“The Twilight Zone” At 60: 10 Effective Scores

Mention The Twilight Zone to anyone and someone somewhere will “hum” Marius Constant’s infamous “pinprick” main theme. But did you know Bernard Herrmann’s dreamy, ominous score was used for the first season? Did you know that other composers contributed to the soundtrack of the groundbreaking show, often used for multiple episodes. In my continual celebration of Rod Serling’s masterpiece, I pick 10 of the eeriest, mysterious, most poignant, pieces of music that filled the ears of viewers when they entered…The Twilight Zone.

Note: most of these videos belong to YouTuber Time and Monotony, who downloaded the 1999 40th anniversary soundtrack and the Herrmann soundtrack from Varese Sarabande.

10. “The Outer Space Suite: Space Drift” Bernard Herrmann

(Listen to it at 5:25) A dreamy, wistful piece that makes one think of the loneliness of space. It was used in the episode “People Are Alike All Over”.

9. “Dust” Jerry Goldsmith

This “folksy” tune (complete with harmonicas) accompanied a fanciful episode set in the Old West. Which makes sense, really.

8. “Ninety Years Without Slumbering” Bernard Herrmann

The episode about an old man (Ed Wynn) who believes that if his grandfather clock stops ticking, he’ll die. It plays the 1876 song “My Grandfather’s Clock” as a motif throughout the story, in a slow, sad tempo. This is personally my favorite rendition of Henry Clay Work’s song.

7. “Eye of the Beholder” Bernard Herrmann

Words can’t describe this one because it’s one of the most recognized episodes of all time. Bet you can tell from the music where the plot twist happens.

6. “King Nine Will Not Return” Fred Steiner

The story of a man and his plane, the “King Nine”. This one maybe a little rough on the ears due to an occasional sharp pitch.

5. “Little Girl Lost” Bernard Herrmann

Another piece from Herrmann with a “dreamy” theme (even though the episode was about another dimension). Note: this piece comes in two parts.

4. “Where Is Everybody?” Bernard Herrmann

This music was not only used in the pilot, it was used frequently in other episodes too like “Nightmare At 20,000 Feet”.

3. “The Hitchhiker” Bernard Herrmann

“I believe you’re going…my way.” The “ringing bell” sound gives the piece a “funeral” feel. Well it is a story about death after all.

2. “Nightmare As A Child” Jerry Goldsmith

A schoolteacher meets a peculiar little girl. This piece sounds like a lullabye or a nursery rhyme, describing the innocence of childhood, but undercut with an edge of cynicism with a mixture of sadness, due to the nature of the story. It’s too bad it wasn’t included on any TZ soundtracks. Hopefully they’ll release it on a future soundtrack compilation. If there’ll ever be another soundtrack compilation.

1. “A Hundred Yards Over The Rim” Fred Steiner

I chose this for the #1 spot because it’s just so drop dead…eerie! Hear for yourself.

Do you agree with my list? What are some of your favorite musical moments from The Twilight Zone? 

Next Up: The women of The Twilight Zone.

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Bob Iger, George Lucas and Delusions of Grandeur

I really hate that my 100th post will be a negative topic, but finding out today that Bob Iger revealed in his book (The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned From 15 Years As CEO Of The Walt Disney Company) Lucas’ displeasure with the Disney Star Wars films, I felt that as a fan it was my duty to address this.

Star Warriors across social media are posting Iger’s words and dissecting them. I’m going to do that here as well. From the looks of it, it sounds like Iger is throwing George under the bus.

Just prior to the global release, Kathy screened The Force Awakens for George. He didn’t hide his disappointment. “There’s nothing new,” he said. In each of the films of the Original Trilogy, it was important to him to present new worlds, new stories, new characters and new technologies. In this one, he said, “there weren’t enough technological leaps forward.” He wasn’t wrong, but he also wasn’t appreciating the pressure we were under to give ardent fans a film that felt quintessentially Star Wars.

Iger, you come across as a whiny brat here. Have you actually talked to Star Warriors?   Did you ever visit any Celebrations and SF conventions where fans dressed up as characters from all across the saga? Did you watch how they interacted with each other?Or Were you only listening to a subset of fans on the internet who harped on and on about “raped childhoods” (that should’ve been a red flag to you right there)?

