heart-breaking ending sees the horrible demonstration of a creature, no matter what bad luck it haunts it, will give up its dream of companionship. Hope against all odds lingers in the grand wishes of the creature.

“The Terrible thing from Alpha 9” strength comes from the two main characters in the film. The astronaut is a man who tries to be really overly-manly and macho, seeking without thought to kill a scary looking beast because it is considered, against all fact, to be dangerous. His motivations for going out on this mission are never given, yet one is lead to assume it’s strongly tied with the fame and honor which he feels he would garner from killing a thing deemed to be so dangerous. In fact, he is so determined to assassinate a scary beast that he doesn’t even stop to think how peculiar it is that the supposed savage creature acts gently and playfully towards him while he pursues his fatal vendetta towards his victim. The supposed hero obvious finds the looks of the creature distasteful and threatening (and which seems to be the motivation of all the humans to seek this creatures demise), which drives his already made-up mind that the creature needs to die. The astronaut’s determination ends up fatal for him, making his quick decisions seem unwise. The creature on the other hand acts just like an attention starved pet; from fetching things the man throws away to following him loyally regardless of where he wanders. This makes the creature come off as something in distressed need of companionship, which he seeks from the space wanderer and hunter, in spite of latter rejecting him strongly, fearfully, and constantly. The monsters sturdy willpower is also a great personality trait highlighted in the short. It’s a universal subject of wanting something and frequently doing your best to get it, even if it’s most likely that your desires won’t ever be met, as well as an analysis of the superficial creations of hate which humans impose on what they do not understand.

“The terrible thing from Alpha 9” has a simple, tragic plot point: The creature just wants a friend, but probably won’t get one due to people’s constant disgust with its looks. Isn’t that unfair? Wildly funny, but also a bit of a tear jerker, this short is a must-watch for fans of cartoons and Science-Fiction.

View below the full short “The Terrible Thing from Alpha 9”:

“Valentine’s Day is a holiday invented by greeting card companies to make people feel like crap” – Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

Ah, the 14th of February! The day is slowly, but surely, coming upon us with all that it entails with its meanderings and commercially tinted vocabulary of love. Usually we are fed the most mundane and conservative of loves: predominately focused on the heterosexual, circulating around the material gift as its expression, and, usually, one sex seen as passively accepting the honors of the day. Not to mention the holiday’s neglect of love that isn’t “successful”; i.e. the holiday’s depiction of romance that is blissfully ignorant of the times when love falls far short of happy endings. Valentine’s Day uplifts the beautiful, harmonic side of love, which no doubt is important. On the other hand, the sad and dark parts of love are a major part of romance and relationships. Therefore, it is my pleasure to contemplate those most unhappy of love tales which I invite the curious reader of this post to watch, read, or listen to on Valentine’s Day.
(Note: I will talk about the tragic parts of the tales and stories of love and betrayal, so this post will harbor the most conclusive of spoilers).

The series “Powerpuff Girls” was a children’s cartoon about three kinder garden aged girls with superpowers which ran for six seasons from the years 1998 to 2004. The episodes were filled with irony and amusing reconstructions on the superhero and the story-telling around them. The series was also a delightful blending of action and cuteness, featuring very bold and strong heroines who never drifted far from their adventurous and comical personalities: Blossom-the intelligent, but slightly vain leader, Bubbles-who’s naïve and passive-aggressive, and Buttercup-the rough and tumble tomboy (who despite being a tomboy always wears a dress). Most of the episodes concentrated on the girls solving the mysteries, and actively fighting crime and the criminal. Still the episode “Buttercrush” which aired on season one as its fourth episode, found the tough and unsentimental Buttercup embroiled in her first crush. She falls for Ace, a bully and mean leader of a criminal gang, who manipulates Buttercup by sweet-talking himself and his gang out of trouble. After successfully getting Buttercup to believe he returns her affections, Ace sets out a plan to use the situation as a chance to kill off Blossom and Bubbles. However, Buttercup finds out about Ace’s plan and doesn’t take to the attempted murder of her sisters kindly.

