Screen Squinty’s “Sausage Party” Review.

Film: Sausage Party.
Directed by: Greg Tiernan.
Released: 2016.
Running Time: 88 min.

Sausage Party is adult computer animated adventure comedy directed by Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon, with the story conceived by Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg and Jonah Hill. The film centers around a sausage trying to find the truth to the meaning of his existence and that of every other sentient food item in a grocery store.

This is the first CGI film to ever earn an R rating, and the directorial debut for Tiernan. That is both allegorical and can be read as a spoof of big name animation companies such as Pixar and Dreamworks. it had a hamstring (for an animation) budget of 17 million; so it’s no wonder that it’s been a slow burn of 8 years to be made (among other reasons).

Usually when a film, particularly an animation, goes through such a long stretch, what comes out the other end is not always the best (Pixar’s Dinosaur is a classic example of the foibles that can arise from long term production limbo).

The question then lies if Sausage Party goes the way of other animations in this regard. Is this truly worth the ridiculously priced ticket fees?

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Nitrogen Studios, “Potato,” screen shot from Sausage Party Trailer, 2016.

The animation is certainly worth it. The simple yet clever character designs, the detail of the grocery store and human world from the perspective of the food characters, and the flow of movement of each character within the world was impressive. Then there was the horrifically detailed gore some how worked through cartoon food items so well its stunning. The attention to visual tone of the overall story combined with the walking visual puns and innuendos was a visual treat to the eye. Kudos and credit goes to all 83 of the hard working animators at Nitrogen Studios, this movie couldn’t have made it as far as it did without their amazing work.

The voice acting was top notch with Rogen (Frank), Kristen Wiig (Brenda Bunson), Michael Cera (Barry), Edward Norton (Sammy Bagel Jr.), Selma Hayek (Teresa Taco), David Krumholtz (Kareem Abdul Lavash), and Nick Kroll as a Douche of a main antagonist.

Congrats though goes to Edward Norton whose Woody Allen vocal impression combined with a reference to another famous Jewish actor (and bagels), created one of the most stereotyped walking food items to join animated history.

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Nitrogen Studios, “Sausage Party Characters,” screen shot from Sausage Party Trailer, 2016.

The humour was…well…. imagine every popular ethnic, racial, cultural, gender, and sexuality stereotype in entertainment of the past decade or more and then merge them with the animated musical snipe “Let’s all go to the lobby” from 1953, filtered through the brain of an ignorant pre-teen who plays “hot dog pants” day after watching Toy Story and you would have the humour, and this movie, in a nutshell.

Normally that would be somewhat worth dismissal on paper, and was likely a big part of the reluctance to Rogen’s proposal from the various other studios for so long, and any sane cinephile would agree with them and not give the film more then a raised eyebrow or two.

But…*sigh* how to put this?

It’s still weirdly funny. Yes, you heard it. This raunchy walking food pun was so all-inclusive in its stereotypes and crudeness, combined with some actual smart humorous moments without the stereotypes, and wrapped it in an engaging premise and narrative, that you can’t help being sucked in.

That leads us finally to the best part of the film, which is the story.

The allegory of Atheism clunks you upside the head like a bedpan to the noggin certainly, coming more as an anti-Veggie Tales. But the plot ran with an evenly balanced main Journey (Frank), and secondary journey (Barry) which engrossed you completely into this world of the Food’s perceptions. Its shock scenes in all the right places right along with its humour, destabilized any sort of standard predictability. The pace worked, and the truly great jokes outside of the aforementioned fare were carried throughout the film surprisingly well, and topped off by some really good antagonist sources in Douche and the entirety of Humanity. Finished with a very…satisfying climax.

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Nitrogen Studios, “Hot Dog Sausages,” screen shot from Sausage Party Trailer, 2016.

 

Overall, the movie in and of itself is definitely worth a watch. There isn’t a moment where something doesn’t horrify you and make you laugh at equal measures, and sometimes at the same.  Combining this with great animation, voice acting, and engaging premise- it boggles the mind to say it, but- it’s smart at being stupid, and stupidly smart at telling an engrossing story, despite going out of its way to purposefully promote an equality of offending everyone.

I highly recommend this film for anyone over the age of 18.

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Screen Squinty’s “Batman The Killing Joke” Review.

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*Warning! There are Spoilers!

