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Category Archives: Furries

(Writing) A Future With Me In It

Myth 150It’s getting harder for me to look at the news these days without feeling like I’m staring into the void of our own self-destruction. The current US administration seems obsessed with assuaging the bruised ego of the President, making the lives of the poor and working class as difficult as possible, and letting the rich and powerful get away with whatever they want. It’s times like these where I need an escape more than ever, and science-fiction/fantasy provides a wonderful avenue for that — up to a point. It’s also getting harder for me to ignore that most characters in science-fiction and fantasy stories don’t look like me or even share a lot of my same experiences. That’s why I need to read and write Afrofuturism stories more than ever; I want to have characters like me going on adventures, and I want to imagine a future where people like me can thrive — but most importantly, I want to be comfortable in my own skin and tell stories from my particular perspective.

There aren’t a lot of characters of color in modern science-fiction and fantasy, even though there are a lot more than there were. The biggest thing going in the genre right now is arguably Blade Runner 2049, the incredible sequel to Ridley Scott’s seminal cyberpunk masterpiece. While it’s wonderful to be sure, you see more Asian writing on the screen than actual Asian characters; there are only a few black characters who are never seen beyond a single scene; and Hispanic characters are limited to a cameo appearance or two. Like so many movies in the space today, people of color are used to fill out crowd scenes and give the appearance of diversity, but the characters you spend the most time with are overwhelmingly white — with a few exceptions. American Gods and The Expanse, I’m looking at you.

We never get to read a portal fantasy where the protagonist pulled into a strange new world is a person of color, or how their race and background experience would influence their reaction to such an incredible event. We don’t often get to see people of color doing their thing in some far-off future, especially in stories where we extrapolate the history of their culture into that distant imagining. When people of color are stripped out of these stories by casting directors, the pushback against the outcry revolves around not making everything about race; whenever people of color are added to these retellings, people often complain by posing the hypothetical question of taking one of “our” characters to illustrate how silly that is. “When do we get a movie with a white Black Panther?” “I can’t relate to Rue as much now that you made her black.” Boosting our visibility is always decried as political correctness run amok; erasing us from a possible future or an imaginary past is never a big deal, though.

The #OwnVoices movement has been in full swing for a little while now, at least, and we’re starting to see stories told about people of color, queer and transgender people, people with disabilities, and all kinds of other minorities, written by members of those groups themselves. The space is changing, and these stories are getting recognition for introducing us to different ways of thinking and being — not only in different times and places, but right here and now. That’s tremendously exciting to me, and I want to be a part of that. I want to read and promote stories that center on non-white experiences; I want to write stories with non-white, LGBQTIA protagonists, or characters with disabilities. I want to promote worlds in my fiction that has a place at the table for all of these people, that present the world not as we wish it to be, but as it IS — a diverse and wonderful place filled with folks from different backgrounds. Poor, inner-city black geeks deserve to go to Narnia too.

We also deserve to go into space. We deserve to have the lands of our ancestors share in future advancements, have their economies explode in ways they never thought possible, reach the stars and explore the galaxy on their own terms. There are so many futures written where black people are all gone, or alluded to as poor sods worse off than the protagonist for some reason. There are so many books where Africa has been left out of the unified government taking humanity into its next phase as a multi-planet species, or where African scientists are simply along for the ride as exceptional examples of a culture that still hasn’t ‘caught up’ to the rest of the world. Even those stories that feature Africa as a technological power — like Black Panther, for instance — finds ways to skirt around spotlighting the culture and history of the continent, or the astonishing variety of civilizations that flourished before being stamped out or forever changed by European colonialism. One of the only SFF movies I can think of set in Africa, District 9, used aliens as a metaphor for the actual treatment of people of color in South Africa and refugees of color all around the world.

There aren’t many stories that spotlight African culture without exploiting the problems or historical bloodshed that has taken place on the continent. Where are the stories that feature a healthy, confident African diaspora honoring their culture and traditions while also embracing the future? Does every story that centers on blackness have to be about slavery, rape, poverty, or war? Where are the hopeful stories about what Africa could be? About what her many children all around the globe could aspire to?

We desperately need these stories. All around us, there are these markers that point to how little progress we’ve made overcoming the historical disadvantages forced upon our ancestors. The natural resources of Africa are being plundered to increase the wealth of foreign corporations; the many African-descended people who live elsewhere around the world are forced to suffer continued institutional racism that others refuse to even acknowledge; in America, so many of us live and die in hopeless poverty, unable to believe in the possibility of getting a fair shake. We need to be able to envision a world where that’s true if we hope to make it so. Stories give us that power, a signpost to work towards. We have to conjure hope for the people who have none.

This deeply matters to me, personally. I grew up in inner-city Baltimore as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and I never felt accepted by the culture I was raised in. At school, my religion and my geekiness made me an easy target for the students who fit in more easily to the black experience; at the Kingdom Hall, my family situation and lack of social skills made it impossible for me to be accepted by my peer group. I grew up thinking that my own culture was hostile and dangerous, that there was nothing there for me, that my only choice was to leave and never look back.

Now I see that’s not true. There are a ton of black geeks out there with varying experiences and relationships with black American culture. It’s been a revelation to me, the idea that I could be myself — a gay black Buddhist furry — and still embrace my culture and background at the same time. Now that I know it’s possible, I can’t stop until I make it real.

That means learning how to absorb my personal history and accept what happened, putting it in the context of the societal pressures that drive that behavior, and teasing out the lessons that I can take from that to improve myself — but also talk about how black American culture can be improved. We limit ourselves by adopting the limited historical perspective of the past; we dishonor our own values by denying our brothers and sisters the right to self-determination; we keep ourselves down by continuing to dismiss and demean those who think and believe differently. We are so much more than what we have been; we could be so much more than what we are now. Wild, imaginative, authentic stories could show us how.

Afro-futurism is more than a genre to me; it’s a lifeline. It feels like the thing I’ve been moving towards all my life, the thing that will give me hope at a time where that’s been so hard to come by. It’s a framework I can use to understand my past and imagine my future; it’s what I need to have a complete sense of myself. It’s a beautiful, complicated, contradictory thing. That suits me perfectly.

 

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(List) A Definitive But Thoroughly Subjective Ranking of the Disney Animated Canon, #20 – #1

Disney Animation

Over its 93-year history, Walt Disney Animation Studios has produced 56 feature-length animated films. Its partner, Pixar Animation, has produced another 18 for a grand total of 74; that’s a lot of movies! However, out of all those wonderful films only 20 of them can be the 20 greatest films in all of the Disney/Pixar Animated Canon! Which ones are they? Well, let me tell you!

A couple of caveats first. This is a full ranking of all 74 movies released by Disney and Pixar except for Cars 3 and with the addition of the live-action/animation hybrid Song of the South (not considered part of the Canon officially). Also, this is a totally subjective list; these aren’t actually the greatest Disney and Pixar films of all time — they’re just my favorite. Feel free to register your agreement or disapproval in the comments, or tell me which movies are your personal favorites!

If you’d like to know where all of the other movies landed, no worries; I’ve got you covered! The other 54 films are all here:

Day One: #74 – #57
Day Two: #56 – #38
Day Three: #37 – #21

Now, my favorite 20!

#20. Big Hero 6 (2014)
People seem to have cooled on this movie since its premiere a few years ago, and I could see why in the age of Superhero Fatigue. Still, this tale of a boy and his helper robot is one I love quite a bit; it manages to combine an examination of grief and loss with a straightforward superhero team origin story. Baymax is such a wonderful character, a robot unlike any other in all of Hollywood. The best feature of Big Hero 6, however, is its mash-up setting of San Fransokyo. Seeing distinctly San Franciscan neighborhoods infused with Japanese aesthetic is a delight and perfectly reflects Hiro’s own comfortable Asian-American background. The other members of the team are aching to have their stories told, so it’s a good thing we’ll be getting a follow-up series soon.

#19. Ratatouille (2007)
Wait, this movie is ten years old? Where does the time go! Brad Bird’s second feature for Pixar takes a high concept (a rat who wants to be a chef) and fuses it with another (said rat can control a friendly human by pulling his hair) to create something weird and wonderful. Bird’s consistent themes — of frustrated genius, self-discovery, and a hostile, unapproving world — combine here for a beautiful, funny, and ultimately satisfying film. Remy, the rat at the heart of the film, is a little snobbish but his earnest passion makes him a protagonist to root for.