“Buttercrush” portrays two different types of love. Firstly we are presented with Buttercup’s blind infatuation with the bad guy Ace, which is exploitive and manipulative. This theme is extremely universal, for haven’t we all sometimes been taken advantaged of due to our emotions blinding us? The second form of love is that which we find between siblings. This love is demonstrated by Buttercups ultimate loyalty to her sisters and her sisters understanding and forgiveness to their sister’s misguided crush. The girls share an unconditional love to each other, which strength saves Buttercup from the deceitful Ace. Even if it is sad to see Buttercup get her heart shattered, it is still extremely touching to see how important the bond with her sisters is to Buttercup. Bad love and good love, both demonstrated in this fine episode!

Greek Mythology is known and regarded for its near soap-opera like tales of the gods and god-like creatures. When I was young, I read all the myths I could come across, and at the age of ten I read the myth of “Apollo and Daphne”, which details Apollo’s first love. Humorously, it was the first love story I enjoyed (and the only one I would enjoy till recent years), so much that I read it out loud to the grownups around me. In the legend, Apollo enrages Eros by claiming he’s too much of a boy to handle his arrows. Eros decides to prove Apollo wrong, so he shoots one golden arrow into Apollo and one blunt dart into the nymph Daphne. Thus Apollo falls violently in love with Daphne despite Daphne not wanting anything to do with Apollo. This leads to Apollo obsessively chasing Daphne, begging her to marry him. While Daphne sees Apollo as an ultimate terror, Apollo can’t stop thinking about how wonderful Daphne is, even when she runs from him. The nymph tries to escape Apollo multiple times, and in her most desperate hour pleads the earth goddess Gaea to destroy her beauty. She is then transformed into a tree. However, Apollo loves Daphne even in this form, and concludes: “Since you cannot be my wife, you shall become my tree”. The love sick god takes the tree to his heavenly garden where he intends to keep it eternally. After his last soliloquy of love he embraces the plant.

“Apollo and Daphne”, famous statue by Bernini

This legend is an intense take on obsession, unrequited love and despair. Daphne is a woman who can’t escape her stalker and not even as a tree finds freedom. Apollo is a lost, immature man struck with feelings he can’t handle. The ending is bittersweet in the realization that Apollo didn’t love Daphne for her looks, but for who she was and how she expressed her being. Daphne having her beauty destroyed couldn’t alter the feelings which Apollo felt for her. Even though we find the stalker Apollo as unsettling in the extreme in this story, we still find ourselves oddly moved by the tragedy which unfolds. Apollo, as immature in his emotions, doesn’t have the means to handle unrequited love and reacts to it as a child would, making his actions sympathetically tragic in hindsight, while still overdone and horrific in his refusal to accept her wishes (no means no). In short this could also be a cautionary tale of what happens when you refuse to take no for an answer. If you can get your hands on a collection of Ancient Greek legends, make sure to read this tale of woe.

“Futurama” is an animated series created by Matt Groening. The series centers on Philip J. Fry, a delivery boy who is accidently frozen in 1999 and thawed out in the year 2999. There he befriends a scoundrel robot named Bender, a warrior-spirited Cyclops named Leela and starts working for an absent minded professor Farnsworth, who is Fry’s last living relative. Due to Fry’s situation, many episodes explored the things Fry had left behind back in his 1999. The most famous, or infamous as some would say, was “Jurassic Bark” (season four, episode seven). Fry uncovers the remains of his late dog and learns that 29th century science will be able to resurrect his beloved pet, Seymour. Fry is thrilled, but his best friend Bender grows painfully jealous, disliking the fact that Fry is paying more attention to Seymour’s remains then he is to their mutual friendship. The plot portrays Bender’s jealousy leading to near disaster, but Bender redeems himself in the end, learning to sympathize with Fry’s wishes. The episode at that point seems upbeat and will end happily, until Fry learns that his dog died at the age of fifteen. He then decides not to resurrect Seymour. The last scene takes the viewers back to the 21th century. Seymour is shown patiently waiting for Fry, year after year, in summer sun and in pouring rain. He dies of old age while still contemplating the return of his human friend Fry. Fry’s decision to leave the past as it is and not resurrect the long dead friend makes the episode a complete downer, since Seymour will now never get to be with Fry again.

“Jurassic Bark” is perhaps the saddest episode from “Futurama”, and as one of the most powerful and touching one we find in the series. Bender learns to become a better friend to Fry, which is an uplifting plot point. However Seymour’s love for Fry is devastating, and he uncompromisingly waits for his owner to return to him in a past without mercy. Fry will never return, and love and loyalty is depicted in a dark, bitter light. This episode is a must see. However, a fair warning is that you should have many boxes of tissues beside you while watching this utterly depressing, striking episode.

