Film: Batman The Killing Joke.
Directed by: Sam Liu.
Running Time: 76 min.
Based off of the acclaimed graphic Novel of the same name, with animation design by famous Bruce Timm and the returning acting talents of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill; Batman The Killing Joke tells a Joker origin story in concert with present day Joker’s final extreme.
This was a film that many fans of both the graphic novel and of DC Animation had been looking forward to for months. Particularly with the knowledge that before the DVD release the following week, spectators would get a chance to enjoy it screened in theaters, something that hasn’t been seen for a DC Animated feature since Batman Mask of the Phantasm (though Batman Killing Joke was viewed in only a few select theaters).
DC Animation has had some hit and misses over the years with their animated films, with Batman Mask of the Phantasm (1993), Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (2000), Batman Under the Hood (2010), The Dark Knight Returns Part 1 and 2 (2013), Justice League: Flashpoint Paradox (2013), Wonder Woman (2009), Justice League: Gods and Monsters (2015) etc. being a sampling of perhaps some of the most popular examples.
What all these films had in common was great animation/visuals, voice acting, and story in varying degrees of excellence that have earned them their little golden slots on the shelves of fans, bridging the cap between comic book fans and the movie fans alike.
The question then lies in whether Batman The Killing Joke can be counted among the pantheon of the DC Animation Golden.
Of the animation, this film did a fascinating job in combining the style inherent in the famous Bruce Timm animations with the gorgeous character styles of the graphic novel illustrated by Brian Bolland. The highlight having to be The Bolland’s Joker translated into animation.
The scenes, particularly the carnival were they had a decent balance of bright color saturation and creepy imagery, the throne of heads being an excellent example of this.
The only drawback in the visuals might be the transitions between present moment and flashback. In the graphic novel, the transitions between moments were relatively smooth (seen below), with the instant visual moment of the very first and the very last thing seen was utilized in pose of the character and what he was doing in the drawn mise-en-scene to tie the present frame with the flashback frame. Certainly there was some of it, but the instant final and first sight between time shifts was not as utilized and thus the lack of this key visual made the transitions between scenes less seamless.
Some could argue that there is a difference in the mediums, but this is a technique that has been utilized quite successfully in other films. This is especially odd considering how much else they were relatively faithful with in regards to the source material.
Also, there was that lack of nods in the mise-en-scene to the previous history of the Joker that the graphic novel had. It would have been interesting to see a few nods to previous animated Jokers perhaps, but of course this could be more of trying to play safe with maintaining a sense of visual continuity perhaps.
As far as animation goes, despite some hiccoughs with transitions, the animation team did a decent job in providing just the right amount of atmosphere to the film and faithfulness to the source material, a visual treat for spectators and fans alike
Voice Acting was another strong plus for the film.
Mark Hamill as usual blew the waters out from anyone’s expectations in continuing to prove his status as the number one Joker. He vitalized the lines he was given, seamlessly blending his various incarnations into Alan Moore’s Joker and coming out the other end with something altogether different and so deliciously a joy to watch.
Kevin Conroy brought his amazingly stoically deadpan Batman to the screen, but when the emotions where there, like other Batman he’s played, it was perfect. With the nostalgia surrounding his voice as well -because make no mistake, Conroy owns Batman almost as much as Hamill owns Joker- there was a certain added surrealism induced by nostalgia of Conroy voice induced memories of Batman Hey-days with Moore written Batman, particularly in the ending of the film that was particularly entertaining.
Tara Strong’s voice acting chops was also given some time to shine, and she did well in making Batgirl something of her own. Strong utilizes a unique ability of hers to not somehow induce the brain to think of her other characters when in other material, more as their own identities. When you hear her, you don’t hear Twilight Sparkle (My Little Pony) or Raven (Teen Titans franchise), you hear Batgirl.
Finally, does the story compete with previous DC Animated films?
The story is where some of the strongest and weakest points can be found. The original source material was determined to be to short by the filmmakers, so within the first quarter we see entirely original material from the production staff unrelated to the source material.
This original material, lets call this section the Batgirl Arc, was centered on the final days of her being Batgirl before the events of the graphic novel.
Within the canon of Batman the Animated series, Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman (2003), and Batman Beyond (more so here) the fact that Batgirl had a romantic relationship with Batman was well known by this point, though the reason for her separation was only briefly explained, mostly in exposition, and never went really in-depth. After watching this Batgirl Arc, you could say that this story was that missing portion, if it just stood on its own and wasn’t attached to the rest of the film.
If it were just this on its own, a lost episode or something from that part of the Animated Series franchise such as a flashback episode in Batman Beyond, or even a short film tie in, then it serves its purpose as a mode of clarification on their relationship (if perhaps not a good one) from that quarter, then at least it held some sort of purpose.
Here it does not, and not only does it feel entirely random, but the story of this arc in and of itself was poorly handled, particularly in Barbra’s reasons for giving up fighting crime being colored because she was a “distraction” for Batman was definitely insulting to many spectators, and not complimentary to either Batman or Batgirl. It was an aggravating attempt perhaps to elicit more of an investment emotionally with Barbra after the events of the second quarter, but it failed spectacularly.
In the rest of the film, let’s call it the Getting-What-You-Actually-Paid-For Arc, is of course where the film shined.
The faithfulness to the source material’s story was almost exact, with a few additions here and there that didn’t take away from anything and fit somewhat seamlessly with the rest. It had all the dark iconic moments from the comic, (even Joker’s song number!) with an enhanced final scene that climaxed much as the graphic novel did.
Unfortunately, what keeps this film from becoming excellent story-wise, was the fact that these two arcs are not isolated single stories and are supposed to be read as all one film, which just frankly doesn’t work, and the insulting nature of the first arc soured some of the experience.
The connection between the two is much too tenuous, and the obvious fact that the Batgirl arc was so upfront filler, was a disconnected from the rest of the story and early the film if the second arc hadn’t been so good. The small ending credit scene of Barbra doesn’t help anything for the sake of the film and felt just as unnecessary as the first quarter, particularly as it takes away from the impact of the final image of Batman and Joker.