Up

This bird is too ridiculous for this old man

#18. Up (2009)
The second of Pete Docter’s Pixar films is a true wonder — and not just for the eight-minute prologue that the rest of the story tries to live up to. Carl Fredricksen is that perfect blend of lovable and caustic, and Russell — the Wilderness Scout who stows away with him on his one-way trip — is the perfect companion to get him to come back to the world. Kevin, a giant exotic bird, and Dug, the dim but loyal talking dog, round out the troupe as they get way more adventure than they bargain for. Carl’s quest is as much internal as it is globe-trotting, and seeing him learn to re-engage with a world he left behind is heartwarming.

#17. Moana (2016)
Disney’s latest film also happens to be one of its best. The team of Musker and Clements strike gold again with this story based on Pacific Islander folktales through crisp and beautiful animation, a brilliant heroine, and one of the catchiest soundtracks ever. While the studio continues to balance commercial demands with its desire to serve the cultures it mines for its stories, Moana gets a lot more right than it gets wrong — its spirit of adventure and sense of heart make it a truly excellent movie.

#16. Monsters, Inc. (2001)
Pete Docter’s first of three films for Pixar is technically brilliant and emotionally stirring, with a perfect sense of comedic timing and cracking dialogue. John Goodman and Billy Crystal star as Sulley (swoon!) and Mike, an all-star monster team that end up turning their world upside-down just by trying to do the right thing. The climactic chase in and out of the closet doors of children’s rooms leaves me breathless, and that final shot of Sulley reuniting with Boo is enough to bring tears to my eyes. Docter is a master of carefully constructing truly emotional moments.

#15. Finding Nemo (2003)
Finding Nemo had a seven-year run as the highest-grossing animated film of all-time, which is just bonkers to think about; but it’s a truly excellent movie that deserves the wild success it received. Marlin is the ultimate helicopter parent, but his quest to get his son back after Nemo is taken by divers teaches him just how capable he is — and how almost everyone in this big, scary world finds a way to not just survive, but thrive despite their own issues. Technically, the movie is astonishing when you think about where Pixar was just eight years prior in Toy Story. The design of a bewildering array of sea life is impressive in its own right, but the aquatic environments are simply masterful. This movie is beautiful, in just about every sense of the word.

#14. Inside Out (2015)
Pete Docter’s latest film is his best; fourteen years after Monsters, Inc., he constructs a meta exploration of our inner lives, the painful process of growing up, and the difficulty of honoring our most difficult emotions. Amy Poelher is an inspired choice to play Joy, especially as the film gradually leads us to an appreciation of Sadness and how the pursuit of happiness above all else can actually stunt out emotional growth. Still, watching Riley’s personality anchors crumble, one by one, is hard to watch — and the representation of depression as it spreads through the central console is truly terrifying. But it’s all in service to a roller-coaster ride that presents a mature and sympathetic look at just how hard it is to deal with change. Not only entertaining, but elevating as well.

Pinocchio Cricket

Hey Jiminy, nice spats!

#13. Pinocchio (1940)
This is Disney’s best film out of his Golden Age, hands down. The animation pushed the boundaries of what people believed possible at the time, and the scene with Monstro the whale is particularly intense and impressive. I think this also established the time-honored Disney tradition of retooling a fairy tale or story to soften the roughest edges and add touches to make it more commercially palatable. It’s hard to argue with the results here — Pinocchio is strange and sublime, a true masterpiece in the craft of storytelling.

#12. Beauty and the Beast (1991)
The first animated film to ever be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, Beauty and the Beast deserves its place as a crown jewel in the Canon. The songs of the Disney Renaissance are some of the best in movie history, and the songs here are some of the best in the Renaissance. What I love most about the movie, obviously, is Beast — he’s one of the most crush-worthy animated characters ever made, but his arc is also a revelation and rehabilitation of the fairy tale. Belle serves more as the catalyst for his internal transformation, a beacon that brings him back to the highest of human ideals, love and compassion. Gaston, the selfish and egotistical brute that he is, highlights how self-love can be just as destructive as self-hatred.

#11. Toy Story 3 (2010)
A perfect cap to the trilogy, Toy Story 3 takes Woody, Buzz and the gang through a kind of death and rebirth. I love how the film never shies away from the difficulty of moving through the end of a relationship but also cautions against letting that loss harden your heart. Lots-O-Huggin’ Bear is underrated as one of the most evil villains ever, in my opinion; I think the comeuppance he got didn’t even go far enough. The scene at the junkyard stopped my heart, and when the gang reaches for each other to accept their fate it gets me every time. The payoff of that scene — fourteen years in the making — is one of the most delightful examples of emotional whiplash ever. It’s just too bad they milked the ending a little too hard; it breaks the spell the rest of the story weaved so well.

lilo-stitch

Ohana.

#10. Lilo & Stitch (2002)
I didn’t realize how many of my favorite movies deal with struggling through loss and tragedy, but here’s another one. Lilo & Stitch is one of the absolute best films about the act of emotional kintsukoroi ever made — the titular pair find each other when they need something to help heal them so badly. Another Disney film that’s quietly revolutionary, Lilo & Stitch features native Hawaiians, a broken home, and emotional trauma without feeling exploitative of any of it. The character design is so distinctive and wonderful, and all of the character and comedic beats land with assured precision. Also, Captain Gantu? Whew. WHEW.

#9. Tangled (2010)
Released the same year as Toy Story 3, Tangled gets buried a bit under the avalanche of Frozen. But it’s so much better than the later film; Rapunzel is an exceptional heroine, her spirit irrepressible under the manipulative thumb of Mother Gothel. Gothel is a terrifying villain, not because of any external power, but because of the precise method of emotional control she uses to keep her ward in check. The romantic journey between Rapunzel and Flynn is expertly crafted, with standout song “I See The Light” bringing the plot and personal arcs together in one sublime moment. Also, I’m not sure I’ve seen another film that makes such tremendous use of each and every side character. Maximus the horse is the best Disney horse, and you can fight me on that.

#8. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
Quasimodo is one of my favorite Disney heroes ever: I have a true soft spot for people who remain hopeful and upbeat despite difficult circumstances, and the hunchback is one of the purest souls ever. There are so many scenes in this movie that function like emotional body-blows, from the opening song “The Bells of Notre Dame” to Frollo’s shocking “Hellfire” to Esmerelda’s bitter, plaintive “God Help The Outcasts”. The lyrics to the musical numbers of this film are some of the absolute best, and it might be one of Disney’s most nakedly-political movies ever. I understand how fans of Victor Hugo’s novel might dismiss it, but I think this is the most underrated entry in all of the Disney canon.

#7. The Little Mermaid (1989)
The Little Mermaid has the most killer soundtrack of all the Disney Renaissance films, with that tiny little crab Sebastian doing most of the heavy lifting with “Under The Sea” and “Kiss The Girl”. Still, “Le Poisson” and “Poor Unfortunate Souls” are genuine five-star classics, and Ursula is a delightfully fierce villain — modeled after Divine, the muse of John Waters. The music is enough to overlook the truly problematic implications of Ariel’s romantic choices, though an argument could be made that she really gave up her voice to be part of a world she had dreamed about for so long.

#6. The Incredibles (2004)
I’m a sucker for superheroes, and this Brad Bird-directed homage to Golden Age capes is just about pitch-perfect. Imagining a world where litigation actually spelled the end of costumed vigilantism, The Incredibles makes a pretty strong case for the idea of people being far more capable than most would give them credit for. The relationship of the Incredible family is the glue that keeps the story so tight, and Helen is an unsung hero for her quick thinking, incredible patience, and wise counsel to her children in life-threatening circumstances. Honestly, I think she steals the show.

Dory Wilderness

Alone with thoughts

#5. Finding Dory (2016)
A lot of people give Pixar flak for its shifting stance on sequels, but if the animation studio can keep producing follow-ups of this quality I’m all for it. Finding Dory is the rare continuation that not only justifies its own existence but elevates what came before it, reinforcing and deepening the themes of Finding Nemo. This might be one of the most insightful and sensitive stories about disability I’ve ever seen, showing us how much even small gestures of support or criticism can be the difference between someone’s success or failure. Hilarious, uplifting, instructive, and thoughtful — all of things that make a Pixar film so special.

Lion King

Best cast ever.