And did it ever occur to you that Lucas has also been under pressure to “give fans a film that felt quintessentially Star Wars?” Look at the way the media (looking at you, Entertainment Weekly) smeared him for years for the prequels. Heck, some of them are still smearing Lucas (also looking at you, The Federalist).

And what do you think is “quintessentially Star Wars”? Judging by the end results, you think SW is all x-wings, tie-fighters and stormtroopers and that the galaxy far, far away is in some endless struggle between Empire and Rebellion, however you name it. It’s far more than that.

Moving on.

We’d intentionally created a world that was visually and tonally connected to the earlier films.

No, Iger. You intentionally copied, cut and pasted A New Hope, substituted a few names (Jakku for Tatooine, Resistance for Rebellion) and added some “diversity”. You also destroyed the earlier films’ legacy in the process by reducing its core characters to absolute failures. The message you gave audiences is that the efforts of the heroes they grew up with were all for nothing. Your Star Wars Sequel Trilogy is the most cynical trilogy in the history of the franchise and SW has had some pretty dark moments.

… and George was criticizing us for the very thing we were trying to do.

As he should. He’s the frickin’ creator of Star Wars, dude. To quote Lord Grantham: “it’s his fifth child.” It’s his claim to fame. It put him in the history books. He has every right to be critical of the way his creation is handled. You know who else was protective of his work? Walt Disney. Y’know, the man, who created the company you now control. Thaw him out, show him an early screening of Maleficent: Mistress of All Evil, and see what he thinks of how you handled Sleeping Beauty.

But wait, there’s more!

At some point in the process, George told me that he had completed outlines for three new movies. He agreed to send us three copies of the outlines: one for me; one for Alan Braverman; and one for Alan Horn, who’d just been hired to run our studio. Alan Horn and I read George’s outlines and decided we needed to buy them, though we made clear in the purchase agreement that we would not be contractually obligated to adhere to the plot lines he’d laid out.

So the scripts were good enough to buy, but not good enough to film? Why buy them in the first place?

The truth was, Kathy, J.J., Alan, and I had discussed the direction in which the saga should go, and we all agreed that it wasn’t what George had outlined. George knew we weren’t contractually bound to anything, but he thought that our buying the story treatments was a tacit promise that we’d follow them, and he was disappointed that his story was being discarded. I’d been so careful since our first conversation not to mislead him in any way, and I didn’t think I had now, but I could have handled it better. I should have prepared him for the meeting with J.J. and Michael and told him about our conversations, that we felt it was better to go in another direction. I could have talked through this with him and possibly avoided angering him by not surprising him. Now, in the first meeting with him about the future of Star Wars, George felt betrayed, and while this whole process would never have been easy for him, we’d gotten off to an unnecessarily rocky start.

Notice how he always says “we weren’t contractually obligated.” As if that makes his deception any less deceptive. Quit beating around the bush, Iger. You misled George. You stabbed him in the back and you destroyed the very soul of Star Wars. On top of that, you then turned on the fans and hurled all kinds of unfair accusations at them when they didn’t respond positively to your half-baked movies. Now I see why Michael Arndt left the project so early. He saw the way you treated the man who helped launch Pixar and wanted to wash his hands of your snake oil (with all apologies to snakes).

The truth was, Kathy, J.J., Alan, and I had discussed the direction in which the saga should go, and we all agreed that it wasn’t what George had outlined. George knew we weren’t contractually bound to anything, but he thought that our buying the story treatments was a tacit promise that we’d follow them, and he was disappointed that his story was being discarded. I’d been so careful since our first conversation not to mislead him in any way, and I didn’t think I had now, but I could have handled it better. I should have prepared him for the meeting with J.J. and Michael and told him about our conversations, that we felt it was better to go in another direction. I could have talked through this with him and possibly avoided angering him by not surprising him.