We know that DC Animation is capable of producing both really good original material, such as with Justice League: Gods and Monsters (2015), or comic source material such as demonstrated with the second arc here and previous films. So if they had to go this route of combination of the two, surely they could have done a better job?
Overall the answer of whether this film is worthy of the DC Animation pantheon is something of a question mark. If it weren’t for the focus on Batgirl, then the answer would likely be “yes”. It did have faithfulness to the material in the rest of the film, the voice acting was superb and the animation was spectacular, but with the first arc, especially with how badly it was handled, the answer would be “no.” Perhaps the answer would be that it straddles the edge.
The recommendation to fans would be to only watch the Getting-What-You-Actually-Paid-For Arc. Certainly it would be a shorter experience, but much more satisfying, and likely not to enrage you if you are a fan of Batman and Batgirl in particular.
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Hello all, hours away from The Killing Joke in the one theater that it is playing where my stomping grounds reside and I can’t wait!
I thought for the last article before my review of the upcoming film, I would share with you some of my top 10 favorite scenes from various DC animations. They are in no particular order of importance, and I know that there is a lot of excellent material to shift through so I will only pick a small pool of selections.
Oh and there are spoilers! lots and lots of them.
1. “The Creeper Hits on Harley” from Batman the Animated Series S4 Ep23 “Beware The Creeper.”
Gosh I just love the Creeper.
As some of you may know, The Creeper is one of my favorite minor characters from the DC Animated franchise (fingers crossed for his own film) and I love this scene from his one appearance on the television series where he just lays in the violence, casually takes out Batman, and delusionaly hits on Harley.
2. “Justice League vrs. The Flash” from Justice League, S2 Ep14 “Eclipse part 2.”
This was a favorite versus scene from Justice League animated series, another of my favorite shows. The wisecracking Flash suddenly facing off against 5 big powerhouse superheros under the influence of a malevolent force. This scene displayed both his knowledge of his friends and his own skills, but also his keen mind to think through a dangerous situation.
3. “The Death of Joker” from Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (2000).
One of the Top 3 favorite movies so far when many fans think of the DC Animated franchise.
This is primarily for the scene in which we see the fate of the original Joker we are familiar with from the television series. it was the most twisted and dark scene that came out of the franchise during that period and still stands up today for sheer raw impact.
4. “Harley Goes Shopping” from Batman the Animated Series S3 E25 “Harley’s Holiday”.
This was Harley without Joker for once, and a personal favorite episode from the series.
What made this particular scene great was the sheer comedy of Harley’s personality out in Gotham. Her disconnect from the expectations of normalcy from others was fascinating to watch, and not only that, her encounter with Bruce and his girlfriend (friend? never was sure) was especially hilarious.
5. “Batman under The Hood Ending Scene” from Batman Under the Hood (2010).
There is just something about watching this scene, the fascinating byplay between the once Robin, Batman, and Joker really made this film. I particularly enjoyed Joker’s reaction to Batman and Red Hood’s conversation.
6. “Batman Kills the Joker” from Batman : The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2 (2013).
There is just something about the death of a Joker that really catches you. The dark, twisted (and in this case super violent) in a sort of intimacy and tragedy that is part of those scenes whether in comic book, video game, or animated film just makes any of these particularly poignant, especially when its Batman who does it.
7. “Trigun Slade Wishes Raven a Happy Birthday” from Teen Titans, S4 E3 “Birthmark.”
I loved this episode from the series. It was a sort of conclusion to Raven’s personal story arc.
What made this scene a favorite was the dreamlike confrontation between Slade and Raven as he informs her of her future. It was well animated and expressed the character’s personal horror, and Slade being Slade so well.
8. “Batman Sings” from Justice League Unlimited, S1 E5 ,”The Little Piggy.”
This was a singularly odd episode from the show, but it did have some marvelous scenes, including Circe forcing Batman to give up one of his deep dark secrets.
9. “Model Mayham” from Batman Mask Of the Phantasm (1993).
This is a favorite movie of mine from the animated films, which i wont go into why, as all of you have likely read it in my earlier review already.
I loved this scene just because it was such a typically Joker battle scene, and the scene had a perfect (though perhaps a smidge obvious) metaphor of the two great giants of Gotham, Criminal/Justice, Insanity/Reason dukeing it out with the city as their battle ground is not lost on anyone.
10. “Mxyzpixilated” from Superman: The Animated Series, S2 E8.
This one might be cheating a little since its mostly an entire episode, but the episode runs like one long scene in which Superman must contend with a supernatural being with a complicated name. it was both funny, and showed how Superman wasn’t all muscle and that he could outwit an opponent from time to time.
if you want to watch it (and since i didn’t want to put an entire episode up here just in case) you can google it, there are plenty of posts for the episode online.
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With The Killing Joke only days away for theater release (at least where I am) and so close to the DVD release on august 5, I thought about what type of animation i could be expecting and this got me to thinking about how people view and interpret DC Animation characters in their own styles or pay homage to DC Animation Styles in their works, so here is a top list in no particular order of importance of some of my favorite fanart that I have come across over time related to the content and style of DC Animation.
*To see these images in their actual sizes, please visit the provided source links.
1. Dark Knight- By Dan Mora.
This beautiful piece of Digital art fanart is a depiction of the characters from The Dark Knight Rises (2012) the second installment in the live action Nolan-verse Batman trilogy, done in the style of DC Animation character designs from heavy hitter Bruce Timm.
2. “Harley Quinn and Poision Ivy Playing with Hyenas”- by Ricken-Art.
This fanart is a beautiful comic book style of everyone’s favorite team up that originated from Batman: The Animated Series. Not only is it attractive and professionally done, it has a great set-up of a sleep over party with a reluctant Poison Ivy inside what appears to be on of her giant flowers.
3. “Two Face, Part One and Two Poster art”- By George Caltsoudas.
This is more two images related to each other but done as a cover art homage to the two-parter season 1 episode “Two Face” on Batman the Animated Series. What makes this good is the classic first season character design combined with George Caltsoudas detailed noir style depicted here with nice emphasis on the character’s two headed coin trademark as a theme overlaid on a Gotham skyline.
This is a great fanart piece based off of Teen Titans series with the team portrayed by casual dress with these and great expressions an unique character style to the artist, but at the same time still recognizable enough from the inspiring source material.