#4. The Lion King (1994)
There are an awful lot of folks who are sick to death of The Lion King, and I kind of get it. Among furries, it’s been lauded so much that even the most die-hard fans are at risk of burnout. But have you seen it recently? Because it is the best movie to come out of the Renaissance period. The animation is just stunning, the songs are great, and each character is just about perfectly cast. The pacing and tone are almost exactly where it needs to be at any given moment. It really is one of those movies where everything comes together. I almost hate to say it, but The Lion King lives up to the hype. It’s the real deal.

toy story 2

The full set!

#3. Toy Story 2 (1999)
This is Pixar’s best sequel — a film that reinforces and deepens the world it created in its first entry. Woody has to choose between his ego, which will see him shipped off to a museum where he’ll be forever separated from anyone close to him, and the difficult but more rewarding prospect of living amongst the toys in Andy’s room. The choice between alienation and appeasement is an interesting one, and what’s best is that the story makes a compelling case for both of them before making its choice. “When She Loved Me”, though, is forever one of those songs that reduces me to a blubbering mess.

zootopia streets

Can I live here for a minute?

#2. Zootopia (2016)
I know that this is really, really high for a relatively brand-new cartoon, but come ON. Judy Hopps is literally my spirit animal, a little grey rabbit whose enthusiasm for making the world a better place knows no bounds. She makes a perfect partner for the street hustler Nick Wilde, a fox who gave up on the world because the world gave up on him. Zootopia is perhaps the best-realized furry universe ever created, with an astonishing variety of wildlife all doing their best to live together harmoniously. There’s no skirting around how difficult that is; even Judy herself makes a mistake with terrible consequences. But ultimately the film asserts that we must continue to try, and that doing our best is always going to be the right thing to do. The character designs are amazing, the world on the screen is unique and immersive, and the social consciousness of its story is perfectly topical and timeless as well. Zootopia is everything I hoped it would be and that much more. I can’t stop gushing about it, but I’ll have to because…

walle

Beauty everywhere you look

#1. WALL-E (2008)
I know, I’m surprised too. But WALL-E is perhaps the most ambitious and beautiful animated film of all time. The first sequence, which establishes the ruined Earth our robotagonist is tasked with fixing, is haunting, melancholy, and almost wistful in the way it gives WALL-E a powerful longing for the culture that designed him. When EVE arrives and they head off to the generation ship Axiom, the disruption is enough to shake humanity out of its helpless torpor. WALL-E can’t help but change everyone he comes into contact with. His interest and willingness to engage and help triggers a cascade effect and brings people back to more immediate engagement. It is such a beautiful thing to watch; WALL-E is such a pure and earnest character, and the way he helps humanity find its way back to its home is incredibly inspiring. I love it, wholeheartedly, unabashedly. This is my absolute favorite Disney/Pixar film, even though the only other animal in it is a cockroach.

 
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Posted by on August 11, 2017 in DisneyFest, Furries, Movies, Reviews

 

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(List) The Definitive But Thoroughly Subjective Ranking of the Disney Animated Canon, #37 – #21

Disney Animation

Walt Disney Animation Studios is a venerable institution that still produces amazing feature-length animated films even to this day. It’s amazing that a movie studio can be so dominant for so long — since their first release in 1937, they’ve been the standard bearer for animation. Along with Pixar Animation, they’ve produced 74 traditionally-animated and CGI films, and since I’ve seen just about every single one (excepting for Cars 3, of course) I thought it would be fun to present a definitive and subjective ranking! Welcome to day three!

The criteria for my ranking is fairly simple; which movie would I rather see? I did that with every release until I had the full list of films from most to least watchable. Chicken Little is at the bottom of the list, but what’s at the top? All will be revealed on Friday! For now, here are the movies that are better than average but still just outside of the top 20.

If you’d like to see which movies are ranked in the bottom half of the Canon, follow these links here:

Day One: #74 – #57
Day Two: #56 – #38

Rescuers DU Jake

Hiiiii Jake ❤

#37. The Rescuers Down Under (1990)
This is the only animated Disney film set in Australia, and the entire Canon is poorer for it. Jake is just the bee’s knees, all smooth and confident and action-adventury! He makes a great foil for Bernard, who after years of pining after his sophisticated partner Bianca is ready to make a move. The subplot plays out while they’re rescuing a human child and giant eagle from the clutches of an evil poacher, and it ties together rather nicely. Jake doesn’t even mind losing out on Bianca’s affections! What a champ. The production values and character designs are wonderful, and the animators really make the most of the setting. It’s a shame the film underperformed as badly as it did; I think the Rescuers would make a nifty film or TV series.

#36. The Great Mouse Detective (1986)
One of the things that I’ve learned through this project is which names to pay attention to in the director’s credits. John Musker and Ron Clements have been consistently excellent, and that’s no exception here. Based on a book series I’m upset I didn’t know about before, The Great Mouse Detective shrinks a Sherlock Holmes story down to mouse size and gives him an outsized foil in Ratigan, a mouse on steroids who hates being called a rat. The film is more actiony than a typical Holmes caper, but that’s all right. The characters are engaging, and the world of murine London is simply entrancing. The climactic battle within the gears of Big Ben is surprisingly intense, especially considering how young the movie skewed up until then.

#35. The Rescuers (1977)
Even though the sequel has Jake, I have to give the edge to the original recipe Rescuers; the world-building is that much more delightful and the peril it places its human child in is that much darker. Penny is a precocious child who ends up in a terrible situation, and it’s impressive that no punches are pulled to get across the dire nature of her predicament. As great as it was to be down under, there’s something about the understated warmth of this version of the hidden world of mice that I love that much more.

#34. The Princess and the Frog (2009)
Disney’s first feature with a black Princess is a solid addition to its Canon, though it has a few story problems that are too persistent to ignore. Tiana’s problem — that she focuses on work too much at the expense of forming the relationships to make it worthwhile — is not the issue; it’s the social forces that push her into thinking that way and how they’re ignored. Still, this love letter to the music and culture of New Orleans is pretty great and Doctor Facilier is such a wonderful villain; Mama Odie makes an excellent foil for him, too. And even though he’s dead-stupid, Ray’s ballad to his Evangeline is unexpectedly sweet.

Headless Horseman

Well this is terrifying

#33. The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949)
Disney’s last package film is its best — possibly because it’s less a scattershot of shorts and more two great stories not quite long enough to be feature-length. I’m a die-hard fan of The Wind in the Willows, and while it’s slightly disappointing that Disney chose to focus on Mr. Toad instead of, say, “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn”, the adventure of Toad and his motorcar is really fun. The tale of Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman is a standout though; Ichabod is a character I’ll never get tired of watching as he tries to woo ladies and gets lost in the woods. The animation has such spirit and distinctive personality. It really is a joy to watch.

#32. One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961)
Cruella De Vil is an all-time great villain, but there’s so much more about this movie to love. I’m a sucker for “shadow world” stories, magical realities that exist just inside the peripheries of our own, and Disney has a lot of them around this time in their history. One Hundred and One Dalmatians is a bit darker than I expected, with the puppies all spirited away and forced to hike the English countryside in the dead of winter to make their way back home. But the characters take the edge off with sparkling, lively personalities — the trio of Colonel (a sheepdog), Captain (a horse) and Sergeant Tibbs (a housecat) are great helpers. Overall, it’s a really fun movie whose stakes give it an unexpected weight.

#31. Aladdin (1992)
Credit where its due: the animation, character design, and music of Aladdin is all excellent. Jafar and Iago are a dynamite villainous duo, and Jasmine is actually a really great Princess with agency and a distinctive personality. But man, Robin Williams almost single-handedly tanks this film. Every time some genuine emotion is about to sink in, his Genie comes in and chases it away with anachronistic mania. What’s frustrating is that Genie isn’t a bad character — he works well when he’s acting as Aladdin’s big blue Jiminy Cricket. But I really wish he had been reined in a little more. There’s WAY too much pepper in the soup.

#30. Fantasia (1940)
Walt Disney had high ideas for Fantasia, and it’s a shame they were never realized. I really love the idea of releasing a “concert film” every so often that marries beautiful music with boundary-pushing animation. Most of the vignettes are really enjoyable, with standouts being (of course) “Night on Bald Mountain” and “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”. However, the less said about the rather uncomfortable history of “The Pastoral Symphony”, the better.

Robin and John

Just two bros hanging out in the woods with no pants

#29. Robin Hood (1973)
Ooh de lally, what an enjoyable mess this movie is! The fact that this movie is so low doesn’t mean I don’t love it; like most of you, I grew up fascinated with the vulpine Robin of Loxley and his ursine companion Little John. I even have a special place in my heart for those tiny church mice who help Friar Tuck! But there’s denying the thinness of the story and the shoddy animation; while I love the warmth and imperfection in the lines, there are so many mistakes and obviously cut corners that you can’t help but notice them. This isn’t a good movie, but I love it just the same.