Some of your words sound like something a sexual predator would say: “I’d been so careful since our first conversation not to mislead him in any way.” Yes, Iger, maybe you should’ve spiked his drink or lured him with candy or invited him to your ranch for a sleepover. “I could have talked through this with him and possibly avoided angering him by not surprising him.” I can’t even begin to point out how “rapey” that sounds, but I don’t want to tempt fate so I’m just going to end this rant with a comment from the now defunct website brojackson.com (the article was titled “How J.J. Abrams Ruined the New Star Wars”):

My girlfriend never watched Star Wars until I insisted. She watched the original trilogy then the prequels and loved all of them. She became more of a fan than I did. We walked out of the cinema and we were too afriad to speak about what we truly felt. She looked at me and said, “that wasn’t Star Wars” and I agree.

Apparently George wasn’t the only one who noticed there was nothing new.

 

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“The Twilight Zone” At 60: “Rod Serling’s Lost Classics”

Image result for the twilight zone: rod serling's lost classics

This October the immortal series turns 60 (!!!) years old. I will be posting a series of articles celebrating the legacy of this timeless, groundbreaking masterpiece. Join me by reading the first article below, as we enter…The Twilight Zone.

Feeling discouraged by Jordan Peele’s underwhelming TZ reboot? Want a taste of what could have been had Rod Serling lived past the age of 50? Then head on over to Amazon Prime (if you have it) and check out The Twilight Zone: Rod Serling’s Lost Classics.

Submitted for your approval: the DVD trailer (which was never released in the US):

As you can see from the trailer, the special is based on two unproduced scripts by Serling. The first segment  is “The Theater” a modern day story about a woman whose future plays out before her every time she goes to a certain movie theater, and the second segment is “Where the Dead Are” a story set in the 19th century where a former Civil War doctor seeks the path to immortality – with horrific results. Yes, it is a zombie story, but it’s unlike any zombie story you’ve seen before. The special first aired on – you guessed it – CBS – in 1994. After watching this special, let me tell, you now, NO ONE, no one could ever replicate the success of the 1959-64 series like Rod Serling. If anyone was to revive the series (like what Gene Roddenberry did with Star Trek), only Rod could do it and it makes me sad that wasn’t around in 1983 (when the film came out) or 1985 (when the first revival aired).

Also James Earl Jones would’ve made an stupendous host! His deep booming voice is a perfect match to the Zone’s eerie combination of the supernatural and the moral. Imagine after the teaser – the camera would switch over to Jones as he talks to the viewers about what the protagonist is about to witness. Then imagine Jones, in a voiceover, ending the episode in a low, pitch with these immortal words: “only in…The Twilight Zone.” Here’s a fun fact: James Earl Jones previously performed in a 1972 teleplay Serling wrote called The Man, in which the US votes in its first black president – a whopping 36 years before the real deal!!!

Here are some more fun facts about Rod Serling’s Lost Classics:

  • The special was co-produced by Rod’s widow, Carol, who found the scripts in family’s garage.
  • Richard Matheson, Serling’s longtime collaborator, adapted “The Theater” from Serling’s outline.
  • “Where the Dead Are” was written by Serling in 1968 (the year of Planet of the Apes).
  • When Carol Serling showed the scripts to producers Michael O’Hara and Laurence Horowitz, who were immediately impressed with the writing. As O’Hara remembers: “I had a pile of scripts, which I usually procrastinate about reading. But I read this one right away and, after 30 pages, called my partner and said, ‘I love it. This is pure imagination, a period piece, literate – some might say wordy. If Rod Serling’s name weren’t on it, it wouldn’t have a chance at getting made.'”
  • Critical response was mixed and ratings were low, nixing any chance for a sequel as Matheson had adapted three more scripts. Here’s what USA Today said: “Carol Serling should have left these two unproduced mediocrities in the garage where she found them.” (Jackass) Ultimately, ratings proved insufficient to justify a proposed sequel featuring (A pity. I would’ve loved to have seen them produced. Even a “bad” script by Rod Serling is better than a “good” script by someone else.)
  • At 59 minutes “Where The Dead Are” is the longest story in the history of The Twilight Zone.
  • Dr. Jeremy Wheaton (the protagonist of “Where the Dead Are”) quotes the following line from “Julius Caesar” Act II, Scene II: “Of all the wonders that I yet have heard, it seems to me most strange that men should fear, seeing that death, a necessary end, will come when it will come.” The same line was quoted by President Abraham Lincoln (Austin Green) in season 3, episode 4: The Passersby (1961), another story set in the aftermath of the American Civil War written by Rod Serling.