This is a great mash up of Harley Quinn and Freakazoid from the show of the same name, a 1990’s spin off of the popular show Animaniacs. Seeing the costume switch and both their expressions was hilarious, particularly Freakazoid’s, especially if your familiar with the source material.
There is just something fun and funny about an image of Batman perched atop the back of the equally stoic Goliath (from the Disney animated series Gargoyles) during his stone slumber, and the artist does a great job in capturing the humour of the moment.
7. “Detectives Inc. The World’s Greatest Detectives.” from The odyssey.
I am not particularly certain if this is from the author of the fan image or not, but the enjoyable stories and character interactions that could come from a team consisting of Sherlock Holmes, The Question, Batman, Rorschach and The Spirit, along with a great noir look, make this a great bit of fan art.
Its no secret that The Creeper, whom I first encountered in Batman the Animated series, is one of my top five favorite DC characters. The artist did an excellent, more sinister rendition of the wacky character which was awesome to see especially when it was done in comic book quality art.
This is a fan comic single frame is by an artist who has a great sense of humour and an eye for comic and cartoon cat references. It was fun trying to see how many i recognized, what a great crossover!
I am uncertain on the name of the actual artist of this excellent piece, nor could I read the signature with it, but whoever they are they did a great job of paying homage to the classic Batman the Animated Series Joker, arguably one of the best Jokers both in television and movie alike.
Film: Light’s Out.
Directed by: David F. Sandberg
Running Time: 81 min.
This is an American Horror film written by Eric Heisserer about a family haunted by a supernatural being. The film was based on the original 2013 short film of the same name created by the director and pretty much took the same premise from the short and applied it to a feature length running time.
So how does Sandberg’s debut stack up?
The cinematography was decent, with some great little transitions between shots and scenes here and there, and the lighting, with some particularly clever attention to detail with shadows to highlight the tension and sinisterisim of the darkness (even if it wasn’t the big baddy) was particularly clever.
The acting gets a bit of a nod for a few, such as Gabriel Bateman as Martin who pulled off what he could for his character with his child stoicism and terrified out of his little gourd combo without being annoying. And there was also Maria Bello as Sophie, who did a decent job of coming across as pitiable and mildly creepy at the same time.
Then of course there is the strongest element of the film, the scare.
Practically every 5 minutes there was a jump-scare (escalating in the end), and unlike many other movies or television shows out there, they weren’t all predominantly fake-outs. In fact, there was perhaps only one fake-out out in the entire film.
Each scare fulfilled on its promise of something outright scary or occasionally mildly creepy. It was its complete and utter focus on jump scare and lighting combination that carried the film, and made it surprisingly fun to watch.
This movie does unfortunately have a bushel of weak points that stick out regardless of the fun experience, weak points that popular sites like Rotten Tomatoes dubs as strong attributes: The Characters and the Story.
First are the characters:
This is not exactly a strong pool of dynamic personalities.
Most of the small pool of characters isn’t given enough of an identity, interaction or development in this film that you actually forget the name of most of them from time to time.
They rely on a few handful of moments in the film that could be attributed to the action or mood of a particular scene as needed, such as the boyfriend’s entertaining confrontation with the creature, the opening scene with minor characters Ester (Lotta Losten, who was from the original short) flicking the light switch, and Paul (Billy Burke) trying (and failing) to not be killed, and Martin’s apropos responses to Diane.
Speaking of Diane, she was creepy (when not under a blue light) and her movements were just the right amount tension building, but the antagonist suffers as a weak point as well as her backstory was half-arsed, a little implausible in parts even for a horror film, and the connection between her and Sophie was not given enough development.
The story itself was of course the other major weak point.
There was no overarching mystery or any other narrative hook to keep you gripped, with everything about the creature was summed up early on and floating undeveloped relationships such as the mother and daughter falling out never being expanded upon, and there was hardly enough chances for breath in the film for the necessary character developments.
When there were attempts at the actual story it read like the amateur writing found in the dollar digital bin at your local Amazon site.
What could have helped the story was a better written history between Sophie and Diane. In fact, it might have gone stronger if Diane was actually a mental projection of Sophie’s depression, or perhaps something she created to deal with the death of her friend, or a combination of both. The possibility to utilize this example was there in the vaguely explained connection between them.
You can tell the film’s origins from its short counterpart, as the elements that worked here were what made the short strong, and pretty much was the entirety of the short. But unfortunately, the attempt to translate the short into a feature, you do need a decent combination of story and characters outside of the scare element.
Though this could be read as utilizing the formula of the slasher film, which in the case of those films was very much about the present experience of the audience, appealing to the squirm, blood thirst, and gross-out with a lack of much story and purposeful blank slate characters to better facilitate the audience overlaying themselves into the experience.
In this case, if you replace the element of “Slasher” with jump scare, you would have something very similar, though whether this was the purpose of the film’s construction it’s hard to say.
Overall this was a movie that you watch in the dark with your friends once or twice and enjoy it for the scare, with a few decent character moments here and there and not much else.
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Show: Dead Of Summer.
Produced By: Freeform.
Episode: 3, “Mixed Tape.”
Running Time: 41-45 min.
The third installment of the first season this time centers on the character Cricket (Amber Coney), whose background is explored a bit more, while a few behind the scenes supernatural secret hi jinks reach a climactic moment.
Cricket’s identity of the one dimensional character trope of low self-esteem girl, in this case tied to her looks (*rolls eyes* ) is expanded upon here, but other than her issues being explained (which was admittedly done well) and her overcoming this short coming, was not exactly the best character development.
Certainly her embracing her body for what it is was a decent conclusion and does present a good moral message for the kiddies out there, but otherwise if it weren’t for the fact this was happening on a possessed bit of camp ground, it would have read like any other tired out teenager/pre-teen drama show.
No matter how bad or good a trope is done, without anything else added to a character, static is static. Though hopefully this will be rectified with further growth in later episodes.
The blooming romance between Drew and Blair might be interesting but it’s still earl days to see if anything interesting happens there since dynamic between the two hasn’t been really fleshed out at all in terms of chemistry or as individuals yet.