#28. Wreck-It Ralph (2012)
Fun fact: this is the movie I always bring up when trying to relate what psychological triggers really are. Calhoun is tough-as-nails but emotionally traumatized, and the way her small subplot is handled is a slice of perfection. The rest of the movie is great, too, with countless background gags stuffing a wonderful story about carving out your own self-image when the rest of the world refuses to see you for who you really are. The voice talent is so good, the characters are funny, the setting is inventive, and this might be the first real artistic commentary on video games for a mass audience. This is a gem of a film, and I can’t wait for the sequel.

#27. Dumbo (1941)
Timothy Q. Mouse was one of my first crushes, with his smart little uniform and his willingness to help an orphan elephant in dire straits. Dumbo was made to recover from the failure of Fantasia, made on the cheap but with Disney’s trademark emotional punch. The cruelty of the world almost breaks this little guy again and again, but he’s lifted up with support from the most unlikely places — like a tiny mouse and a troupe of jive-talking crows. It’s a heartbreaking but ultimately hopeful story, the perfect mix of bittersweet. My heart feels full every time I think about it.

#26. Tarzan (1999)
This is the film that marked the end of the Disney Renaissance, and I think people sleep on it a little bit for that. But the action scenes are some of the absolute best in all of the Canon, with Tarzan swinging and surfing through a fully-rendered jungle that’s breathtaking to behold. His position between the world of his youth and the world he “belongs to” drives his personal arc, and it’s something I sympathize with a lot. Jane is awesome as his guide back towards human contact, and the ultimate resolution is great. His triumphant trademark yell feels earned right at the end.

#25. Fantasia 2000 (1999)
Sixty years after the original, Roy Disney tried again to fulfill Walt’s vision. Unfortunately, this one was a commercial failure, too. Still, it’s a creative improvement! “Rhapsody in Blue” alone justifies the existence of the sequence, and “Pomp and Circumstance” (which casts Donald Duck as one of Noah’s helpers aboard the ark) takes it over the top. Disney’s animators used a variety of techniques in various sequences, playing around with computer animation to get a better feel for the tech. There’s only one or two vignettes that don’t quite work, but for the most part this concert film is killer.

#24. Sleeping Beauty (1959)
It’s weird to learn that this film didn’t do very well at the box office, pushing the animation studio away from fairy tale adaptations for 30 years — the next one would be 1989’s The Little Mermaid. But the sheer style of this film is awesome in and of itself; the character design is a mixture of early Disney models and touches of Medieval and Renaissance art, encouraged by the distinctive background art of Eyvind Earle. Maleficent is a gorgeous villain, and it’s hard not to appreciate just how goofy and heroic Prince Phillip is.

#23. Toy Story (1995)
Pixar’s first feature holds up well even after twenty years of technological advancement, and that’s all due to the wonderful characters that were created in Toy Story. Woody and Buzz Lightyear are a mismatched buddy duo for the ages, and Andy’s room is populated with a whole gaggle of iconic and engaging characters. What I appreciate more now that I’m older is just how creepy this movie can be — both intentionally and not — and how Sid’s toys influence the sequels both in theme and design. What’s off-putting initially isn’t necessarily bad; it really is worth getting to know people you might find scary or awful at first sometimes.

#22. Mulan (1998)
I have a confession to make: I’m not that big a fan of Eddie Murphy. He’s done good work, though, and his talents are used well in Mulan. The story itself is based on the Chinese legend of Hua Mulan, and I love that Disney took great pains to serve the culture in which it’s based. There are so many things in this movie that are quietly progressive, and I think that Mulan herself tends to be overlooked as a great role model in the Disney canon. Her motivation is at once dutiful and personal, and the fact that the film takes great pains to show the work involved in her success is something I really appreciate. Also, the romantic subplot — if you can even call it that — is such a slow burn that it only becomes a possibility at the end of the film.

Jim_and_Silver

Almost perfect

#21. Treasure Planet (2002)
I cannot tell you how much I love this movie. The world building is truly special, with its mixture of storybook warmth and sci-fi elements that make it unlike almost anything else I’ve seen. Having an old-school schooner as a spaceship makes for an entrancing visual, and the wide range of aliens — with touches of recognizably animal traits — allows even the background characters to be distinctive and engrossing. But it’s the bond formed between young Jim Hawkins and the cyborg Long John Silver that makes this film so special; the montage of Jim learning how to be a sailor, set to “I’m Still Here” by the Goo Goo Dolls, is one of my favorite sequences ever. So…why is this film so low? B.E.N., the ‘zany’ robot played by Martin Short, single-handedly keeps this film out of the top 20. He is THAT annoying, and there is legitimately no reason for him to be included in the story. He serves no purpose beyond making everything worse. It’s so frustrating, because if it weren’t for him, I’m fairly sure Treasure Planet would have made my top five.

Tomorrow: the top 20 Disney movies of all time! The best film of Disney’s Golden Age! The best film of the Renaissance! The best of Pixar!! And the best films in the Disney Revival era! All leading up to my absolute favorite! Woo!!

 
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Posted by on August 10, 2017 in DisneyFest, Furries, Movies, Reviews

 

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(List) The Definitive But Thoroughly Subjective Ranking of the Disney Animated Canon, #56 – #38

Walt Disney Animation Studios has been the premiere name in feature animation since the release of their very first movie, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It’s taken me a little bit, but I’ve now seen every single of the 56 entries in their official Canon along with all but one of Pixar’s animated library (Cars 3 will just have to wait). That brings the grand total to 73 movies — with Song of the South, an unofficial entry, making #74. I thought I’d make a thoroughly subjective ranking of every Disney and Pixar movie ever made, just for kicks!

Disney Animation

The criteria for this list is relatively simple — each movie is ranked based on which movies I would rather watch again before that one. So, for example, I’d rather watch A Bug’s Life (#57) over The Fox and the Hound (#58). I’d much rather watch anything else over the lowest film on the list, the atrocious Chicken Little (#74).

Today we’ll move through the rest of the Canon’s bottom half, where the films get better but still aren’t the shining jewels in Disney’s storied history. Keep in mind that this ranking isn’t meant to be a judgement on quality, even though it kind of is. These are just the movies that didn’t quite grab me as much as the more exciting ones!

56. Home On The Range (2004)
This was meant to be the last traditionally-animated film for Walt Disney at its release — thank goodness for The Princess and The Frog coming along later. Home On The Range isn’t as bad as most people think, though; it has a load of awesome supporting characters, and the big villain song is one of the funniest surprises ever in a Disney film. Roseanne Barr as Maggie almost single-handedly manages to sink the whole affair, though. It’s not her voice acting, really — Maggie is just a dud of a main character. The rest of the movie makes a valiant effort to escape her gravity, but just can’t manage.

Brother Bear

Hooray! So many bears!

55. Brother Bear (2003)
I LOVED this movie when it came out, so much that I saw it probably four or five times in theatres. It ticks off a number of boxes for me — a dude transforms into a bear; there’s shamanic mysticism; and the way the story warns us about the way grief can curdle into anger is a potent emotional punch. Seeing it again after all this time reveals too many of the movie’s flaws, though. The humor is toothless and juvenile in too many places, and the action is a bit too episodic for the narrative to have the weight it should. Still, it’s a gorgeous movie, and changing the aspect ratio and color palette to match Kenai’s new view of the world remains one of my favorite cinematic tricks.

54. Song of the South (1946)
It’s no surprise that this live-action/animation hybrid isn’t really a part of the Disney canon, considering its toxic reputation among even the most die-hard fans. I get it, but I don’t share in that anger — I think that Song of the South was a progressive movie for its day and just aged fairly poorly due to the US’ persistent inability to reconcile its past. Uncle Remus is presented as a good, wise, patient teacher at a time when black Americans didn’t have many positive representations anywhere, and my goodness the Br’er Rabbit cartoons are so much fun. The story used as a framing device for the short cartoons is fairly problematic, and it’s a shame that such great animation is bound up in such a racially-charged package.