Have you seen Rod Serling’s Lost Classics? What stood out to you the most? Do you agree with USA Today? What are your takeaways from this little seen gem? Discuss!

Next Time, we will look at the 10 most memorable music themes from…The Twilight Zone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“The Iron Giant” At 20: Nostalgia or Deconstruction?

 

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True story: on March 15, 2015, superstar Vin Diesel visited Facebook to chat with Mark Zuckerberg. While there Diesel met the kitchen staff, among whom was my younger brother.

“I really enjoyed your work in The Iron Giant”, he said.

I can only imagine how touched the action star was to hear that.

“Thank you so much for saying that. I meet so many fans every day and not one of them ever mentions The Iron Giant.  It was the best film experience I ever had.” Then he shook my brother’s hand.

If Mr. Diesel was impressed by my brother’s compliment, I loved to see how he’d react to me wearing one of my Iron Giant t-shirts. Or my Iron Giant pullover hoodie from Think Geek (RIP). Or seen my Iron Giant Vinimate Figure. I wonder if he would’ve autographed my Iron Giant DVD or a little card I own of The Giant with Hogarth (see above).

August 6 marked the 20th anniversary of the 1999 gem, that criminally under performed at the box office but has since gone on to be considered one of the greatest animated classics of all time, up there with Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Yellow Submarine and Princess Mononoke. In 2018 the film came back into public consciousness when the titular character made an appearance as a playable character in Ready Player One. Internet articles like this one by Ross Johnson argues that its theme and messages are just as relevant now as they were in 1999 (or 1957, the year when the film takes place), while this listacle from Mental Floss gives 10 facts about Brad Bird’s masterpiece.

“What has made “The Iron Giant” timeless while other critically acclaimed greats have relatively disappeared?” asks Brian Tallerico.

Lyanna Hindley at Film Era argues that The Iron Giant is

not too ambitious in it’s messaging and remains consistently aware of its audience throughout, whilst maintaining the wonder of nostalgia for the period. The 50’s style animation is reminiscent of contemporary artists such as Norman Rockwell and Edward Hopper, who served as inspiration for the film’s own animators.

Like in many other 50’s set pieces of media, the film features a focus on communism, isolationism, and patriotism. The Iron Giant is unapologetic and anything but subtle in its criticism of 50’s America. Both dialogue and visuals are used extensively to convey the American army and general public’s own homogenization. Suits, military and waitress uniforms mirror the apparent analog societies of Russia and China that the officers and government are so intimidated by.

Contrasting the army and Mansley is beatnik artist Dean, who is lightly stylized towards a more 90’s aesthetic. His position as an outsider in the town again demonstrates 50’s fears of the unknown, even when that unknown is just someone clad entirely in black. It’s his position as an outcast that allows Dean to immediately see the lack of threat that the Giant possesses. It’s also with his help that Hogarth is able to initially hide his new friend from the paranoid army.

Hindley then uses this exchange in the diner scene between Kent Mansley and Hogarth as proof:

I have to disagree with some of Hindley’s assessment here. The Iron Giant never falls into ’50s stereotypes when it comes to the characters. There are no Russian or Chinese communist characters as a contrast to the residents of Rockwell, Maine. In fact the film never argues over the “evil” or “innocence” of these communist countries. The only reference to communism is the satellite Sputnik. The film makes no mention of the racism and sexism of the time period – I can’t recall seeing one person of color walking the streets of Rockwell. While Kent does represent the Cold War paranoia and militarism of the 1950s, Dean the beatnik was also afraid of the Giant (at first), stressed that they had to report it to the authorities, then reacted angrily when the Giant nearly killed Hogarth by accident (and let’s not fool ourselves – the ’90s wasn’t exactly an enlightened decade either). The other characters also avoid falling into ’50s stereotypes: General Rogard is a reasonable authority figure who believes Dean when he informs him that the Giant is friendly and is kind enough to give Hogarth a fragment of the Giant after it sacrifices itself. Annie Hughes is a single working mom at a time when most moms were expected to stay at home (even though Annie has an excuse – she’s a widow trying to make ends meet).