The only really worthwhile thing about the episode was of course the introduction of a mysterious mask wearing secret society lurking in the bushes, which has a few recognizable members who are both unsurprising, and the climatic ending that you hope has done its job and taken out one of the least interesting of the characters.
Overall while the ending keeps you hooked for the next episode, it wasn’t as good as the previous one was at character building its focus.
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Film: The Secret Life of Pets.
Directed by: Chris Renaud and Yarrow Cheney.
The Secret Life of Pets is a 3d Computer animation comedy written by Brian Lynch, Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio. This is latest production out of Illumination Entertainment best known for the Despicable Me/Minions franchise. It stars Max the terrier (Louis C.K) and a wide variety of his friends and their day out in in Manhattan when Max and his family’s new edition Duke (Eric Stonestreet) get lost and Max’s friends set out to find him.
Much of this film hinges on a combination of cute animal slapstick primarily and character interactions a close second, worked through a premise established in films such as Toy Story (which did it better), and the typical animation style and characteristics common to the latest fare from Illumination.
The combination works in overall conceptualization as the animation style and the character designs provide perfect vehicles of reactions and bodies for the humour which was balanced for a decent amount of the film, particularly through the secondary characters.
The stand out character was Gidgit (Jenny Slate) and her…vigorous search for Max, particularly as a counterpart in her reactions with the apathetic cat Chloe (Lake Bell) who retains a fair amount of her stereotypical cat indifference, though shows a bit of care here and their enough to not leave her completely static. Both characters entertaining personalities and physical presence int he film- Gidgit as the leader/asskicker and Chloe who brought a lot of the slapstick- brought an energy to the film (though in different ways).
The only fault for either is the tacked on romantic drive and conclusion between Gidgit and Max at the end does feel unneeded, and Chloe wasn’t given enough screen time with the other characters to form any solid dynamic except with Max and peripherally with others.
The film also felt like it didn’t take advantage of all the possibilities it could that the premise combined with the setting of the entirety of Manhattan and the variety of characters presented.
In fact, it likely would have probably benefited from a more slice of life style sticking perhaps within the apartment building itself, which held even more potential which was only touched upon in part in the film, there was a lot of untapped narrative and plot potential there.
A little over the first half of the film in particular is where the most entertainment is found, though once you get into the later end, it begins to unravel somewhat. Transitions between moments become a bit less fluid and bit more jarring without what felt like a few small necessary moments to make the conclusion flow more solidly. the second half, or to be generous, the last third, feels like a rushed and somewhat half-assed need to wrap it all up.
Overall the film has some decent comedy and characters, but it suffers from only taking a shallow approach to the depths that its premise combined with some of the setting and characters presented. The secondary characters were good, but sharing space with the main characters left the main characters little time to establish their own engaging and believable dynamic. It leaves spectators somewhat entertained but not overly invested in the film as a whole.
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*Note: Major Spoilers in this article! Do not read this if you are planning to watch the Show! (This article is continuously updated).
In recent years we have seen an emergence of children shows that have challenged the mainstream traditionalist standards. But none of them ever quite fully embrace their own powers of dissent quite so much as one particular animated family series that came out in 2013, the fantasy/sci-fi show known as Steven Universe (2013-present) created by Rebeca Sugar (the first solo woman creator at Cartoon Network).
Steven Universe is a vital artifact of queer discussion, and by studying various episodes of how queerness is worked in the series; I will prove its importance as a gloriously queer failure to be mainstream.
But before we get into discussing the episodes what do I mean by “failure”?
According to gender and queer theorist Dr. J. Halberstam, the term “Failure” is an “anti-nationalist discourse in dissent in the era of the superpower.” or to be “Queer” is to regularly and willingly choose to fail within the terms of normalization (or mainstream) that society has set-up (Halberstram, J. p.27-52 & Halberstram, J, IPAK Centar Interview, 2014).
Steven Universe as an artifact of programing geared with children audiences in mind, is a beautiful failure to adhere to the popular mainstream tenets of this target niche, it shakes the foundations of what defines both children’s programing, and foundation ideologies of children themselves. Why and how is important in highlighting why it is so uniquely queer.
All Children are Queer?
In the works of Dr. Kathryn Bond Stockton, she theorizes that all children are essentially queer.
Not born destined to be straight, that heteronormativity is in fact an illusion that is instilled in children through various forms of conditioning (Stockton, K. Reynolds Lecture, 2010).
This is a radical theory that fails to adhere to the mainstream contention that one is born with their orientation, and defies the set belief in the liner progression of the heteronormative straight child into the ideal of marriage (one woman and one man) and then procreation as a “natural progression” forces children to in fact not develop linearly at all, but develop sideways under the reeling in conditioning of various authority figures and media that play a large part in informing the expected realities of a mainstream citizen (Stockton, K. Reynolds Lecture, 2010).
Stockton’s theory fails the dominant mainstream desire of silence in regards to the queerness of children by challenging the figure of “The Child”, which is a dominantly believed in being this state of divine purity bolstered by a pillar of innocence and weakness, or as Stockton puts the figure:
“..A creature of gradual growth managed away and bolstered by laws that ideally protect it from its own participation in its pleasure and its pain.”– Quote, Stockton, K (Stockton, K. Reynolds Lecture, 2010).
This child figure idealism echoes into our media consumption, particularly in anything directed towards children. Animation especially is still not taken seriously as a medium for adult, children, or something in between. This is a sentiment carried across both cinema and television despite some of the magnificent strides made in family shows like Animaniacs (1993-1998), Hey Arnold (1994-2004), Courage the Cowardly Dog (1999-2002), Over The Garden Wall (2014), Avatar Franchise (2005-2014), Adventure Time (2010-present), .etc. (Rosewarne, L. p.1-16).
Granted that is a belief that has been seeing a decline in the recent decades, there are entire adult fan communities that are proud to declare their appreciation for particular animated shows originally geared towards the younger set, one of the most infamous at present being Bronys (predominantly Adult men who enjoy My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic).