53. Hercules (1997)
Directed by Ron Clements and John Musker (fresh off their triumph in Aladdin), Hercules had all the ingredients of a huge Disney success — an interesting story cribbed from mythology, an engagingly different animation style, top-notch voice talent, and music from Alan Menken. The end result, though, is…just fine. Hercules himself is likable enough, and sidekicks Philoctetes, Megara and Pegasus are all pretty cool. But the story just doesn’t connect for me emotionally, and I’m not a huge mark for Greek mythology. Still, James Woods will go down as an all-time heavyweight villain for his rendition of Hades.

52. The Emperor’s New Groove (2000)
This is another movie I loved at the time of its release, but have since cooled on. The film was so weird and different from what I had expected in a Disney movie that it was easy to fall in love with it, but once the shock of the new wears off there isn’t that much left. Still, the vocal talent is what really sells this movie — David Spade, John Goodman, Patrick Warburton and Eartha Kitt are pitch-perfect in their respective roles. Fun fact: this film was completely retooled during its production, the first movie since Pinocchio to be so drastically overhauled.

"BRAVE"   (Pictured) MERIDA. ©2012 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

In Scotland, bear claw tears YOU

51. Brave (2012)
There’s no denying that Brave is gorgeous; the mythic Scottish countryside is deeply wonderful to travel through, and the castle of King Fergus is a bit more understated but just as awesome. Merida is a great, sympathetic heroine, and the tension in her mother’s relationship with her frustrating and relatable. Also, it’s another movie with bear transformation! Hooray!! But there are too many elements in the movie that don’t quite make sense, and Merida’s story doesn’t scan with the legend of the demon-bear(!!!) Mordu as much as the movie wants us to think it does. It’s especially frustrating since a Pixar story is expected to be nearly perfect; when it doesn’t ring, it’s really noticeable.

50. Meet The Robinsons (2007)
A lot of people sleep on this movie, mostly because it’s the one right after the disastrous Chicken Little. But Meet The Robinsons is a surprisingly sweet and funny movie that deserves a second look. I’ve got personal stake in it, since the protagonist is an awkward and nerdy orphan, but beyond that it’s got an absolutely killer villain and a few cool plot twists that come off well. Lewis is so earnest and brilliant that you can’t help but root for him, but it’s Bowler Hat Guy who just steals every scene he’s in. Imagine a Snidely Whiplash-type with Jim Carrey’s rubber-band body, and you’re nearly there. Seriously, this movie is a treat — though the titular Robinsons are a bit too “manic pixie” for my tastes.

49. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
The first feature-length animated film, so it deserves props for single-handedly creating the genre. Beyond that, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is actually a pretty good film. It’s definitely old-fashioned, but Snow herself created the mold from which all future Disney princesses would spring forth; the Dwarfs are iconic characters in their own right; and the animation and production design are simply brilliant for their attention to detail and ability to create a world with weight and shape. The craft on display is what makes this such an amazing movie, even if the story is understandably a bit thin.

48. Bambi (1942)
It feels weird that Bambi ended up so low on this list; it really is an excellent movie and it’s earned its reputation as one of the first traumatic experiences for generations of children. There’s no way you don’t feel horrified by the death of Bambi’s mother, and Man’s reappearance at the end of the film actually manages to top that intensity with a fire that threatens not only the deer’s life, but the lives of all the forest animals we’ve come to know. It’s really impressive, but the movie between those sequences is quite a bit less so. I’ve gotten less fond of twee characters in my old age, so Thumper and Flower are a bit grating. Still, the character design and animation of these animals is a really neat blend of animal and human characteristics. Great work; I just wish it was in service to a more consistent story.

47. Pocahontas (1995)
This is another film I feel gets a bit more scorn than it deserves. Of course the treatment is problematic, but directors Mike Gabriel and Eric Goldberg really did try to get it right here — and there are moments where everything clicks. Of course Pocahontas and John Smith learning to understand each other through…listening to their heart…is appallingly stupid, but the rest of their cultural exchange is intriguing and kind of endearing. The whole movie has a theatrical feel to it, especially the song “Savages”, which is exactly the kind of well-meaning but tone-deaf story beat that makes this movie so hard to engage with.

46. The Sword in the Stone (1963)
This slightly-skewed telling of the Arthurian legend — which imagines Arthur as a bumbling young teenager nicknamed Wart — is more a loosely-connected series of adventures than a proper story, but that’s OK. Each adventure is engaging and entertaining, elevated by the easy, prickly rapport between Wart, his mentor Merlin, and Merlin’s “assistant”, the owl Archimedes. Wart is transformed into a bird, fish and squirrel in order to learn important lessons that will help him in being king, but really it’s all an excuse to tell some pretty fun stories. Merlin is an all-time great character who frequently gets overlooked, and his magical battle with the mad witch Mim is just awesome.

Jungle Book Baloo

Same, Mowgli.

45. The Jungle Book (1967)
Who wouldn’t want Baloo as a surrogate father? He’s gigantic and cuddly, and knows where to get all of the best grub! This is a (very) loose adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s story, mostly written by Bill Peet with significant input from Walt himself. The two tugged against each other on the tone of the film, with Peet wanting it to be a lot darker. Walt, of course, won and Peet left the studio over it. Fun fact! I think Disney made the right choice here; the film is out-and-out fun, even with the problems it shares with its episodic source material. The cast of characters is top-notch, and the significant impact it had on Disney’s future design of its anthro cast can’t be understated.

44. Cinderella (1950)
Disney’s first film after its package-film period comes across like a mission statement: we can still do feature-length films as well as we always have, and there’s something new we can bring to the table. The animation of Cinderella is simply gorgeous — crisp and smooth, with little flourishes that draw attention to the painstaking detail the artists placed in every scene. Cinderella herself is a classic Disney princess but with more agency than most, and her wicked stepmother is a wonderful villain. The mice and birds who are Relly’s only friends are adorable but have legit personality behind them, too, and the music is seriously underrated. This is an overlooked gem in the Canon; if you haven’t seen it in a while, treat yourself.

43. Lady and the Tramp (1955)
This is a charming love story about a pair of mismatched canines who form an unlikely affair. Everyone remembers the back alley plate of spaghetti that Lady and Tramp share, but the chase scene — where a couple of Tramp’s friends try to break him out of a dog catcher’s wagon — is surprisingly great action. Sudden racism (an unfortunate staple of Disney films in the 1950s) rears its ugly head again, this time in the form of two Siamese “twin” cats who sing a really gross song. Despite that blip, this is a fun — if slight — movie.

42. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977)
This is technically another package film made up of three previously-released featurettes and one new sequence that brings the movie to a close. There’s not a bad apple in the entire bunch, though, and the songs are absolutely delightful. “I’m Just a Little Black Rain Cloud” is my absolute favorite, and I break down into helpless giggles every time I hear it. This is how American audiences were introduced to the works of A.A. Milne, and the love that Disney and his animators had for Pooh and the gang are evident in every frame.

41. Oliver and Company (1988)
Oliver and Company wasn’t well-received at release, and it was subsequently buried as the last film of Disney’s “Dark Age” before The Little Mermaid ushered in the Renaissance. But I think it’s a lot better than people give it credit for. After a string of more subdued, risk-taking failures, Oliver’s aggressively-modern swagger stamped the template for the studio’s attitude carrying it through its next decade. The cast — with the exception of a baby Joey Lawrence (!) as little orphan Oliver — is populated with native New Yorkers, including a game Billy Joel as Dodger. The music really kicks, too. “Why Should I Worry?” might just get you crushing on a street mutt.

40. Bolt (2008)
The 2000s weren’t a good time for the studio. They put out some pretty good movies that nonetheless bombed critically and commercially for various reasons, and it took them a while to find their way back. Originally Chris Sanders’ (Lilo & Stitch) follow-up project, called American Dog, story problems found him removed from the film (and ultimately the studio) with Chris Williams and Byron Howard taking over. The restructuring worked; Bolt was a surprisingly good film with great performances from John Travolta, Susie Essman and Mark Walton as dog, cat, and over-excited hamster, respectively. The bond they form over the course of their adventure is well-done, organic, and touching. And Bolt himself is one of the cutest animated dogs in a while.

MU Logo

Theory + practice = scary good teamwork.

39. Monsters University (2013)
Another movie that gets more flak than it deserves, Monsters University is actually a really solid follow-up to 2001’s Monsters, Inc. The prequel explores how Mike and Sulley met at the titular institution, starting as enemies before becoming colleagues and eventually friends. The first and third acts are magical, but the middle of the film — primarily concerned with the Scare Games and the pair’s rivalry — kind of drags. Still, what I love about the story is how it demonstrates the winding, unexpected path success often takes, and how the failures we endure along the way teach us the things we need to finally get it right.