Hindley then goes on to say:

While The Iron Giant does not succumb to direct references often and is more inclined to recreate the atmosphere of the era rather than particular touchstones, a rare exception is one that is handled beautifully. Hogarth shows the Giant a Superman comic, in which his new friend identifies with the mechanical villain more than the hero. To this Hogarth responds that he can be whatever he chooses to be.

The family-friendly message delivered by The Iron Giant is that difference need not be scary if you listen and are receptive to it. Instead of attempting to make audiences yearn for the “greater” days of 1950’s Americana, Brad Bird warns of the eras intolerance and intense xenophobia.

Though the era was filled with intolerance and xenophobia, not all of it was unfounded (even though it was very misguided). Remember, this is the decade that came after 20 years of an economic depression AND a world war. There was no “normalcy” since the 1920s. Americans were desperate for any feeling of security, no matter the cost.

But despite its flaws, the ’50s was also a time when children could play outside and go (almost) where ever they wanted until nighttime and not have to worry about being kidnapped. They were taught morals and values: to say please and thank you, to respect your elders, to be neat and clean, to dress properly, to be thoughtful of others, to work hard, et al. It was these values that would eventually play a big factor in the ensuing decade. “You are who you choose to be” is more a moral of the ’50s than the New Millennium because today kids are being told that they’re “born that way”, they’re “trapped in the wrong body”, they’re “entitled to whatever they want”, “they can’t help themselves”. etc and now were dealing with generations of unruly and unhappy children.

(If you click on the link to the article, Hindley compares/contrasts TIG to the currently popular Netflix show Stranger Things. I’ve never seen Stranger Things, so I can’t give any argument for or against the show’s nostalgia. But I wouldn’t mind hearing your thoughts on the matter.)

I  don’t believe The Iron Giant is a “deconstruction” of nostalgia or a work of nostalgia. It’s a labor of love and an homage to the decade that produced some of the best science fiction. The decade that gave us The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Thing From Another World, Invaders From Mars, Forbidden Planet, Them!, The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, Godzilla and so on and so on.

Now I would like to see Brad Bird, bring his Ray Gunn project to fruition.

Happy anniversary Iron Giant. May your popularity grow in the next 20 years.

What are your memories of The Iron Giant? Did you see originally see it in theaters? Is it a work of nostalgia or a deconstruction? Discuss!

 

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Great And Not-So-Great Ursine Moments In Genre History

Arkoudaphobia is the fear of bears. People who have this fear tend to avoid camping and forests. And who can blame them? As TV Tropes says, “Want to make a bad situation worse? Add a bear! Throwing a bear into a scene is the best way to let the audience know that our heroes have gone beyond rock bottom and are now totally screwed.” Bears are very intelligent, are the only animals beside humans and apes that are plantigrade and can stand on their back legs like a human, making them extremely tall (when a polar bear stands on its legs, it’s tall enough to look an elephant in the eye).

And boy, SF & F writers – for better and worse – have often used the world’s largest land predator (sorry Napoleon Dynamite) for inspiration. Let’s raise our honeypots high and our pic-a-nick baskets low as we examine the fearsome Ursidae (from a safe distance of course) through the lens of the fantastic.

Note: We will not include famous bears like Winnie-the-Pooh or Paddington because I want to stick with sci-fi and horror. If I included fantasy bears (though there will be some exceptions), we’d be here all day. If you want a complete list of fictional bears, head on over to Wikipedia.

The Right To Arm Bears (1961-1971)

The Right to Arm Bears (book cover).jpg     A series of stories by Gordon R. Dickson (two novels and one novelette) about the planet Dilbia, inhabited by a race of anthropomorphic bears (ursine aliens as TV Tropes would describe them) and the humans that befriend them. I reviewed the first novel, Spacial Delivery, a couple of years back.

The Tuunbaq, The Terror (2007)

I think I’m the only person in the country who hated the changes AMC made to Dan Simmons much researched historical-horror novel about Sir John Franklin’s failed Northwest Passage Expedition. Why did they turn Lady Silence from a cool, calm and confident shaman, possessed with the power of “Second Sight”, into a coward? Why did they omit Captain Francis Crozier’s psychic abilities? Why didn’t he end up with Lady Silence? Why was Irving (my favorite character in the book by the way) reduced to an extra? Why did they excise the Tuunbaq’s connection to Inuit mythology?