But there is not only still a certain level of ideological prejudice lingering around animation due to its target audience origins, even accepted titles aside. Some modes of animation, particularly family oriented animation, remain predominantly segregated from live action fare, and to severe degrees, is even condemned in some parts when crossing ageist, and in the case of Bronys, gendered lines as well. This particular fanbase are quite commonly criticized and mocked for liking a show geared towards a “little girl” audiences, despite the fact that Brony’s speak of a resistance to desiring the mainstream ideology of masculinity. Enjoying a community that gathers around a decently written show espousing the morals of friendship through diversified characters and character growth and in no way speaks about who they are as men or women, only as people and their desire for something more then what they can commonly find in media.
This underlying notion of child ideology affects a harsh ageist binary line in a medium like children’s television that is still, regardless of strides made and evidence to the contrary, considered to immature to be worthy of serious discourse, and many mature topics combined with both the view of what a child is combine into what dominant culture defines both animation and children’s programing, leaves little room for appealing to subject matters that are very much a part of a child’s development, and should be recognized.
Sexuality is one of the bigger taboos in children’s animated television, and as a result there were very few, if any, that contained any sort of dominant queer characters or themes. Though the rebellious context of animation as a medium does utilize the general disdain of serious consideration to its advantage regardless, and thus within the optimum ground Steven Universe takes an entertaining delight in confronting mainstream ideologies of the Child and their distinct queer identity overall in a television show that defies the ideology of children’s programing. (Rosewarne, L. p.1-16 & Halberstram, J. p.27-52 & Halberstram, J, IPAK Centar Interview, 2014.).
It’s a Fluid Universe
Gender fluid/Transgender/Nonbinary individuals have found a long history of difficulty gaining a competent visible foothold in children’s television.There have been some strides over the years within other programing such as Orange is The New Black, The Fosters, Transparent, etc. (though non-binaries and gender fluid are still relatively left out in the cold), but in children’s animated programming, prominent upfront representation has been willingly ignored by producers, primarily because of either internal unconcern, ignorance, or prejudices, or the more popular concern of of negative flack from the general public because The Child Figure is considered to immature to question such things as gender identity. And of course the old argument or the show being singularly remembered only for queer moments, as brief as they are, and not for the rest of the show as a whole (Rosewarne, L. p.1-16, & Stockton, K. Reynolds Lecture, 2010).
Only in the past decade or two has programming for children started to shed some of the strict gender polarization that was given strong emphasis in particular in the 1980’s, particularly for commercial purposes, and shows began appearing that broke down some of the strict gender categories, particularly within the last 5-6 years, though these attempts were often not quite as upfront and certainly not with a main character.
For example, My Little Pony Friendship is Magic introduced the concept gender fluidity as an actual existence within the canon of the show through a minor character (Big Macintosh) who is shown to desire a state reserved strictly for female characters (being an Alicorn princess). In another episode “Brotherhooves Social” Big Macintosh donned a female persona to be with his little sister during a festival for sisters, but it interestingly wasn’t played for some sort of gag, as it usually goes in these sorts of set-ups, whether children’s shows/films or adult. When he was found out to be a stallion, the judge was not upset by it, in fact stating “…The Sisterhooves Social has always had a loose policy when it comes to what counts as a sister”. In “Do Princesses Dream of Electric Sheep?” Big Macintosh shows his greatest dream/desire to be an alicorn princess in a transformation scene that homages famous anime Sailor Moon, another show with its own history with queer characters.
There are other examples of course, but a common thread in these instances is that these incidences of queerness have either been alluded to (Korra The Last Airbender- Bisexaul characters), stated off screen (Adventure Time- Princess Bubblegum/Marceline) or kept as brief little moments isolated in an episode or two such as MLP or shows like Hey Arnold and Gravity Falls (both had brief depiction/reveal of a gay couple).
Steven Universe unlike other Western children’s shows however takes it a step forward by using both allusion and overt queerness, with the later in the majority. Breaking down the heteronormative gender and sex categories in their episodes, and best of all isn’t afraid of utilizing main characters while doing it.
For example in the episode “Tiger Millionaire” (Season 1, Ep. 9, 2014) Steven discovers that Amethyst, one of the other main characters, sneaks out at night to go to an underground wrestling arena. When she is in the ring she transforms herself into the heavily muscled Purple Puma and is addressed as male.
In this setting she revels in her hyper aggressive masculine identity, glorying in being free to express this side of herself “in the ring nobody can tell me what to do and if they try,I hit them in the face with a chair” (Amethyst, 02.49). Later in the episode when the other two Gems Pear and Garnet storm the arena expressing their displeasure with Amethyst and Steven’s actions (he’d joined up with Amethyst at this point as a wrestler) Steven intervenes with his fighting family to explain the Purple Puma’s stage backstory:
“…He was the wildest cat in the jungle, so wild the other cats couldn’t take it so she, I mean he, went to look for somewhere he fit in, somewhere with other people who were also misunderstood…that’s why we are all here, to be wild and body slam each other and wear cool costumes and make up nicknames, and…uh…so can’t we just have this? Can’t we just…wrestle?”– (Steven, 09.30).
While the episode can be seen as a commentary on pro-wrestling overtly, this episode also can be read subversively as a very solid allegorical lesson in acceptance of being one’s self in the multiple ways people present themselves, and accepting that outlet, particularly the environments, of expression.
Amethyst, who is one of the prominent characters on the show, often enjoys fluid gender expression multiple times throughout the series.
Granted the above mentioned episode is an early example of allusion, more then overt, but wait, there is more.
The show meanwhile also acknowledges and attempts to break down/comment on the binary gender tropes common to popular fields of animation.
Anime in particular is referenced due to the show in part being inspired by the medium, and often pays homage to its roots in many episodes, despite the medium certainly being rife with binarisim.
One of the most visible subversion of gender norms used on Steven Universe is the common anime trope of “the magical girl” or “mahou shoujo.” This is a character trope usually considered female, and geared towards female audiences. Some of the most popular in North America being shows like Sailor Moon, Tokyo MewMew, Pretear, and Cardcaptor Sakura (1998-2000) just to name a few.
“Magical girls” are usually small cute figures or cute voluptuous figures, having a magical transformation before a battle with a lot of melodramatic gestures and speeches sometimes involved, and devices such as bubbles, hearts and flowers combined with a gendered feminine color palate such as pink, which is utilized ALOT (tvtropes.org, Magical Girls).
