Monthly Archives: June 2012

When did I become a girl?

Living in a house with 3 females has apparently done me in. I think I need to turn in my man card.

Either that, or I have to stop watching movies with any amount of sweetness in them. (Gah… even the fact that I used the word ‘sweetness’ is just more evidence. It’s really hopeless.)

I was sitting here listening to my Spotify soundtracks playlist radio while working, and the song “The Ellie Badge” from Pixar’s UP was playing when my daughter walked in and asked what it was. I told her, and she asked about the movie. I told her there were some funny parts and some serious parts, and she asked me what the serious parts were. I started telling her that the old man’s wife had died and he wanted to take their house to a place they loved. Then she asked about other serious parts and I said the boy’s father had died (can’t remember if that’s actually true) and he wanted someone to be like a father for him. But I had to keep stopping in the middle of my explanation because I was getting all teary and emotional just thinking about it.

What the heck?!

I’ve caught myself in similar situations all too often recently, and frankly it’s a bit embarrassing and annoying. It happens most often with the Pixar films, honestly. They’re pretty good at their jobs, as you may know. Especially Monsters Inc. – the final scene of that movie absolutely wrecks me. But it’s happened with other movies, too. Heck, since I’m blowing my cover anyway, it happened when we watched the stupid “American Girl” movie Felicity (which isn’t actually stupid, just made-for-tv quality).

And it’s not just films. Truth be told, the same thing happened when I listened to some music the other day, too. It’s sickening.

I remember laughing at my mother when she did stuff like that. Now I’m my mother? That’s just wrong.

I need help. I think I need some “man up” time. Spending a week shooting things, eating meat, watching things blow up for no reason other than to watch them blow up… stuff like that.

What suggestions do you have for manning-up? Or is it really hopeless and I should just accept my fate?

Review: Brave

Pixar has an amazing track record with its movies. The quality of animation is superb and their attention to story is a cut (or two) above most studios. Their worst “failures” are still better than most movies out there. I’d put Cars (both 1 and 2) at the bottom of their list, and I still had a good time watching them. At their best, they blow me away. Toy Story, The Incredibles, Monsters Inc. – every one of them dropped my jaw. I’m still amazed that Wall-E got me to feel so much about characters who don’t even really speak.

Merida, bear, and wisp in the mist

This time around, Pixar took on a new challenge – girls.

This is a subject and demographic that is lacking quality representation, especially in animation. What they get is generally princesses looking for (or possibly stumbling upon) their “true love.” It’s all about being rescued by a guy for the most part. Even when the story isn’t exactly about finding the prince, one still shows up anyway and hooks in and their relationship is the focus in the end. Look at any Disney film (even the “strong female” ones like Tangled). You won’t find any that really break the mold. (And don’t get me started on females in the superhero genre.)

So, Pixar went with a princess in Brave. But I give them all sorts of credit for how they handled it. While the plot mover is Princess Merida’s arranged marriage, that is not the focus. There is no “true love” la-de-da happy ending. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a happy ending, but were it not for comic relief they could have written this movie with almost no men in it at all. There is no overly romantic dream of living the good life in a castle with a prince by your side. Love is important in the film, but it’s the love and acceptance of your family – and specifically your mother. The mother-daughter bond is the true center of this movie.

(FYI: this paragraph could be considered extremely light spoilers, but really it’s even less than is in the trailer.) In the beginning, the mother is the “villain” – as in most princess movies – but that term is really a misnomer. It’s more like adversary. She’s not actually evil. It’s clear she loves Merida deeply. She just has a different perspective than her daughter, and is having difficulty communicating with her teen – a problem most mothers face. She can’t quite get across to her why she thinks tradition is so important, and she’s a bit pushy about it. Merida resents the path her mother is setting for her and runs off. She meets a witch and, blinded by pride and resentfulness, makes a huge mistake (as one does when interacting with witches in these things). Mother goes from villain to victim and Merida must fix the wrong to save not only her family but her entire kingdom.