“Pokémon” is a Japanese children’s Anime show which takes place in a world filled with so-called pocket monsters. People in this world collect these creatures by “catching them”, maintaining them in small magical globes and then training them to fight each other (i.e. this world is a member’s of PETA worst nightmare). Ash, the show’s star, is a young boy who travels this world finding and pursuing a multitude of adventures with his favorite Pokémon, Pikachu, and his two friends, the feisty Misty and the caring Brock. The team of friends is constantly chased by Team Rocket, a criminal trio who steal Pokémon’s from others. The members are Jesse and James, and the talking Pokémon Meowth. Meowth is a cat-like creature, who is the only one of his species who can speak and walks on two feet. This is a mystery many characters in the show ponder about aloud, but it’s not until the seventy-second episode, “Go West, Young Meowth!” that an explanation for this phenomena is given. Team Rocket decides to go to Hollywood, which awakens painful memories in Meowth, causing him to reveal his past to the viewers. Turns out Meowth started out as a hungry homeless Pokémon, who couldn’t talk and walked on four paws. After seeing a block-buster film, Meowth decides to traveled to Hollywood in search of glamorous food, ending up in a thieving league of other Meowths and a Persian (another cat-like Pokémon). Finally having and abundance and grand access to food, he comes to longed for love as well. His craving for love is fulfilled in his becoming smitten with Meowsie, a female version of a Meowth. His love will never be returned since, as she is more than boldly willing to tell him, she is rich and he is not, and she values beyond measure her rich owner who will give her constant love in the guise of expensive gifts. Meowth becomes determined to win the love of his heart through making himself as human-like as possible to emulate the owner and master of Meowsie. Throughout a torturous process, Meowth learns to talk and walk like a human. Yet, Despite this massive effort, Meowsie still turns him down, telling him, in no uncertain terms, that though he has achieved these behaviors, he is a street-cat. Meowth leaves the pain of unreturned love to seek out riches, hoping he then would finally win Meowsies heart. After this past is revealed in the story, Meowth finds himself returning to Hollywood with Team Rocket, where he meets his lost love Meowsie again, only to find that his ex-love has been abandoned by her owner and need to be with Meowht’s old criminal gang to survive. Meowht promises Meowsie to help her leave the gang and he fights in order to gain her freedom from the gang, only to have Meowsie reject him again and stay with Persian. Meowth, at last, realizes he’ll never win Meowsie’s heart and is shown at the end of the episode devastated.

This episode is the only Pokémon episode I’ve re-watched since my early childhood, and it made a bigger impact on me now than when I was seven. The episode brings up a painful, yet solid truth about love: sometimes you will make great sacrifices and deeds for the one you love; only to find rejection and denial. All the pain and forfeit will be for nothing. This happens to everyone at least once in their lifetime. It’s nearly shocking how honestly Pokémon is able to portray this fact, considering the love martyr being a talking cat-like creature. The issue of class is also brought up nicely. A strong recommendation for anyone who has sometimes felt used!

Ang Lee is a Taiwanese-born director who has made a number of great films, many which have love as a major theme. He’s two most famous films are “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” (2000) and “Brokeback Mountain” (2005). The Latter is an adaption of the short story written by Annie Proulx, and follows the literary works plot to the letter. The film stars Health Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, who do stunning portrayals of star-crossed lovers in the 60’s Wyoming, capturing all the heartfelt wonder of two guys who, despite loving each other, never really get to be together. The film is beautifully shot, the characters are complex and the ending brutal. Few romantic films are this well done. Proulx’s short story is also a great read for those who haven’t examined it yet, too.

Nancy Sinatra’s song “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)” is a beautiful song about falling for your friend in early childhood, only to be horribly abused and abandoned by that friend once you’ve grown up. Listen to the song below. (The Clip features the lyrics!).

Kraftwerk’s song “Sexobject” deals with feeling emotionally neglected and used. View video below.

Jack Off Jill’s song “Vivica” depicts friendship, abuse and repressed feelings. Lyrics and song exist below.

These sagas of woe and misfortune all depict harsh realities that come with loving another person, despite the stories varying from cartoons to mythology to grittier down-to earth films and songs. All of these tales are exquisitely interesting takes on love, friendship and devotion, and all are handled with care and marvel.

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!