The main character Steven is the embodiment of that trope combined with some characteristics that are associated with boys, creating something entirely new, and something entirely unlike his anime counter parts. He dissolves gendered expectations, and the expectation of main characters having to be recognizably gendered/heteronormatized. Nearly everything from his present state to his origins has a distinctive failure to be a mainstream boy character.
In the episode “An Indirect Kiss” (Season 1, Ep. 24, 2014) Steven’s status as being based on the magical girl trope is emphasized when he tries to access his mother’s healing magical tears (healing powers and tears long in animation also firmly categorized as feminine).
Trying to do so in his efforts Steven moves in the melodramatic gestures and stances of a transforming magical girl, with profuse roses and pinkness (pink roses very much a dominant theme and symbol of his power carried over from his mother Rose and prominent throughout the series) (Season 1, Ep. 24, 2014).
In the episode “Sadie’s Song” he has no problem dressing up in exorbant make-up and a dress and singing a pop song in front of his town when his friend Sadie bows out of the show. There is no mockery in the moment, and the audience takes enjoyment in his performance.
Steven is an embodiment of numerous female gender trope signifiers such as his powers being primarily defensive, nurturing, and life giving, forming in a manner associated mainstream as female with his most distinct personality trait being empathy, something that is given little, if any, light in a male identified character, no matter the target audience, particularly in a male hero character.
Much of the show’s roots, particularly Steven’s own Gender fluid depictions, come from early queer sources.
Revolutionary Girl Utena is considered one of the biggest inspirations for Steven Universe, a show about a girl who decides she wants to become a Prince, an anime that is considered very queer leaning for its time.
Steven Universe references this root in the show through various scenes: such as Steven pulling out his mother’s sword from Lion’s head in a similar manner that Utena pulls out a sword from Anthy’s chest, and Pearl’s swordsmanship is a copy of a fight scene of Utena’s.
There are also the mixing of mainstream gender codes within the show: Lion, whom as a male lion is considered a masculine symbol (often associated with Kings) is combined with the color pink and a vaguely heart shaped head design which are female gender codes, and Healing (feminine) combined with spitting as a mode of use (masculine), just to give a bit of an example.
Then we start to get even more queerly overt with the introduction of Fusion.
In “Giant Woman” (Season 1, ep. 12, 2014) the viewers are introduced to the concept of fusion for the first time, which is the ability for two or more gems to merge their bodies and minds (provided they are compatible) into a new being, which has a distinctly different identity and name.
First it is an element expressed through the gaze of Steven.
Periodically throughout the episode Steven expresses his desire to see the fusion (whom is called Opal) and sings a song (04.02) about that desire. At first it comes across as almost auto-erotic in his fixation, but then the last line of the song reveals his true desire.
“…But if it were me, I’d really wanna be a giant woman,
a giant woman!
All I wanna do, is see you turn into a giant woman…”- (Steven, 04.45).
In “Alone Together” Steven and Connie manage to fuse and create Stevonnie, a gender neutral or genderqueer individual who was only prominent in one episode and briefly there in another until seasons 3-4 where they are given more screen time.
They are never referred to as “he” or “she”, usually referred to as “They,” and are often considered attractive by both males and females alike, though Stevonnie seems to be somewhat unaware of the later.
The visual depictions of characters are also continuously used to challenge the gender binary.
The show is careful to depict a wide variety of body types, both male, female, and otherwise. This is in part because of its embracement of its own medium as an animation within its character designs. Wide shouldered and muscular females abound here, such as Sadie, Sadie’s Mother, Jasper, the Rubies, etc.
The best example of these though, has to have been the 2016 introduction of the character Bismuth in the show’s special 20 minute episode “Bismuth”, season 3, episodes 20-21.
Much like Steven, she embodies gender tropes normally distinct to masculine depictions: She is a guardian, a Blacksmith, and used to work in construction. She is distinctly aggressive and favors violent, even fatal actions against her enemies instead of just subduing and capturing them, but is also boisterous and affectionate with her fellows.
Her physical depiction however, is that fine line between genderless and hypermasculine.
The motivation of the show’s creator is also a big part in the inherent gender queerness.
In an article by Entertainment Weekly, she is quoted as saying that she wanted to “tear down and play with the semiotics of gender in cartoons for children.” She considers the gendering of children’s programing to be absurd (Howe-Smith, Nina. 2015).
The queering of gender isn’t the only aspect explored by the show.
An Erotic Universe?
Steven Universe is surprisingly rife with erotic content that acknowledges its queer characters and youth characters as physically intimate beings in a largely non-standard sexual way, and delights in going out of its way in its failure to keep things “behind closed doors” so to speak with intimacy.
As mentioned earlier, the concept of fusion was first introduced in “Giant Woman” but some of the intimate connotations were first fully realized in “Coach Steven” (Season 1, ep.20, 2014).
In this episode Garnet and Amethyst decide to fuse to create Sugilite (another giant woman). The dance that follows in Sugilite’s creation is unmistakably erotic, a lot of pelvic movements and provocative gestures, and ending with Garnet in a decidedly hard-to-interpret-as-anything-else pose with her legs spread wide, and Amethyst leaping head first between her thighs at the moment of the merge (01.36-02.07).
The erotic nature of this is also signified through Pearl who bears a keenly embarrassed look on her face, as she tries to block Steven’s view, who is quite excited by the display (01.36-02.07).
With this implication of the more intimate nature of fusion firmly signified in the viewers thanks to this episode, when “Alone Together” mentioned earlier comes along, viewers are introduced to the uncommon sight of two child characters, one of which whom has shown to have a crush on the other, engaged in their own form of intimacy when Steven and his friend Connie merge together into Stevonnie while dancing.
They are encouraged to be the experience that Stevonnie is by Garnet; despite Pearl’s objections to the inappropriateness of it.