Film: Batman The Killing Joke.
Directed by: Sam Liu.
Released: 2016.
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.

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(Above) “Joker Cracks” From Batman Killing Joke DC Animation(2016), (Below) “Joker Cracks” from Batman Killing Joke Deluxe Edition, Moore & Bolland (2008).

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.

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DC Comics, “Joker Time transition” Batman The Killing Joke Deluxe Edition. Moore & Bolland (2008).

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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Screen Squinty’s Top 10 Favorite DC Animation Moments.

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.

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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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Screen Squinty’s “Steven Universe: A Queer Television Show Analysis”.

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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 (Halberstam, J. p.27-52 & Halberstam, 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).

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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 Bronies (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 Bronies, 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 Bronies 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 & Halberstam, J. p.27-52 & Halberstam, 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.

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Steven Universe, “Purple Puma,” 2014, Cartoon Network.

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).

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Steven Universe, “Steven Universe, An Indirect Kiss.” 2014, Cartoon Network.

In the episode “Sadie’s Song” he has no problem dressing up in exorbitant 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 signifyers 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.

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Clip shot from Do You Know Anime “Pearl and Utena fight scene comparison.” 2015, doyouknowanime.net/Cartoon Network.

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 embrace 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 hyper-masculine.

bismuth_by_lenhi
Steven Universe, “Bismuth” Cartoon Network, 2016, by Lenhi

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).

The Show even inspired a children’s book, The Answer based from an episode from the series, and came out in September of 2016.

It is based on the fairy tale-like story telling of the episode and was created by Sugar meant as a queer Fairy-tale aimed at young children because she felt there wasn’t enough children’s fairytale/fantasy literature out there with a non-heteronormative theme.

“Everyone tells stories of attraction to kids, everyone tells these fairy tales to kids. And it’s just like, the air you breathe, it’s so normal that it’s completely invisible…What you learn as a kid when you don’t see any of those stories or relate to any of those stories, is that you are denied the dream of love. You should get to appreciate and love and trust your own feelings.”– quote Sugar, (Fusion, 2016) http://fusion.net/story/344549/steve n-universe-the-answer-book/

Not that Ruby and Garnet are the only queer romance. 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 the territory of anti-hero or villain in disguise, more into someone who has faults, who is the leader of an army where thousands that died in a war, making many hard and morally ambiguous decisions sometimes, and sometimes had an ambivalent streak existing in an odd symbiosis with the figure head of love and empathy on the show.

Steven as both her son and being Rose herself, has to come to grips with both her and and the idea of her while being her in a fashion, and it colors his personal arc throughout the series. And one of the things was Rose’s relationships with other people.

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?” and “Both of You.”

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).

Later on as the show progressed we see further queer relationships.

For example there is Topaz who first appears in “Are You My Dad?” who it is later revealed during her short time on show that she is a fusion of two other Topaz’s in a close relationship, to which Aquamarine, the antagonist of the episodes uses against her by threatening to separate the two Topaz’s. And like Bismuth, the show plays with subverting mainstream gender expectations by creating a stocky hyper-masculine soldier’s body and giving her a sort of Valley-girl voice when she finally does talk in “I Am My Mom.”

It was also soon after, when Steven and Lars were brought to Homeworld and after the two escape in “The Trial” they are taken in by a group of outcast gems called Off Colors, which are introduced fully in the episode “Off Colors” among the outcast there is Fluorite who is the wise an calming voice of the Off Colors and the polyamorous fusion of six gems currently and has also stated that she wouldn’t mind adding even more to her if she meets “the right Gem,” and Rhodanite, who like Garnet is the romantic fusion of two gems, a Pearl and a Ruby in this case.

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.

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.

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Image, Courage the Cowardly Dog “The Mask”, Cartoon Network, 2002.

“Alone at Sea” touched on something of the allure for those in destructive relationships, and the episode didn’t utilize the 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 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 a non-hetero abusive relationship. Often in media queer relationships being depicted are romantic, seductive, 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.

It can be argued that the episode is not going down that route at all off course, and certainly its not a clear cut statement within the show that this is about a type of abusive relationship, but it has been popularly read as such and there are some compelling points in the read allusion that have supported the interpretation, an thus why it is mentioned here.