38. Frozen (2013)
I’m not sure this will be a popular place for Disney’s latest blockbuster feature, but I just can’t get THAT excited about it. The animation is gorgeous, the songs are neat, and the chemistry among the cast is undeniable — but Frozen just tries so damn hard to be a big huge deal and it’s kind of off-putting. Olaf hits a number of false notes, and there are a few sequences that feel like they were put there just to justify a song that no one wanted to cut. Still, the really nice inversion of our expectations surrounding true love is welcome, and Elsa’s struggle to deal with power she can barely understand or control is a great metaphor for our own emotions and the damage we can deal with them without even trying.

Tomorrow: the only Disney film set in Australia, their best package film, and the depths of my furry trashness becomes evident!

 
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Posted by on August 9, 2017 in DisneyFest, Furries, Movies, Reviews

 

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(Reviews) DisneyFest: Zootopia, Finding Dory, Moana

Entertainment 1502016 was the best year for Disney animation in a very long time, and it pleases me to no end that I’m able to say that. Walt Disney Animation began the year giving furries their new generation-defining obsession in Zootopia, which was also an all-around excellent film; in June, Pixar Animation rebounded with their best sequel since Toy Story 2; and in November Walt Disney dropped Moana, a celebration of Pacific Island culture loaded with an infectious soundtrack of great songs from Lin-Manuel Miranda. After losing their way a little bit with the ascendancy of Pixar, Walt Disney is in a great state of creative flow right now; their current brain trust has proven that the studio is in excellent hands.

Zootopia (2016)

zootopia

Good lord, SO furry

When I write about the things I really love I have a tendency to gush; I’ll try not to do that too much here, but seriously you guys Zootopia is one of my absolute favorite movies in the last 15 years or so. It hits just about every sweet spot I can think of: there’s an adorable, inspiring rabbit protagonist; the theme of the story tackles issues of prejudice both inherent and hidden directly and responsibly; the world-building is so strong it’s incredibly easy to fall in love with what’s presented and imagine what life is like outside of the story; and the size difference is baked into the setting in ways that are just incredible. It’s the total package, and joins Robin Hood (1973) and The Lion King (1994) as the Disney film that serves as an entry point for a whole generation of folks in the fandom.

What Zootopia has over the previous two, however, is a story that bakes in the themes of tolerance and community building right from the jump. Judy Hopps, our intrepid heroine, dreams of living in Zootopia — where anyone can be anything — and joining the police force. Being a police officer is a fairly dangerous job, and it’s typically reserved for the largest animals, but Judy is determined to be the first rabbit officer in the city’s history. She works incredibly hard, and makes the force! However, that victory is short-lived; she’s given parking duty even though she knows she’s capable of so much more.

Judy takes on the case of missing otter Emmitt Otterton against the wishes of her superior officer, Chief Bogo, and her line of questioning pairs her up with Nick Wilde, a street-hustling fox who can navigate the many different strata the city encompasses. Both Nick and Judy need to solve the mystery to prevent their lives from being turned upside down; if Judy doesn’t do so, she’ll lose her job, and Nick will be reported to the Zootopian equivalent of the IRS if he doesn’t help her. Over time, of course, they learn to appreciate and support one another, even though it’s an incredibly rough road to get there.

What makes Zootopia so exciting is that it’s a perfect marriage of plot, character, and setting. You could not tell the story the same way if the setting were different, or without Judy and Nick specifically. Judy Hopps is one of the all-time-great Disney protagonists; she’s Leslie Knope as a purple-eyed rabbit. Nick Wilde is a character I personally identify with — carnivores are a minority in this world, and foxes in particular aren’t well-trusted due to the stereotype. His early dream of being a Cub Scout was dashed by a heartbreaking encounter with bullies, and his idealism was beaten out of him right then and there. Where Judy learned to persevere against the social forces pushing against her, Nick shrugged and fell into the box society pushed him into. While you’d think that Nick would have the bigger arc of learning to believe in himself and make good, Judy’s upbringing as an herbivore gives her blind spots that she has to confront and overcome as well.

How Judy handles her mistake and its consequences is what really elevates the character and the story of Zootopia, and provides one of its most inspiring moments. In fact, there are numerous instances where characters are checked for social faux pas; both the way they’re alerted to the transgression and their responses are wonderful examples of how these interactions should go in an ideal world. Zootopia isn’t perfect, but most of the animals genuinely try to get along. In both their successes and failures, there are real-world parallels that we can readily recognize.

The movie, of course, is simply gorgeous. The world of Zootopia is one of the best-realized furry societies ever created, with a wide variety of animals living in a number of different biomes and in buildings designed for a dizzying array of sizes — from mice and shrews just a few inches tall to giant multi-ton elephants and 20-foot giraffes. What’s interesting is how natural the society seems, even when they’re playing with the distinctive problems that would arise with such vast size differences. Each species feels unique but part of a cohesive whole.

The plot, ultimately, hinges on the warring impulses within each of us to accept and celebrate our differences or give in to fear and alienation. Both Nick and Judy want to be the heroes in their own story, and both of them are faced with a society that doesn’t want to let them do that for various reasons. Judy, not just through her beliefs, but through her actions, convinces everyone around her to try to be better. It’s such a simple, yet difficult, thing, but she proves that it’s a worthwhile endeavor.

Zootopia is an incredibly furry movie, but it’s also not a shallow one. The presentation of a furry society is a near-perfect modern fable that we can apply to our own lives and social realities, and the fact that the character design and world-building are both incredibly appealing doesn’t hurt either. This is a quintessential Disney movie, a perfect example of what the House of Mouse can do when it’s at its best.

Finding Dory (2016)
I was fairly ambivalent about Finding Dory when it was first announced. Pixar had been dipping into the sequel well fairly often by that time, and a bit of the shine had come off the company. While Monsters University was decent, it wasn’t essential; going back to the world of Finding Nemo could retroactively tarnish the legacy of the first film. When Finding Dory was finally released in the summer of 2016, it was received really well; to this date, it’s got a 94% certified fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and boasts the biggest opening and highest gross ever for a Pixar film. Andrew Stanton was very gunshy about a sequel; he wanted to be sure he had the perfect story before moving ahead. Finding Dory was well worth the wait.

The movie takes place one year after the events of Finding Nemo, and while life on the reef is more or less back to normal there are a few issues that need to be worked out. Marlin still struggles to deal with Dory, though Nemo has a much better rapport with her. During a school field trip, Dory has a flashback that reminds her she has parents; desperate to find them, she enlists the help of Marlin and Nemo to travel across the sea to California. They manage to make it all the way to their destination before they’re separated; Dory has to find her way back to her family on her own, while Marlin and Nemo have to find her.

Finding Dory handles interactions with people with disabilities the same way Zootopia handles interactions between people of different backgrounds. Dory’s parents are unfailingly patient and supportive, though they worry about how Dory is going to fare out in the world without them. Marlin’s neurotic need for safety and certainty proves to be a hindrance, not just for Dory but for Nemo as well; watching his father’s reaction to Dory makes him think his dad feels the same way about his limitations. The lesson, as difficult as it can be to learn, is that people with disabilities — even mental ones — navigate the world in a different way. While that can cause difficulties, it’s not impossible to manage. It just takes careful attention and sustained effort to learn how to interact in a way that works for everyone.

Dory meets a host of characters who have disabilities or ailments that makes the world feel like a hard place to succeed in. There’s an octopus whose introversion has curdled into misanthropy; a near-sighted whale shark who keeps bumping into things; a beluga whale who believes his sonar is broken; and a very special bird you’re never quite sure is capable of understanding what you’re saying. Each of them learns how to deal with themselves through Dory’s influence; Dory herself has to trust in herself (and the lessons she can remember) in order to find her way back to anything familiar.

finding dory

The animation for Finding Dory is simply beautiful; it’s astonishing to think how far Pixar has come with water, fur, wet and dry textures, even lighting effects in such a short time. All that technical wizardry is in service to the story, which provides an incredible visual theme to reflect the mental state of the characters. Open water as a metaphor for their internal life comes back again and again, and each appearance is more powerful.

The writing in the film is breathtaking; dialogue is sharp and witty, but also resonant. Everything said influences the characters who hear them, and lines are weighted with double and triple meanings. What we take from Finding Dory is that what we say to one another matters more than we might ever understand; a kind word or off-handed put-down can lodge in someone’s brain, ready to be recalled in moments of crisis. Our encouragement or dismissal can be the thing that tips someone towards success or failure.