Take Care/ Maaretta

Christmas is on the way, so I decided to do a post with a theme for the holiday. A common thing for the holiday’s is one will write about their favorite films centering on Christmas, but I tend to enjoy such subject mattered cartoon shorts slightly more. Thus this article will feature some of my favorite cartoon Christmas specials and an explanation of why I am fond of these particular shorts. Most of these are episodes from shows I enjoy watching, but not all.

“For Whom The Sleigh Bell Tolls” from “American Dad!” – This is a pretty much hit and miss show, sliding between brilliance and dullness from episode to episode. But I can’t deny that this episode has everything I would like to see more often in a Christmas centered episode: bizarre re-telling of Christmas traditions, adventure, light social commentary, and, of course, a lesson on the importance of family union. It starts off with the father of the shows main family, Stan Smith, giving his fourteen year old son Steve a gun behind his wife Francine’s back. While practicing shooting, Steve accidently kills a man he assumes to be a mall Santa. Stan convinces his son to not tell anyone about the incident, and after Francine discovers what has happened, the whole family together buries the dead man in the woods, hoping they can put the horrific accident behind them. However, they soon receive threatening letters, and after discovering the unmarked grave to be empty, the Smiths realize the man they thought Steve killed was the real Santa Claus and he’s out for revenge…
The story in its self is already surrealistically hilarious and the animation is actually pretty good, as well as the final showdown between Santa and the Smiths being a very entertaining, and visually ironic, action sequence. The twist of Santa being a crazed vendetta seeking individual is particularly delightful in a perverse sense and sends the narrative in odd and satisfying directions. There’s also a very good subplot of how Stan has to learn to accept his daughter Hayley’s new husband as being a part of the family, as well as Hayley’s new husband (his name is Jeff) divining a direction and means to respond to Stan’s mean spirited behavior. Francine is a delightful combination of a wise as well as a bit of an amoral person, and it’s darkly, painfully funny to see how Steve develops from a nerdy innocent young boy into a gun nut. Not only one of the best animated Christmas centered episodes, but also one of “American Dad’s” best episodes.

“Depth Takes A Holiday” from “Daria” – This choice may come off as way cheat to some, but Christmas is a pretty major driving factor in the only fantasy based episode from the show. The Plot centers around the unlikely event of Daria suddenly encountering Cupid, the spirit of Valentine’s Day, and a Leprechaun, the spirit of St. Patrick’s Day on her way home. They tell Daria that Christmas, Halloween and Guy Fawkes Day have all left the Island of Holidays, the resident home for all Holidays. However, since the recent runaways were the three most popular holidays, the natural order of both the High School like Island as well as the normal world have gone berserk and it’s up to Daria and her friend Jane to convince Christmas and the other popular holidays to return to their home – otherwise the world can kiss Christmas, Halloween and Guy Fawkes Day good bye.
The best thing about this episode is that it not only is a good episode to watch on Christmas, but it also serves as a good Halloween, Valentine’s Day or St. Patrick ’s Day’s episode (not to mention Guy Fawkes Day). I also like how Daria, the heroine of the episode, keeps her trademark deadpan sarcastic attitude throughout the episode no matter how weird things become (or where ever she finds herself). The whole tone of the episode is pretty cynical as well, as the major threat portrayed with a world lacking Christmas and Halloween is only the decrease of shoppers for candy and presents ( Which Daria and Jane point out is not necessarily a horrible effect for the condition in which our world finds itself). Having a whole episode about Holidays and making it entirely skeptic about the often optimistic philosophies people have about Holidays is pretty brave and a rare move and the critique of consumerism is laid out by Daria and Jane early on in the episode. Absurd and sardonically comical, this is episode is a good watch for any holiday season.

“She of Little Faith” from “The Simpsons” – This episode from the Simpsons is mostly known for the canon decision of making Lisa, the eight-year old girl in the family, a Buddhist. Lisa grows concerned that the church has grown too materialistic for her, which leads her to find a new faith in Buddhism. While this decision makes Lisa very happy, her family as well as the rest of the members of the church are greatly displeased with her new way of life, and therefore attempt to make Lisa convert back to Christianity by using Christmas as bait. As one could guess, Lisa doesn’t respond to this plan coolly…
While Christmas originally is a Christian holiday, it has become more and more of a holiday many non-Christian people could celebrate as well (I myself celebrate it despite being very much an atheist!). This episode gently and beguilingly highlight the manner in which different beliefs can come together in the spirit of fellowship and kindness which the holiday entails and which the episode “She of Little Faith” brilliantly does by focusing on Buddhism. The Episode is an open song to tolerance as a main theme which we can all free to embrace. The episode’s end is touching in how Lisa resolves her conflict with her family, showing how everyone can have a nice holiday after they decide the most important thing is love and compassion, not who you pray to (or if you pray at all).