There is also an interesting episode that came out during a Steven Bomb in which Greg was kidnapped by Blue Diamond and stuck in a human zoo that once belonged to Pink Diamond. The humans, or Zoomans as they are known collectively in the Steven Universe fandom, have existed for thousands of years doing only what the voice in thier earrings tells them to do.

They are depicted physically without any largely different gender differences in how they dress or comport themselves and are relatively innocent and prone to suggestion, and when it comes to pairing, their designations are seemingly randomly chosen (or ‘choosened’ as they call it). When Greg has a Zooman chosen for him, he refuses and gives a speech about choice in his partner (the show careful to not make it an issue about anything like the gender of his partner being an issue). This amusingly leads to everyone of the Zoomans choosing to be with Greg, and the entirety of the group are heartbroken when they are turned down by Greg.

The Zooman episode was a nicely veiled allusion to the idea of choice and autonomy and breaking away from mindless expectations of the of an authoritative higher power and the dangers of giving up freedom for the sake of an easy and pleasant seeming way of life, including things like who says how you end up with someone.

Or as Greg puts it:

“There’s always a catch to these Utopias.” -Steven Universe, “The Zoo.”

Steven Universe makes a point to depict both the loving, the tragic, the variegated, and the harmful 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 found commonly in television (whether hetero-normative or homo-normative), 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, as well as parodying it with the interactions between Greg, Alexandrite, and Connie’s parents during dinner.

The notion of “Nuclear Family for Steven is something unknown to him, never being reared with that term even touching his personal Lexicon, and understands it only as “other” in contrast to his own famile norm when Connie attempts to explain it to him, highlighting that there is no real “norm” in regard to what a family “should be” 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, that rear Steven without enforcing a set standards of ideology for what a family is. 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.

As PBS channel host puts it in an opening:

“Steven Universe demonstrates that there is no universal concept of family…”

Conclusion

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.

Bibliography

*Note: this bib is somewhat incomplete as more stuff was added to later, and some are entirely common knowledge by this point anyway.

Halberstam, Judith. Queer Art of Failure. Durham, NC, USA: Duke University Press, 2011.
Accessed December 9, 2015. ProQuest ebrary.
—“Chapter One Animating Revolt and Revolting Animation,” p.27-52.

Howe-Smith, Nina. “Steven Universe creator Rebecca Sugar on growing up, gender politics and her brother”, Entertainment Weekly, June 2015, http://www.ew.com/article/2015/06/15/steven-universe-creator-growing-gender-politics-her-brother

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.

“Magical Girl.” Tvtropes.org. Last modified November 29, 2015.
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MagicalGirl.

Dr. Kathryn Stockton. “The Strangeness of Sexuality: What is Queer Theory? Are Children Queer?” 2010 Reynolds Lecture at the University of Utah, published November 25, 2014. Online Video. Retrieved at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NklYXR4mY5I&list=PLbP1qZTHfPXoHJ6gnyGb1NzvMIbRa5r9z&index=12

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.

Screen Squinty’s “Vivziepop’s Silhouette (Owl City)” Review

 

Film Short: Silhouette (Fan Animated).
Animated by: .
Released: 2016.
Running Time: 2 min.

This is the second review I have done for one of ’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 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, , and I look forward to every future endeavor.

To read my “Die Young” Review go here.

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Screen Squinty’s Top 5 DCAnimation AMV’s

Here is my top 5 list of favorite fanmade amv’s using DC Animation Content from either the feature films, shorts, or TV shows found on youtube (in no particular order).

1.”DC Comics Heroes AMV” – By Poture Bhabesh.

This creator did an excellent job utilizing content from the DC Showcase Cinema Animation shorts, with a decent balance of appearances Between Green Arrow, Catwomen, Specter, Shazam, and Jonah Hex.

There was some excellent uses of timing, particularly in the beginning, and the choice of “War of Change” by Thousand Foot Crunch works well with many of the personalities displayed, particularly Specter, Jonah Hex and Catwomen.

2. “DC AMV”- By Parasitic Music Videos.

This had a good focus on the more violent aspects that was inherent in both the feature animated films and the television shows, which was highlighted well by the choice of “Painkiller” by Three Days Grace.

The variety of focus was also a visual treat guessing game, particularly for those who have enjoyed both the movie and television franchises over the decades.

3.”tribute Joker Smooth Criminal Micheal Jackson, L’indiscret Joker amv”-by Tonnerdark.