There is some great stuff here. This is, to my memory, the closest we’ve ever come to a real “hero” movie for girls.  That doesn’t mean it’s a movie about a girl taking up her weapons and kicking butt like a boy (though there is important weapons play from her, the trailer may be misleading about its frequency). She is not fluff, unrealistically romantic, a maiden in distress, sexualized, or merely a girl in what was really a boy’s story. It’s about her as a person, accepting and forming her destiny, growing in character without giving up who she is – growing up. The consequences of failure are great, both personally and on a large scale, and she has to fight against great odds, physically, emotionally, and mentally, to succeed.

While all those elements are there, I admit they could be stronger in parts. It does rely on common tropes and the solutions to some problems come a little easier than they should. It’s solid and a great improvement on the standard princess story, but not an innovative, knock-your-socks-off-awesome Pixar film. That’s not a harsh criticism. It’s probably the middle of the pack for a Pixar film, but if you look at the Pixar films against the competitors, I’d take middle of that pack any day of the week.

This movie is not perfect, but it is a step in the right direction – a large step – towards what I would like to see offered for my girls as they grow up. Please, somebody, pick up this ball and run with it.

That’s all I have to say about the story, but there are two other things worth quickly mentioning: the visuals and the music. As you would expect from Pixar, the visuals are outstanding. Merida’s hair alone is incredible. It’s amazing how far they’ve taken that technology. The scene where you see the fish in the water looks like somebody inserted a filmed scene from a documentary. Unbelievably good. And the music? Loved it. I’m a bit of a sucker for Celtic-inspired stuff. I actually bought one track from the soundtrack before I saw the film (though I didn’t hear more than a clip of it before I watched the movie). Plus, the end credits song features Mumford and Sons. I’m considering buying the entire soundtrack.

Here’s the song I bought, which turns out to be tied to one of my favorite scenes in the film.

Have you seen it yet? What did you think?

(If you want to know the basic story – with spoilers – Target has released a narrated Digital Book version of the storybook. There are links to kids’ activities within. Great version for young kids.)

Changing morality to fit the technology

I came across a post tonight by a professor at the University of Georgia. He uses his response to a recent post on the NPR blog All Songs Considered as an opportunity to talk about the ethics of downloading music without paying for it. It’s a long, but good post. He makes a better argument, I think, than most posts on this topic, which normally come across as bitter and degrading if not threatening. This post tries to show respect for the NPR post’s author, intern Emily White, without backing down from his position, which is nice.

I thought the post went beyond most other arguments in its second section, which started like this:

Now, having said all that, I also deeply empathize with your generation. You have grown up in a time when technological and commercial interests are attempting to change our principles and morality. Rather than using our morality and principles to guide us through technological change, there are those asking us to change our morality and principles to fit the technological change–if a machine can do something, it ought to be done. Although it is the premise of every “machines gone wild” story since Jules Verne or Fritz Lang, this is exactly backwards. Sadly, I see the effects of this thinking with many of my students.

That’s an idea that intrigues me. Technology changes us in both obvious and subtle ways. There’s no doubt of that. In a completely unrelated conversation, my wife and I were talking tonight about how the advent of technology (in the form of cars and washing machines) has effected a decrease in physical fitness, for example. Outside of predominantly Christian circles, though, I don’t see a lot written about morality shifts tied to technology (though to be fair, I’m not going out and looking for it). Maybe that’s because morality is becoming more of a grey area in a time when individuals are encouraged to do “what feels right to you” rather than meet an objective standard (no matter the source of that standard).

I’ll be honest – I struggle with the issue of downloading stuff. Not music (except through Spotify, which, until I read this article, was a method I thought fairly compensated the artists – more to look into there), but episodes of TV. If I missed an episode of a show I watched regularly, I used to download them. I stopped doing that a couple of years ago, through a confluence of events, and now rely on Hulu and Xfinity/OnDemand to meet my time-shifting needs. When those fail me (why in the world would Cartoon Network refuse to provide 3 weeks of episodes in the middle of building to a climax at the end of a season? It’s like they’re daring me to go get them!) I seriously struggle with how easy it would be for me to go grab them from a download site.

It’s an oversimplification to say that technology has caused the wavering of my moral compass on this, but I can say that it certainly enables it. As countless sci-fi authors have warned, however, just because I can do something doesn’t mean I should. I try to teach that to my kids, and if I’m not living by it what kind of father does that make me?