It underscores the necessity of kindness, of considerate speech, of encouragement and support — especially for those of us who have disabilities or illnesses. Finding Dory is a movie that could actually change the mindset of the young audience who views it, teaching them empathy and the consequences of cruelty in a way very few children’s films even attempt. Dory’s adventure, and the lessons everyone involved learn along the way, elevates both this film and its prequel. That’s an exceedingly rare thing.

It’s possible that of the three movies Pixar and Disney released last year, Finding Dory might end up being the one that’s overlooked. But I hope not. This is one of the best Pixar films to date, period; even though the decade of dominance looks to be over, they’ve still got it.

Moana (2016)
Hats off to Ron Clements and John Musker for creating such a wonderful film that highlights the culture of Pacific Islanders without exploiting them. Well, for the most part. Moana is a wonderful film that features Pacific Island mythology, talent, language and culture. The voice talent is loaded with Pacific Islanders, the songs are written in English, Samoan and Tokelauan, and Taika Waititi (a Maori New Zealander) wrote the first draft of the screenplay. Even as Clements and Musker took over story duties (the writing credit eventually went to Jared Bush), they took care to run almost every decision through an Oceanic Story Trust to make sure they were being sensitive. The result is a great movie that is truly unique in animation, a popular entertainment that features only people of color.

Moana is the headstrong princess of an island nation; her father is grooming her for rulership of her people, but there’s something about the open ocean that keeps calling to her. When a blight threatens the food supply for the island, she disobeys her father’s forbiddance and takes a ship to find Maui the demi-god so she can force him to restore the heart of Te Fiti and cure the damage he caused. Maui, being the trickster he is, would much rather steal Moana’s boat to escape the island where he’s been exiled. Forces align to push them together, however, so off they go!

The music for Moana is incredibly catchy, inspiring and beautiful — no surprise, when it was written and arranged in part by the great Lin-Manuel Miranda. The soundtrack peaked at number 2 on the Billboard 200, which doesn’t happen that often for movies these days. “How Far I’ll Go” is such an excellent song for Moana, full of longing, hope and determination; those themes ripple through the rest of the movie, underpinning her entire character arc. Music propels much of the action, providing characters with truly memorable introductions and anchoring set pieces amazingly well. The soundtrack really is Moana‘s secret weapon; it allows us to connect to the action on the screen with ease.

moana

The story itself is a mythic hero’s journey with Pacific Island trappings, told with sure-footed pacing and a joyous, colorful style. What’s impressive is that Moana and Maui must battle their own worst impulses as much as the monsters and gods that seek their failure; the internal struggle is every bit as important as the outsized beings they run up against. Again, themes of self-respect and support are essential to these characters, but they take on a heightened poignancy thanks to today’s political climate. There is almost no popular fiction celebrating women of color or providing them a role model to emulate, so the fact that Moana drives so much of the journey through sheer will is quietly revolutionary.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson kills it as Maui, of course, and now that I’m thinking about the voice talent there isn’t a false note anywhere. Jermaine Clement makes a memorable turn as a giant crab, and The Rock can belt out a tune when called upon to do so. It’s the best surprise, and I’ll always cheer loudly when people of color are allowed to show just how excellent they can be when given the platform to do so.

I’ve talked a lot about how important Moana is for its cultural context, but honestly it’s just a fantastic movie — Moana belongs in the Princess pantheon right alongside Belle, Elsa and Tiana. Disney’s focus on proactive, inspiring women in their stories is a very welcome trend, and Moana is the latest example of how telling great tales with diverse casts should be done.

 

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(Friday Fiction) The Only Winning Move

Writing 150I keep thinking about the Br’er idea — I think it’s a potent one that could be used to explore a lot of different themes floating in my head about the black experience. I just need to drill down into it and find out where the trouble spots are; I understand not everything is going to scan, and my inexperience with both writing and social metaphor can lead me to dangerous minefields without me even realizing it.

So here’s a bit of fiction set there, just to explore one or two aspects of the world.

Rone found his mother in the dining room, sweeping vigorously and muttering to herself. He stopped in the doorway with his ears perked to see if he could make out what she was saying, but could only make out snatches. Enough to know she was muttering about him. Wisps of his fur were floating up around every stroke of the broom, performing lazy somersaults before floating back down to the wooden floor. The sunlight caught strands as they danced. It made the whole room look like some kind of weird snow globe.

He folded his burning ears and hunched his shoulders around the pit of embarrassment in his stomach. The facility he had come from was air-conditioned the entire 18 months he was there, and since he was never allowed outside he never had to deal with the weather — just sixty degree air blowing from the vents all hours of the day. In that environment the worst thing he had to deal with was dry air, at least until they discovered his fur responded well to leave-in conditioner.

But he was back home now. It was April in Baltimore, and the weather was beginning to turn warm. He started to shed his first night back and hadn’t stopped since.

The scientists told him that his fur was virtually indistinguishable from that of an actual rabbit. Maybe a bit longer, maybe a bit thicker, but just as soft and fluffy. A few of them had even joked he should keep any sheddings to sell as sweater material. He didn’t really like the joke; it was gross imagining people walking around in clothes made from his fur, and he didn’t think there was any way he could shed that much.

A week of eighty-degree-plus days quickly disabused him of that notion. He spent more than an hour each morning brushing out his pelt and discarding blown coat. There was a trash bag full of it in his bedroom, and even still the air was saturated with it. If his mother found it as gross as he did, there’s no wonder she would be muttering about him now.

And that’s why he was here. Maybe there was a way to come to some arrangement that made everyone more comfortable.

He walked up behind her and grunted. He hadn’t learned to use his throat or strange muzzle yet, but the scientists said he might eventually learn to speak in another year or two. In the meantime, he had to learn sign language to communicate — an unexpected benefit of his…condition. Even though they were prompted to, his family hadn’t beyond a few phrases and most of the alphabet. That meant communicating through spelling slowly or simply writing things down.

Mom didn’t seem to notice him until he tapped her on the shoulder. She whirled with a start, nearly hitting him with her broom; he leapt back, his powerful legs nearly launching him into the ceiling and then into the table as he landed. He clutched the edge to steady himself, his eyes wide and his heart racing. She looked just as surprised.

“Boy, don’t sneak up on me like that!” she said, turning towards him. “You know how I get when I’m cleaning.”

Rone dipped his ears and nodded. He did indeed. He pointed to the broom and made sweeping motions, then pointed to himself. It was crude pantomime, but he hoped it was good enough to get his point across.

She blinked at him, her eyes unfocusing as she worked out what he meant. Then she shook her head. “Oh, no…thank you, though. I got this. It sure would be nice if you stopped shedding so much, though.”

Mom must have saw the way his ears flattened. “Never mind. I know you can’t help it. What did you want?”

Rone pulled out his phone and stylus. He had prepared for this. He showed her the few sentences he had written out in his Note app for this.

I think it would be best if I cleaned out the basement and stayed there for now, don’t you?

His mother stared at the phone for a long time, then looked at him. “No. Where is all the stuff in the basement now going to go? Why would you want to move your room down there?”

Rone took the phone back and typed with his stylus as quickly as he could. He wished, for the millionth time, that fur-covered fingertips didn’t prevent him from using a touchscreen. It’s cooler down there, which means I’ll shed less. It’s more private. And you won’t get as much hair floating around. We could move the basement stuff up to my room.

Mom read his phone, then shook her head. “You wouldn’t be able to move all that stuff out of the basement up to your room. Those doctors said you shouldn’t be lifting heavy things right now.”

Rone rolled his eyes. The scientists weren’t sure if his back would be able to take a lot of strain. The spines of rabbits were fairly sturdy, but had a tendency to break if they struggled too hard. The fact was no one had any idea how Rone’s body worked, even him. This was all completely uncharted territory.

I’ll be fine, Rone wrote. Besides, I can get Neek to help me.

“When?” Mom snorted, she gave the phone back to him and began sweeping again. “She’s not going to help you move furniture after she gets off work. You’re lying to yourself if you think she is.”

Rone stood there, tapping at the phone with his stylus, then erasing all the things he was about to say. One advantage of being mute is you couldn’t blurt out something you would regret nearly as easily. After a few moments, Mom stopped again and sighed.