“A Huey Freeman Christmas” from “The Boondocks” – Here’s another somewhat cynical Christmas special, but it does also feature some of the sweetest moments in the series. Huey, a ten year old who is much wiser than his young years, gets the chance to direct as well as write his School’s Christmas Play. Huey dismisses the opportunity first since he “doesn’t give a damn about Christmas”. However, after his grandfather ignores his attempt to explain the actual history of the Christmas holiday, Huey becomes determined to make the school play so people will see his vision of the holiday. He soon becomes rather obsessed with the project, causing him to lose sleep, alienates those around him, becomes a bit of “fatcat” and in the end faces an absurd charge of racism from the school staff regarding his wish to cast Jesus as black (But he is from the Middle East, Huey points out to no avail). Meanwhile, his younger troublemaking brother Riley terrorizes Mall Santa’s, as well as their neighbor Jazmine who is a devout Santa worshipper (confusing the story of Jesus with Santa’s to hilarious effect in the episode).
The episode has very sad moments, but surprisingly has quite happy and side-splittingly funny moments as well. The beginning features Jazmine having a dream of preaching the word of Santa in a gospel church, which is cute in its portrayal of childlike innocence and confusion and makes a mocking comment on fairy tales told to children. Huey’s idealism butts heads with the adult world he lives in rather roughly, but he strongly stands his ground, as his character often does in the show. It is always inspiring to watch. Robert, Huey’s and Riley’s grandfather, is shown in a rare tender moment in the episode when he tenderly carries the sleeping Huey to bed, which is a mere second long scene in the show, but still summons a “aw” from the audience. Over all, it is also honest in its portrayal of how life doesn’t always work out as we would like it to. (However, most of the characters get a happy ending, especially one of Huey’s nicer teacher’s who attempts to embrace, though a bit naively, tolerance and multiculturalism).

“A Very Special Family Guy Freakin´ Christmas” from “Family Guy” – The plot of this episode centers on the Griffith family getting ready for the Holiday, with the mother Lois doing most of the work. Peter, her husband, is not helping out much and causes disaster after disaster. Lois tries to be reasonable and level headed, but, finally, after only wanting to clean up one of the disasters thrown at her, and realizing she has no paper towels to help her grapple with the mess, Lois experiences the ultimate meltdown in one of the best freak-outs ever animated.
This episode is a pretty goofy and over the top but is a spot on depiction of all the stress and disasters Christmases, and the holidays, can sometimes contain. Poor Lois truly puts everything into these two special days (which she thinks is a time of good cheer and union), trying to make things joyous even when they take a turn for the very worst. the episode is hilarious, while addressing how unfairly all the responsibility was given to Lois to handle. This makes the ending, where things turn out for the worst for Lois but good for the rest of the family, quite bittersweet. While I do think “Family Guy” as a show can be pretty bad at times (The Series started strong n the first three seasons, but has taken a bit of a dive since), this episode is still very good and pretty unusual with it’s not quite jolly ending.

The Stress Got to Lois

“How the Grinch stole Christmas!” (1966) – This is one of the most famous short animated films ever to be made. Based on a book by Dr. Seuss, the short is directed by Chuck Jones (and animated in the classic Chuck Jones style!) and Ben Washam, as well as the entire script being read by Boris Karloff. Karloff’s voice is capturing, as well as the rhymes and lines used in the story being memorable. There’s also the main characters theme song, “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch” which is an classic and iconic “the Villain Sucks” song.
The Story centers on the tale of the Grinch, a green creature who lives up in the mountains alone. He dislikes everything about Christmas, and therefore comes up with the plan to steal Christmas from the “Who’s down in “Whoville”. This short is referenced a lot in other Christmas specials, so if you haven’t seen this special yet, you should for the “education” (for instance, it is referenced in episodes of the Simpsons, PJ’s, South Park, and on and on).