While the color changing can come across as unnecessary, there is just something about the idea of the Joker singing “Are you ok Annie?” over and over again, something i can seriously see him do. The creator also used the more comical beaver toothed Joker from The Batman series, which was a good choice to accent the comedy of the amv.

4.”Harley Quinn-Hit and Run AMV”- by Nemesis of Cupid.

This was a tightly put together AMV tribute to the Suicide Squad animated version of Harley Quinn with the use of LOLO’s “Hit and Run” to round out the fun of the character, something that we will all get to enjoy (Hopefully) with the release of Suicide Squad, the feature film version of Assault on Arkham.

5. “Justice League Flashpoint AMV”- by PinkKttsyan340.

What makes this AMV good is not so much any particular theme or character given emphasis, but more along the lines of taking the finest qualities of the source material, Justice League Flash Point, and highlights some of the best visuals, brutality, and tragedy that was part of the film.

“Forsaken” By Within Temptation has a music style that very adequately highlights the style of the animated feature and it was utilized well here with some good editing.

Well that’s all for now folk, if you enjoyed this top list check out my others here.

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Screen Squinty’s “Finding Dory” Film Review.

Film: Finding Dory.
Directed by: Andrew Stanton.
Released: 2016.
Running Time: 103 minutes.

There is nothing like the sight of colorful sparkly fish with great voice overs to experience the majesty of the ocean and your local Signorney Weaver narrated Fish hospital/park.

Finding Dory is the much anticipated sequel to Finding Nemo (2003) that had been in the works for the past 13 years. Unsurprising as the first installment  was such a hit that it’s a surprise that Hollywood isn’t already on its fourth installment instead of its second.  In this installment, it concentrates on the popular character, Dory, in a collection of present moment and flash backs telling an origin story/present adventure story of Dory’s search for her family.

The film is that a lot of the old crew that made Finding Nemo such a success returned to the making of the film. Andrew Stanton, who directed the first film returned as director (paired up with relative feature film newcomer co-director Angus Macleane), and many of the voice actors returned, such as Albert Brooks the famous writer and comedian reprising his role as Marlen, and of course the queen of talk shows  herself Ellen DeGeneres as Dory.

Having Stanton manning the helm of its development has kept this film on an even keel where many films that have tread the choppy waters of long term development waters to break apart (The Good Dinosaur for Example), this film has made it into the dock with a solidly made film in which you can easily believe that it has earned the $287 million worldwide gross since it premiered June 8th.

The animation had the same high quality as the first film, with some really beautiful breathtaking imagery that shows the animation teams love of the watery kingdom. Though there was less variety of colorful settings like the first film, it did utilize what was presented in the best possible way, making an ordinary public Aquarium comically (and sometimes dangerously)  fantastical .

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Pixar “Dory” from Finding Dory, 2016. Promotional Image.

The character designs with child Dory being the precious little fish bit adorkable without quite falling into Pwecious territory fortunately, and the designs of the other inhabitants of the exhibits was enjoyably done. The strongest design tenticles down though would have to be Hank, the cranky red octopus,  with the excellent voice talent of Ed O’Niell, whose design has the smart decision of using his eyes as the dominant feature of body language communication.

Some of the strongest animations recognize the importance of the expression of the eyes.

in computer animation, though there has certainly been improvements over the years, a big flaw was the phenomenon known as “dead eyes” (The Polar Express is an excellent example of this), which accents the artificiality of the world being portrayed and generally comes across as a little unsettling. This is in part because the eyes are a common body language facet of communication among humans almost to a subconscious level.

A creative team that recognizes this important facet of human relation and communication, make it the most prominent feature of a character (particularly in a computer animation) tend to be the most successful in character design, as it helps foster greater empathy with a character, as well as puts a stamp of a high quality animation for the production company, which Pixar has in spades and is not afraid to show.

It doesn’t hurt that Hank, out side of his design, was a likable character as well, and his dynamic with Dory was easily the strongest feature of the film with dialogue that felt natural, entertaining, and engaging all at once, and definitely is one of the strongest factors in carrying the film, and a character who i can see getting his own movie if there is a third installment.

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Pixar, Hank and Dory from “finding Dory, 2016, promotional Image.

The story itself outside of the characters and animation, does holdup well. The present day and flash back transitions were clever in revealing not only Dory’s origins, but also in her psyche, as well as a plot of character development and resolution.