In an article by the editor of “Polygon” Carli Velocci comments on how the Stevonnie character can be perceived as a positive metaphor for consent, in an entirely non-sexual context (Velocci,C. 2015). Indeed, the notion of consent in fusion is brought up by Garnet herself in the show as well more then once, particularly in the episodes such as the 5 episode Steven bomb of the second season when Pearl abuses her relationship with Garnet (and by extension 2 others) lying so that she can experience the joy of fusing with Garnet and being Sardonyx. Garnet’s anger over the incident, started in “A Cry for Help” (season 2 ep 11), took an unusually realistic turn by not resolving for several episodes of the Steven Bomb, quite awhile by Steven Universe standards of cannon time, emphasizing the severity of of the lesson of using intimacy and relationships for self gratification. Not to mention her reaction to Homeworld’s forced fusions of deceased gems in some sort of Frankenstein defilement in episode “Keeping it Together” (Season 2, ep 8).
A Queerly Romantic Universe?
Later on in the episode “Jail Break” (Season 1, ep. 52, 2015) it is revealed that Garnet herself is in fact a fusion, the personification of the romantic relationship of two female identifying characters Ruby and Sapphire. They are often depicted as an overt couple since their first appearance: kissing, touching, hugging, arguing, flirting, and physically acting as a couple on the show.
Soon after the revelation that Garnet is a fusion, there is a musical reveling of the relationship, sung by her as she battles Jasper in a lyrical flip-off to traditionalist narrow mind-sets that Jasper and the rest of Homeworld (the antagonist faction in the show) embodies (05.16-07.35).
There are other overt queer relationships and desires as well such as Pearl and Rose, a relationship that echos the old style chivalrous love depicted between medieval knights (Pearl) and a royal (Rose).
Rose was not exactly a saintly character when it came to some of her relationships, whether romantically or with friends and allies, though she is primarily depicted as a saintly sort of figure at first. As the show goes along, her dehumanizing pedestal is carefully deconstructed without outright sending her into anti-hero or villain in disguise, more into someone who has faults, who is the leader of an army where thousands died in a war, and had a certain ambivalent streak existing in an odd symbiosis with the figure head of love and empathy on the show.
She herself was the focus of a love triangle between Pearl, her first and most devoted follower, and Steven’s Father Greg. Pearl and Rose are the first attempts by the show to depict desires in a same gender relationship. Watching Pearl’s struggles to deal with the fallout of no longer having Rose and losing out to Greg (both of which had been in competition with each other for her, it is revealed in later episodes) is part of her defining story arcs in the show.
Pearl in this sense could be seen as something of the tragic queer figure stereotype common in many early television and films, but what makes her character work in this instance is the writers failure to fall completely into that easy trap of drama by actually trying to resolve the tragedy and not even leaving Pearl singularly pining.
Certainly her love for Pearl does play out through a large portion of the show to the point where she will sometimes break her motherly role to Steven and address him as Rose, or work out her relationship with Rose through Steven and Connie, but when season three and season 4 came around, the show actually confronts Pearl’s lingering inability to deal with Rose’s loss and her losing out to Greg.
In “Mr. Greg” (season 3, ep 8) the two prominent characters actually resolve their relationship as old love rivals, and Pearl finally comes to the realization that she has to move on, despite how hard it is to do so. This was done most poignantly through a song number “It’s Over Isn’t It?”
After that episode, Pearl’s growth in this direction is later shown in her attraction to Mysterious Stranger (has no name) a female presenting human with bright pink hair who looks similar to Rose, and even gets her phone number at the end of the episode “Out of Beach City” (season 4 ep 6).
The show was also not afraid to delve into presenting abusive/unhealthy relationships and the the Fusion known as Malachite, formed from the antagonist Jasper and Lapus-Lazuli, was utilized in this.
After Jasper and Lapis are separated in “Super Watermelon Island” (season 3 ep 1), they meet again on board a boat in “Alone At Sea” (season 3 ep 15). Jasper, much to the surprise of everyone, instead of attacking outright, beseeches Lapis to rejoin with her again. In a very dark moment for a character on the show, Lapis, who had always been shown as ranging from defeatist, to kind, to dead-pan, with an underlying determination that has appealed to many viewers over time, reveals a deeply cynical, self-hatred as she admits to how much she enjoyed causing Jasper pain, felling power over the other when she kept the both of them as Malachite trapped under the ocean, but eventually she rejects Malachite’s appeal to her desires.
While the topic matter of abusive relationships have made it into children’s television from time to time, even in animated kids shows like Courage the Cowardly Dog and their episode “The Mask” which was also decidedly dark in its tone, as well as queer through allusion.
“Alone at Sea” presented something of the allure of destructive relationships, and didn’t have a clear victim/abuser tropes utilized in other attempts from other shows. Steven Universe also shows an uncommon complexity to the scenario in that those within the relationship recognize that what one desires may not be necessarily what both are able to cope with, and it can lead to something harmful and unhealthy for both.
Malachite is an appeal to the addictive nature of unhealthy relationships as well as pointing out that often being rescued from such relationships wont work unless those themselves in it see it is unhealthy and recognize it as such.
Malachite also puts a bit of a light in depicting queer abusive relationships. Often in media queer relationships as being romantic or some great big tragedy, or something temporary for gratification. In North American Society there has been a recent push to recognize that abuse in same sex relationships does happen, but they are not treated with the same severity as an abusive straight relationship, and certainly rarely, if ever depicted on television. This is in part because there is an ideology surrounding power dynamics in relationships, in that males are considered the more powerful body capable of abusing the less powerful body, female. This notion is not supported in same-sex relationships, and thus not given as serious attention as straight relationships. In fact, male abuse victims in straight relationships also suffer from this very outdated and incorrect ideology as well.
In fact, the episode was also careful to show that that Lapis, the slighter, smaller, distinctly feminine body type, was the abuser in the relationship between her and Jasper, who is distinctly larger and physically more powerful.
Steven Universe makes a point to depict both the loving, the tragic, the wrong, and even the abusive types of romantic relationships that exist, something that flies in the dominant conventions of their only being a specific type of romance, the kind that reassures the happy ending, which Steven Universe doesn’t promise, despite the packaging.
Steven and the Family.
It should also be significant to note that Steven Universe also features a visible queer family dynamic, often in contrast with the mainstream Nuclear family dynamic, and does discuss this from the point of view of both Steven as a child from the former, who doesn’t understand how having 3 mother figures (one that also doubles as a sisterly relationship), and one father who doesn’t live in the home. Steven doesn’t even conceive of anything in his family dynamic as different.