“How about we get some of those fans from the basement and put them up in your room? Maybe that would cool things down in there, OK?” She took a step towards him and put a hesitant hand on his shoulder. “I know this ain’t easy on you, being home like this after all that time. It’s rough on all of us. We just have to…get through this until things feel like normal again.”

Rone stared at her for a moment, then nodded. Mom gave him a weak smile, then went back to sweeping.

He slipped away silently, resolving to move himself down to the basement the next time Mom and Neek went out to church. It’d be tough to get everything done in those few hours, but he was pretty sure he could.

He had to feel like he had some control over his life, even if it meant pushing things with his family. Somehow, one small corner of the world had to be his.

 
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Posted by on June 9, 2017 in Furries, Thursday Prompt, Writing

 

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(Fandom) 2 Words

 

Fandom 150Comedians who use shocking or transgressive humor are often no strangers to controversy and criticism. Even the best of them sometimes tip over into the gratuitous, but most don’t stay there very long. The transgressive nature of stand-up comedy is used by these artists as a tool, a scapel that scrapes away the flab of public discourse to reveal the wounds buried underneath. Then there’s 2 Gryphon. He’s the most recognizable furry stand-up comedian we’ve got and has made transgressive humor a centerpiece of his act for over a decade now. However, that humor isn’t in service of exposing and ultimately healing the sensitive topics he frequently covers; it encourages flippant dismissal of the people who disagree with his stances. The “jokes” and comments he makes online encourage his fans to dismiss concerns that he’s engaging in bigoted behavior, spread misinformation and act on it in ways that hurt furries who are most in need of our compassion. 2’s irresponsible and insensitive attitude towards public discourse helps him to shrug off criticism but hurts the fandom as a whole — and that’s something we can’t tolerate any more.

Last Wednesday, 2 Gryphon announced his performance at AnthroCon had been canceled by the board. He did this by responding to a tweet not obviously directed to him from a Twitter account that hasn’t posted in two years before then. In the absence of any official word from the convention staff, it was assumed by both his fans and critics that the decision was made due to a long history of offensive comments made from his personal blog and Twitter account. The way this news broke is important, because it shows us how 2 handles controversy when he has control of how to present it.

The exchange with his fan puts 2 in a sympathetic light right away. He gets an innocent show of support from a fan excited to see him; he then has to disappoint that fan with the news. This allows him to present his absence from AnthroCon as “the convention is denying you, the fans, something we all want and they didn’t tell me why.” This framing primes his fans towards a particular reaction. It shifts focus from him towards the convention and lays the foundation that the convention’s board is responsible for this situation.

But it’s suspicious that 2 responded to an account he doesn’t follow two minutes after it was posted, especially since there was no obvious way to know it was even directed at him. It’s also suspicious that an account that had been dormant since August 2015 just so happens to make a random tweet right around the time the decision came down. The facts of the tweet and his response to it should make us question if what we’re presented with — an exchange between a comedian and his fan — is really what’s happening. But if 2 (alone or with someone’s help) orchestrated this exchange as a way to break the news, why would he do such a thing?

It’s because 2 understands the importance of framing. Political commentator Jim A. Kuypers describes framing this way: “Framing is a process whereby communicators, consciously or unconsciously, act to construct a point of view that encourages the facts of a given situation to be interpreted by others in a particular manner. Frames operate in four key ways: they define problems, diagnose causes, make moral judgments, and suggest remedies. Frames are often found within a narrative account of an issue or event, and are generally the central organizing idea.” In argumentation, even the informal kind, how you sell your argument matters just as much as — if not more than — the content of your argument.

2 is a very smart guy who is great with sophistry — using clever but ultimately fallacious and/or deceptive arguments to win over an audience. He frequently targets and engages with the most extreme forms of criticism to dismiss any criticism outright. He mischaracterizes the content of those arguments to benefit his rebuttal against them and paint his opposition as foolish, ignorant, uninformed. He demands proof of what he’s being accused for, then dismisses, deflects or outright ignores it when it’s presented. He moves the goalposts constantly. He offers up token friends as proof against transphobic or racist remarks instead of addressing the remarks themselves. He uses a suite of different tactics to make sure criticism doesn’t stick, shifting the field of debate from his actions to general “SJW” fallacies that are functionally red meat to his fans.

The way he broke the news is consistent with his handling of criticism in the past. He knew that being disinvited from AC would create a controversy, and in the absence of definitive information or any official response from the convention itself he used the opportunity to set the frame of the debate and subsequent response. Tying the announcement directly to a fan exchange allows him to spin the narrative that the fans want this show and will be very disappointed if they don’t get it; that’s his basis for argument, and to be fair this would be true even without the work he put into framing the debate that way. However, opening with this also allowed 2 to provide a reason without any evidence, blame “the SJWs” for that reason, and encourage outraged fans to email Programming and demand an explanation — even though they’re less likely to trust anything besides the one they were given before. Instead of discussing the reasons that his critics have been giving for years about his comments and behavior, he picks a straw-man argument that we “have spread the lie that he’s a Nazi”, asserts that the Board has been duped by the lie and shouted down by the “silent majority” who just want to be entertained by his brand of comedy.

But I’m not a critic of 2 because I think he’s a Nazi. I haven’t seen any other critics of 2 say he’s a Nazi. His defense of Richard Spencer arguably makes him a Nazi sympathizer, but that’s a debate for another campfire. I’m a critic of 2 because he’s irresponsible with his language and insensitive to the social and racial issues that a large segment of the fandom have to face in their daily lives. In an environment where that kind of sophistry and insensitivity has given rise to the alt-right in our own fandom AND in the White House, we simply can’t tolerate that kind of behavior any more. It’s unacceptable to target the people with the least power to combat the narratives that are formed about them. It’s unacceptable to promote racist, misogynist, othering ideas under the guise of comedy. It’s unacceptable to take no responsibility for the environment you create and expect others to put up with speech and behavior that makes the fandom a less-welcoming, more-hostile space.

The fact that I disagree with 2 politically isn’t the reason I’m writing this, or advocating that he should lose his space at AC. He’s, of course, free to believe that this is a valid argument against Kaepernick’s peaceful protest on behalf of #BlackLivesMatter, even though he hasn’t done a single thing to be thanked for. He’s free to believe that this is a simple joke about Detroit with no reasonable link to racist undertones. He can say that this is just comedy and that anyone who takes offense should “just get over it and move on“.

I’m also free to call bullshit on all of that. 2 never defended anyone’s rights in any way that mattered; he uses free speech mainly as a smokescreen to avoid consequences for saying something shitty in the same way most Internet trolls do. Colin Kaepernick drew attention to a serious problem in a non-violent way as well as donating time and money to communities of color. Everyone knows that Detroit is a majority-Black city and there’s a long-standing history of racist comments comparing black people to apes. Comparing being transgender to claiming racial ancestry not your own is at best false equivalence, and moving from that to the absurdity of “burritokin” means that we can reasonably infer just how seriously he takes the whole idea. It doesn’t matter that he has black friends or transgender friends; he made comments that perpetuated tired yet persistent stereotypes that hurt disadvantaged populations. If he was truly a friend to these people, he would be sensitive to the social conditions they struggle with all the time and work to legitimize them as people with every right to self-determination that he has. But he doesn’t. Instead he mocks and diminishes their protests without ever touching the legitimate issues that cause the protests in the first place.

As a fandom, we’re better than that. If we hope to reverse the damage caused by people who feel entitled to say whatever hurtful thing they want, we have to start in our own backyard. That means calling out the people who promote bigoted and harmful ideas. That means pushing back against the people who insist on being as irresponsible as they can get away with using the platforms they’ve been given. That means demanding that those shouting “Free speech!” understand that there is a responsibility to accept the consequences of that speech.

2, by consistently attacking progressive activists and making jokes about marginalized groups, has proven what he thinks of us through his actions time and again. He doesn’t care who’s hurt by the things he says or does, or how his rhetoric makes the community a smaller place filled with narrow-minded ideas about what’s “valid”. And that’s his right. But it’s also my right to demand that the institutions of our fandom (including AnthroCon) refuse to legitimize that carelessness by denying him the platform he abuses, especially since he continues to deny and deflect criticism instead of actually trying to see the perspective of other people. It’s my right to say there’s no room in this fandom for a comedian who compares people like me to missing links, then tells me “Relax, it’s just a joke!”

It’s not a joke. It’s my life. And I won’t put up with someone who says — by word and deed — that my life matters less than his.

 
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Posted by on March 21, 2017 in Furries, mental-health

 

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