Granted it didn’t have the grand feel of the first film, but that’s as it should be. The first film was a heroic journey film, this one was a personal revelation story at a very internal and personal level on part of Dory, which the story does.It doesn’t need the grand oceanic delights and dangers to be what it is, with the first film about finding someone, and the second about finding one’s self.

If there were any weak points in the film, perhaps Nemo’s character didn’t feel particularly essential to the film. In fact his presence highlighted why you shouldn’t bring children into potentially dangerous or unknown situations. It weakens Marlen’s parental characterization, particularly after the first film going through the trouble of developing him in that quarter. Still, the focus was on Dory, so the draw backs are minor annoyances at best.

This film swims to the top and over he expectations going into this film, with its great animation, characters, and story it is a high recommendation for your summer viewing.

 

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Screen Squinty’s “Batman: Mask of the Phantasm” Review.

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Batman: Mask of the Phantasm Movie scenes and Promotional imagery. Property of Warner Bros.

Film: Batman: Mask of the Phantasm.
Directed by: Eric Radomski and Bruce Timm.
Released: 1993.
Running Time: 76 min.

I am sure everyone and their monkey’s uncle has perhaps had their ear  bent over the years about the first DC Animated film based off of the Batman: The Animated Series (1992-1995) over the years. A story about a young Bruce Wayne on the crossroads and early days of becoming Batman told in flashbacks while his present self is on the run from a frame up and facing down a mysterious antagonist that takes that one step to far approach.

So what makes this worth chatter in certain fan communities?

First, for the 90’s, a film based off of an animated television series without being just a well edited amalgamation of episodes or one long episode was rare to find, especially within shows geared towards the younger set, let alone one that was destined to have a theatrical release, instead of just going straight to video.

While the film failed in the box office, mostly due in part to the short amount of time the team was given by Warner Bros. to both make and sell people to the release (and one of those prime examples of why we all still tolerate trailers and promos now a days despite the complaints), though it did receive high praise from many critics, and has since gained cult following status.

This is everything you could want in an animated neo-noir film, directed by Eric Radomski and Bruce Timm who carried the success and classy darker over tones of the series into the film, as well as reaching out to a variety of Batman comics, but also made it something more than its source material.

It treats itself like a serious feature film and not just an off shoot of a television show.

The amazing and clever cinematic score by Shirley Walker, one of the few female women score writers during the period in Hollywood and the original composer for the animated series and set the tone for the musical score for the DC Animated series universe franchise, greets viewers in the opening credits with a score that had an epic feel akin to listening to the scores of Superman (1978) and Star Wars The Empire Strikes Back (1980).

It wasn’t just epic in feel and tone, but also contained some of the playful edge of its roots by its construction of the lyrics in an amusing inside joke that very few people caught at the time involving the choir who were not singing Latin or some other grand language, but instead, with all seriousness, they were singing the names of orchestrates Lolita Ritmanis, Michael McCuistion and Peter Tomashek (and some others) backwards.

The voice acting meanwhile of of Kevin Conroy (Bruce Wayne/Batman), Mark Hamill (Joker), and Efrem Zimbalist, Jr (Alfred Pennyworth). already excellent actors from the series, went all out (reprising their roles from The Animated Series), in particular Mark Hamill working his pre-Joker and present Joker figure.

The next positive was the story.

Loosely based off of events from Batman Year One and Batman Year Two graphic novels as well as the television series, showed a good balance of its various source materials, while being mainly its own thing. As a cinematic article in and of itself, accentuating its neo-noir lines, it stands on its own without needing to lean on its inspiration and sources to hard, but respecting the classic Batman Detective character, as well as the genre conventions of neo-noir, fitting as there were some moments in the flashbacks that were inspired/reminiscent of famous noir classic Citizen Kane (1941).

panini_batmananoum

So we can agree this film has many advantages going for it, but does it have any drawbacks?

Two criticisms have come to light over the years, so lets address them:

The first Criticism is that the plot is to slow, almost plodding, with not enough action to keep audiences engaged throughout the film.

It’s a valid criticism, the pacing of the plot is slower then many are likely accustomed to, particularly child audiences, and in comparison to later films, its pace is a little staid. The fact of the matter though is that noirs are often not normally fast paced predominantly.