This theme of family was done in “Fusion Cuisine” (Season 1, Episode 32) quite well when Connie’s parents want to meet Steven’s parents, whom they had been led to believe were a nuclear family by their daughter.
The episode did well at portraying Steven’s point of view on the matter, showing his confusion with the “Nuclear Family” dynamic, without even understanding the term right from the beginning, as something “other” in contrast to his own norm, highlighting that their is no real norm in regard to family in the first place, highlighted well by Steven’s confrontation with Connie over the issue, and Connie’s parents reaction to the truth of Steven’s family situation.
Basically, as long as a child was reared with proper discipline and boundaries in the eyes of Connie’s parents,they saw no problem with who was enforcing it.
The family dynamic has long been a bone of contention in the debates of Queer representations on television. Some believe that depicting monogamous same sex nuclear families promotes a sense of absorbing queer identity into a non-threatening hegemonic ideology informed by heternormativity, and certainly something that is prominent when Queer families are depicted in family shows, whether animated or live action. Shows like The Fosters and Glee for example. This stance can be seen again as part of making the queer child grow sideways, preserving a large part of the linear hetero ideology of marriage with a single individual and children to follow.
Here, we have Steven who is being reared in an environment without those expectations, with a house hold with several mother/sister figures, many largely unmarried, and wile some are in a committed relationship, they do not define as his sole parents. in fact Steven universe touts something of a community of people helping in raising the child instead of a rigid two parent parental structure of the nuclear family dynamic, whether straight or same-sex.
So in conclusion Steven Universe is a glorious failure to be a mainstream children’s show. It overtly subverts, declares, and challenges viewers in dominant ideologies about children, queer representations in television, intimacy, relationships, gender, and family while also providing a fiction which speaks to the queerness of all children in general with a strong emphasis on embracing and communicating ones identity and uniqueness.
This is an important show in the continuing steps forward in children’s programming.
Rosewarne, Lauren. American Taboo: The Forbidden Words, Unspoken Rules, and Secret Morality of Popular Culture. Praeger, An Imprint of ABC-CLIO, LLC, 2013. Kindle EBook.
—“ The Gay Chapter : Homosexuality in Animation,” p.1-16.
Prof. Jack Halberstram, “Interview with Prof. Jack Halberstram”, 2014 Summer School for Sexualities, Culture, and Politics, Research Centre for Cultures, Politics and Identities (IPAK) Faculty of Media and Communications (FMK), Singidunum University, September 05, 2014. Online Video. Retrieved at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iKDEil7m1j8
Rebeca Sugar, et al.
Steven Universe. United States: Cartoon Network, 2013-present.
Velocci, Carli (2015-07-14). “What a children’s show can teach us about sex and healthy relationships”. Polygon.
Film Short: Silhouette (Fan Animated).
Animated by: Vivziepop.
Running Time: 2 min.
This is the second review I have done for one of Vivziepop’s amazing fan-animations. This time around from among her material is an homage featuring a lonesome fox singing to the stars with Owl City’s “Silhouette.”
Over the years Vivziepop has continued to impress me in the growth, imagination, and talent that she has utilized in their creations, both in her animations and in her comic series Zoophobia, and this short is no different.
While it doesn’t have the speed and energy of her homage to Kiesha’s “Die Young”, there is greater attention to visual detail in Silhouette, with really good syncing of the Fox’s mouth to the singer’s voice, and a flow of movement that is smooth and fluid, and an over all tighter production.
The emotion of the song was well captured in the visuals with the excellent use of transition from full character to silhouette and back, with the facial expressions and body movements of the Fox himself with just the right emotion of identity in the moment.
Despite the softer pace of the short, she is still able to utilize that amazing flair for color that Vivzie’s stuff is well known for which pops at the seams with chromatic vibrancy, enriching without working against.
Overall, Vivziepop has put forward another excellent fan animation (that I am sure wont hurt the sales for the band’s album), and I look forward to every future endeavor.
Film: The BFG.
Directed and Produced by: Steven Spielberg.
Running Time: 117 min.
The BFG is an Disney American fantasy film based of of the classic children’s book of the same title by Ronald Dahl centering on the adventure of an Orphan named Sophie who is kidnapped by a friendly dream catching giant when she witnesses his presence and soon befriends him.
This is a film that centers exactly on what the title says: a Big Friendly Giant.
The strength of this movie lies in this simplicity. By maintaining the focus primarily on the relationship of BFG (Mark Rylance) with the other main character Sophie (Ruby Barnhill), the side characters and the antagonists, you get a very solid and somewhat focused film, and the character interactions, especially the dynamic between BFG and Sophie was the strongest yet so far in this year’s family film fair, which is particularly impressive when you consider the fact that Barnhill is interacting with a green screen figment of digital animation imagination.
Kudos goes to the voice acting of Rylance who really brought this character to life and was the perfect choice for BFG with his Shakespearean theatrical chops shining thorough especially well here.
The computer animation (through motion capture) done on BFG and the other giants was particularly good. He looked younger in the face then his cover art from the Dahl book and his depiction in the 1989 animated version, but it oddly works here when combined with the balding grayness as it somewhat helps pull across that sort of ageless quality inherent in the character (and remarked upon in the film).
Weta Digital did a good job with the the film’s special effects, particularly with the dream tree scene.
The plot meanwhile was fairly faithful to the book, if not quite capturing some of the couched darker tones of Dahl, with a pace that worked surprisingly swiftly for its run time in part carried by the relativity fluid transitions from one moment to the next carried on the back of the character byplay.
The only drawback to the film is that the less darker tone from the source material took away from the unique experience that comes from a Dahl work, and if your a Dahl fan, this will likely annoy you.
That being said it is a Disney film under the control of Spielberg which means that the “Family film” aspect will remain strictly traditional. Though its worth pointing out that with the increasing maturity of family television out there, the traditional notion is going to find a harder branch to perch on with young audiences.
Overall, while it isn’t exactly an epic film, it is a good film nonetheless that delivers on the promise of its premise with stellar acting, character designs on part of the giants, and visual effects and worth watching for all age groups.
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