“Woodland Critter Christmas” from “South Park” – Absurdity and winter wonder has never been mixed as magnificently as in this South Park episode! Stan, one of the four young protagonists in the series, comes across a group of cliché-like cute talking animals and gets dragged into helping them with various tasks after the female porcupine becomes pregnant despite being a virgin. The animals tell Stan that their savior is on the way. However, he must kill a mountain lion that is known to eat their savior. Stan does so, only to realize that the pregnant porcupine is not pregnant with a seed from god, but from Satan, thus making it possible for the anti-Christ to be born…
“South Park” has made a lot of great Christmas episodes, this being perhaps the funniest one. Stan’s reaction to everything happening around him is great, the twist at the near end of the episode is pretty surprising and it is packed with rich jokes. It’s also a fun deconstruction of cuteness, making the sweet cuddly Disneyesque animals malevolence and demonic wouldbe destroyers of the world. And one shouldn’t miss out on how the day is saved at the end of the episode. Just a pure enjoyable Christmas special.

So there are my favorite animated shorts with the upcoming holiday’s theme. Hope you all have a nice Christmas/Holiday Season which is upon us!

And lastly here are a couple honorable mentions of Christmas/Holiday Specials which you should see when the chance arises:

“Marge Be Not Proud” (The Simpsons) – A beautiful, beautiful depiction of Mother-Son relationships during the holiday.

“Red Sleigh Down” (South Park) – Camp, camp and more excellent camp all the way through!

I recently, and finally, saw one of DreamWorks’ newest blockbusters, “Kung Fu Panda 2”, which according to Imdb is, since September this year, the biggest box office success for a film with a female director, that director being Jennifer Yuh. Ms. Yuh is one of the few women who have directed major animated blockbusters films, which I have mentioned in my older post “Rise of the Damsel”. I didn’t like the first “Kung Fu Panda” film, as a mentioned as well in my previous post. However I didn’t really explain why. I will do so here before reviewing the sequel: I strongly disliked that the panda Po was cast as the quintessential and main hero in the narrative arc of the story. His attitude in the story seemed to be that everything should just be handed to him, without working for it (as the other characters have done exclusively). He dreams of becoming a master of Kung Fu, but when he is given the chance to learn martial arts he doesn’t show up to classes or at least try to do anything (Spoiler!: until his teacher withholds food from him). I also disliked how Tigress, a fierce warrior who had devoted her whole life to Kung Fu, was pushed aside and replaced by the distracted Po merely because the storyline posits him as “destined to be the great heroic warrior”. It felt like the writers of the screenplay were stating that even if women (or anybody else for that matter) can be great fighters, men (as the chosen of society) are just automatically better (even if all common sense would say otherwise) because, hey, they are males after all. Luckily, the sequel gives a much better treatment of Tigress’ character and even Po’s character development handled in a much better fashion this time around. The villain is deliciously enjoyable and the animation is ten times better, as well as the themes brought up being a lot more interesting.

The film starts with giving us a brief back-story to the villain Lord Shen, a peacock and son to two powerful monarchs who ruled over Gongmen City. After the invention of Fireworks, Lord Shen sees the potential in the explosives for powerful weapons and uses this in his attempt to take over the whole of China and subjugate it to his will. However, Lord Shen learns from a prophecy that he will be defeated by a warrior of “black-and-white”, which leads to him nearly exterminating all Pandas. His parents, horrified by this act, banish him from the kingdom. Lord Shen leaves, swearing revenge. The film then focuses on Po, who is now a celebrity hero in his hometown and good friends with his fellow Kung Fu masters. However, his relationship with his father becomes troublesome when he finds out he’s adopted – which is no surprise to anyone else, considering he’s father is a goose and he’s a panda (a reoccurring joke which is peppered throughout the film). Po is struck with identity crises, but gets little time to resolve it as Po and his warrior friends must travel to Gongmen City to stop Lord Shen, who threatens Kung Fu with his new weapon.