Its all about setting the atmosphere, building the intrigue, or at least good noir films do this, and this is a noir film make no mistake about that, and this film does a good job in establishing its intrigue and mood with just the right amount of action scenes- and when they happened, they were really good, relevant to the story, and memorable- to satisfy. Though perhaps those who respond to higher action to story ratios might not be as in to this film.

The Second criticism would be the lead romantic role, Andrea Beaumont (Dana Delany), was not a very well developed character.

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Andrea Beaumont, Played by Dana Delany. Screen shot, property of WB.

In this I would have to agree more with critics. For most of her appearance, Andrea didn’t receive much development as a character herself for a large part of the movie, but despite this she did fulfill her role for the story, and the resolution of her character in the climax of the film does somewhat save her character. You do believe the chemistry between her and Bruce as well, which was vital component as part of Bruce’s struggle in his early years as a vigilantly in making his ultimate choice for the path he takes as Batman.

Its worth noting that her character does appear in a cameo or two within the DC Franchise, particularly in the series finale of Batman Beyond (1999-2001).

Unfortunately, Andrea did reflect a trend with how women were treated rather stereotypically that was part and parcel in the Batman Animated series for the most part until more interesting characters like Harley Quinn came along. Andrea did break the mold to an extent as well, in a way that went beyond the love interest or the sexualized villianess. she is an interesting mix of breaking the mold and sustaining it at the same time.

This perhaps reflects the dated nature of the film perhaps, but when one takes into account the amazingly story, great acting, a brilliant antagonist, the noir atmosphere, and  the homage to source material with an original twist here and there, plus the spectacular climatic ending, it somewhat saves it from completely falling into the dated container, perhaps why it has retained its cult status and one of the top favorite DC Animated Film list for may fans of the franchise.

This is certainly one of my top favorites from the DC Animated Franchise, a highly recommended watch for not only Batman fans or DC Animations fans, but also for those who just want to watch a great feature film.

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Screen Squinty’s “Mune: Guardian of the Moon” Review.

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(Mune: Guardien of the Moon promotional image, Paramount Pictures, 2014.)

Film: Mune: Guardian of the Moon.

Directed by: Alexandre Heboyan and Benoît Philippon.

Released: 2014.

Running Time: 86 min.

This is a French computer animated fantasy film about a mythical world ruled by the delicate balance that exists between the Sun and Moon which are each watched over and manned by a Sun and Moon Guardian.

During the choice of a new guardian for both celestial bodies, a creature named Mune (Michaël Grégorio and Joshua J. Ballard) is unexpectedly chosen as guardian of the Moon. Untrained and highly naive, his mistakes lead to the theft of the Sun, which leaves both Mune and the guardian of the Sun, Sohone (Omar Sy and Trevor Devall), to get it back and are accompanied by the living candle wax girl Glim (Izïa Higelin and Nicole Provost).

One of the strongest features of the feature is the strong blend of inventive use of mythology archetypes combined with heroes journey poetics we are all familiar with in a very Terry Gilliam influenced construction in the overarching living myths of this place, which is appropriate considering that the writer for the film Benoît Philippon, was inspired by Gilliam’s films which also utilizes a similar use of living mythological worlds with a unique fantastical production style, such as Monty Python’s Holy Grail (1975) and Time Bandits (1981).

Altogether it gives it a very unique yet classic structure, and works as a dominant theme within the film brilliantly well, almost like reading something from an ancient mythology storybook.

The creative use of animation is another point in its favor as the animators utilized the filmatic computer animated paint brush to bring this to life in a visually creative and stunning way, in particular the character designs, done by the renowned Nicolas Marlet (Kung Fu Panda, How to Train Your Dragon), and the creation of the Sun and Moon temples were a particular favorite.

Mune in particular was adorable, yet his character design didn’t completely overwhelm his identity, his motions were very much akin to his more wild nature, and a nice nod to some classical Greek mythology yet still remaining his own creature.

The only real drawback lies in the character Glim, whose construction is visually pleasing and basic concept as a character who either freezes in complete darkness or melts in the sun provides some interesting possibilities. Unfortunately this is hindered by being rather uninteresting in personality at best, and insulting at worst with her constant dependence on the two protagonists throughout most of the film, and forced as a romantic lead that was completely unneeded at all. not exactly the best female protagonist to introduce to children, and beyond outdated for the adult viewers.

She wasn’t completely horrible throughout the entirety of the film, certainly her actions with the sun in the climax of the film was her strongest moments, at least working with her basic concept to its fullest somewhat; though it’s effectiveness as a memorably dramatic scene that could have saved her character somewhat is undercut by a floating bit of deux ex machina.

The story would have been stronger if it had just been purely Mune and Sohone, leaving more chance to develop their relationship as guardians and as friends, particularly with the added element of Sohone being groomed for the position from the beginning, and Mune a complete novice, chosen over Sohone’s groomed counterpart. This would provide an excellent spring board to develop some prime character interaction, but it was not fully realized.

They are supposed to be a vital symbol of harmony and balance between the Night and the Day, according to the film’s cannon, and was also not given enough emphasis or development to work within present plot. The fact that the two didn’t really do this adventure wholly together, and Sohone himself was just as useless for a prime chunk of the film, only really redeeming himself as a character in the end climax, all took away from what would have been a spectacular story instead of an attractive mythology format.

Overall, despite its flaws this is a creative bit of classical storytelling using a unique style and original world building within the medium of animation done in a professional and visually pleasing style that is easily accessible to a wide variety of ages and audiences (it does have its modest fanart out there), though the weak use of characters, and the lack of really good development between Mune and Sohone, and Glim’s step backwards for female characters undercuts the enjoy-ability.

This is definitely a recommendation for the younger set perhaps who might not be as turned off by the weak character elements as anyone older than 10 might be, and worth a gander at least for the spectacular animation and mythology format.

Trailer:

Screen Squinty Animation Zone: http://screensquintyanimationzone.blogspot.ca/2016/04/screen-squintys-mune-guardian-of-moon.html

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Screen Squinty’s “Zootopia” Review.

Film: Zootopia.
Directed by: Byron Howard and Rich Moore.
Running time: 108 min.
Released: 2016.

Zootopia is a Disney computer animation feature that centers on the story of Judy Hopps in a classic underbunny story of a small town nobody with big dreams of making it in the big city as a cop, yet finds that she still has to deal with being a prey animal in a predator dominated field.

While the story at its core is something that has been done many times before, a discrimination story, though a Furry version, Zootopia does at least present it in an interesting, engaging, and fresh manner by combining it with the premise of an entire world of evolved anthropomorphic mammals with an actual somewhat explained back history, and combines it with a really great bit of intrigue, well balanced humor, and great characters.

The animation, particularly on Zootopia and all its various environments are cleverly designed and gorgeously rendered giving a very real, very present feel to the setting, particularly combined with the really great character designs have its own unique charm.

The plot flows really well, playing with events and expectations a little, and not afraid to really build up the reveals, while taking time out to focus on the little moments, which gives it a more relaitable engagement and feel for the spectators instead of smashing from one scene to the next with nary a breath in-between, which has been a common problem with many films nowadays and outside of animated shorts and Steven Universe, has a presentation so smartly and wisely utilized its flow of time so perfectly.

The narrative meanwhile is really good! it is very much a serious series of events in which an overarching conspiracy/mystery is going on, and during the times when it is in focus, they treat it in a serious manner with surprising little humor, which they save for interactions between the various characters and background gags.

The film also utilizes its moral lesson smartly (though rather bluntly), but doesn’t tread that fine line in to rehash preaching that often turns off the viewer from a rather important lesson. No one here has the moral high ground, everyone has both obvious and subtle faults and points of view that are both conscious and subtle, and is used as a device for character development, adding a layer to the dynamic between Judy and Nick.

Speaking of Judy, voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin (Snow White from Once Upon a Time), and Nick voiced by Jason Bateman (Michael Bluth in Arrested Development)- and did a stellar job with the voice acting- brought character dynamic that was just brilliant! Their growing relationship provided not only some of the best dialogue,and the way they worked off each other in action scenes, humorous scenes, and the final confrontation felt very natural and between them carried the overall tone of the movie all the way through (also unrelievedly this was a non-romantic pair for once, kudos for going against an overused trope, particularly for something from Disney).

Overall this was a feature that super-seceded expectations by presenting an all-around great film by taking a common sometimes overused concept and made it interesting with some creative and well thought out animation, narrative flow, and some great characters.

A definite recommend for viewers of all ages.

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