The film addresses adoption and parent-child relationships well. Po’s father is loving and supportive and proud of his son, while Po on the other hand is confused about his emotions, constantly seeking out answers to his past. This makes Po act quite cold and diffident towards his affectionate father. Usually, in children’s films, the parents are portrayed as unreasonable and/or unable to understand their children, however in this film it is the child, Po, who is in the wrong here, not being able to appreciate the love he has gotten and still receives. Naturally, Po wants to know where he comes from and what his roots are and he is constantly bedeviled with worries that he might not have been loved by his “natural” parents prompting them to abandon him in his infancy. Po’s identity crisis is pretty well portrayed; the viewer can sympathize with his situation, but he’s unable to express his problems to others, which causes major problems during his and his friend’s mission to stop Lord Shen. My only complaint of the portrayal of this conflict is that the way Po resolves his problem is a little simple, and he never seems to realize how his attitude towards his adoptive father did, well… kind of sucked. But kudos to James Hong who voiced Mr. Ping the goose father, he did an excellent job capturing a loving and kind parent’s voice. Especially the scene where Mr. Ping tells Po how he ended up raising him as a son, which no doubt was one of the most heart-warming scenes in the film.

One of the overriding and major themes played with in “Kung Fu Panda 2” is usage of advanced weapons. The film is highly critical of the usage of these weapons of “mass destruction”. The message of the film seems to be against using gunpowder, which holds the position of a trope of the indiscriminate killing device, as a form of fighting, which is good admittedly in regard to our age of drones and cluster-bombs. However, the main critique seems to come from the idea that usage of weaponry eliminates martial arts. And here’s where I’m a little conflicted; I don’t believe in fire arms or other advanced weaponry which distance ourselves from our killings and destroy without consequence, and think it’s nice to see a film with a anti-weapon message with this in mind. But is it truly better to say martial arts are much better? The “karate” technique (which is staple action used in the movie) is still positioned as a battle technique and a way to, frankly, beat the crap out of each other? I am not sure saying that technological weapons are bad , but combat in the sense of “hand to hand” resolves the question of violence which is meant to be raised here. Then again, perhaps the film just wants to highlight the fact that weapons of mass scale and indeterminate distance cause a lot more meaningless damage and therefore are used in more “dirty”, unfair and brutal ways in battles, while martial arts are more about clean fights where one has to experience the person on who the violent act is done to. I don’t necessarily agree, since I often hope people could come to agreements by discussions and compromise, but I guess there are situations where that is not perhaps possible. (Interestingly, this is almost always the case in children’s films. Huh…)

Lord Shen, the evil power-hungry pale white peacock villain, is an excellent bad guy. Gary Oldman provides the voice for the mad bird and I have to say he has a real talent in voice acting. Lord Shen is sinister, arrogant and commits crimes pretty vicious for a children’s film. He’s unsettling and a master of manipulation, but also pretty funny at times. Mr. Oldman’s way of delivering his character is perfect and was a perfect casting. Also the design for Lord Shen was brilliant: a pale white peacock with grim red eyes that uses his feathers like sharp knives. According to Ms. Yuh, the character of Shen was extraordinarily difficult to animate and became like animating six characters all at once. Great work was beyond a doubt, and with good effect, put into Lord Shen’s design, for he was by far also the most beautifully animated character and it was a wondrous thrill to see the character in his fight sequences.

Fun fact: there do indeed exist white peacocks, whose colors apparently make them look quite elegant. White, however, is the color of death in Chinese culture; this is why having white feathers marked Lord Shen as the antagonist.

Gary Oldman wasn’t the only one doing impressive voice acting. Michelle Yeoh, who was brilliant as a strong warrior in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” (2000) and as one of the determined scientist in “Sunshine” (2007), did a great job on voicing Shen’s former nanny, Soothsayer, combining wise with comically caring. Angelina Jolie was, once again and much better utilized in this sequel, also an outstanding voice for Master Tigress, getting her character to seem both compassionate as well as in charge and sturdy. Kudos to both of these fine actors!

I will quickly give a thought to the films prevailing message regarding the quest and attainment of “Inner Peace”. I am usually quit skeptical of such philosophies, yet I found myself actually liking how inner peace was interpreted in this movie. Basically, what the writers seem to be elaborating in this concept was that a person should attempt to let go of anger and hostility and struggle and see things from a more positive angle in life. Without this one will end, on the perplexing road of existence, by being engulfed in a shallow and dysfunctional bitterness which wreaks havoc on oneself and others. This is what happens to Lord Shen, which ultimately results in a predetermined spiral to self-destruction. Po on the other hand is able to see that things from outside of resentment and, as a consequence, achieves inner peace making him able to function better as a person (meaning warrior in this case) and becoming more “human” in the journey.
Of course, it is sometimes good to be angry. But, who can argue, it is best not to let bitterness and anger control one’s person and life.

“Kung Fu Panda 2” was a pleasing movie experience. Worth a watch definitely.