And, most importantly… WHY DID THEY KILL OFF THE TUUNBAQ!!!!

I’ll just stick with the book, the book was better.

The Tuunbaq was a tupilaq created by the vengeful sea goddess Sedna to destroy the sky god Silla. It didn’t work. So she banished it to the physical realm where it hunts, stalks and destroys anyone who invades its territory – and the poor fools who cross paths with it happen to be Franklin and his men. Because the creature takes the form of a gigantic polar bear with a long neck, some of the crew believe its an ancestor of Ursus maritimus. But it’s just too intelligent to be a bear…

                                              (At least it had an effective teaser.)

“HHEEEELLLLPPP MMMEEEEE!!!!” Annihilation (2018)

From the North Pole to the Southern Reach. Move over xenomorphs! There’s a new nightmare in cinema.  A nightmare due to a mysterious meteor that emits a force field known as “The Shimmer”, that merges different species together. Biologist Lena (Natalie Portman) leads an all female crew into the area affected by “The Shimmer” to learn what happened to her husband when he disappeared in the same area. In one scene, one of the teammates (Tuva Novotny) is attacked and dragged off by a bear (yes bears have been known to do that to humans. One incident had a bear kill two men, only for police to later find the victims’ remains in the cave guarded by the bear itself!!!!). Her last words were “help me!” Sadly, it was nighttime and the other women had to wait until morning to find her. After that…well, you’ll just have to watch the movie for yourself. It used to be on Netflix and it’s currently on Amazon Prime. To get a taste of the film, watch this tense scene. Eerie.

Ewoks Star Wars (1983-1987 and beyond)

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C’mon Harrison, after all that porg stupidity, you’re still holding a grudge against Ewoks? Even if they were created to sell toys, that doesn’t mean they didn’t serve a purpose in Return of the Jedi. The porgs on the other hand…

Anyway, recently I bought a 1998 Power of the Force Complete Galaxy Endor with Ewok. It’s a globe of Endor which opens to reveal an Ewok in a hang glider with a stone weapon and a broken down AT-ST. When I showed it to my mother, she said it reminded her of Steampunk. I replied that it’s more Stone Punk: technology using bamboo, wood, twine/vine, rope, clay and rocks. Of course most stone punk settings are prehistoric, but since Star Wars takes place A Long Time Ago In a Galaxy Far Far Away, for all we know the Galactic Civil War might have happened while dinosaurs ruled the Earth. What’s my point? Well, even though The Flintstones, Gilligan’s Island, One Million Years BC and The Herculoids were the first to introduce stone punk, Return of the Jedi brought it to the masses with the Ewoks, who proved that you don’t always need state-of-the-art technology to win a battle. They may look cute but remember they tried to eat Han. Maybe that’s why Harrison Ford still hates them.

(This video explains the toy I’m talking about. The Endor one starts at 11:24. It’s in German but you’ll get the drift.)

Ursa Major/Mikhail Uriokovitch Ursus (1981)

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Created by Bill Mantlo and Sal Buscema, Ursa Major was first introduced in Incredible Hulk #258 as a mutant from the then Soviet Union, who becomes a member of the Soviet Super Soldiers. He has the ability to turn into an anthropomorphic bear with the ability to speak and go toe to toe with the Hulk. His powers include superhuman strength, stamina, resistance to physical energy and heightened senses. One wonders if he’ll make a cameo in the upcoming Black Widow movie…

(But don’t wonder too hard.)

There’s also a Spider-Man villain known as Grizzly.

The Care Bears (1981-the present)

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Who’d have thought a franchise that got its start as a series of greeting cards could become so successful? Well OK there’s Precious Moments, but those doe-eyed kids can’t hold a candle to the phenomenal, colorful teddy bears of Care-A-Lot.

So many people played a hand in creating the Care Bears that I’ll paraphrase Wikipedia here:

The Care Bears were initially created in 1981 by Those Characters From Cleveland, the licensing division of American Greetings. Jack Chojnacki, the co-president of TCFC, introduced the first Care Bear, to businessmen from American Greeting Cards and from the toy company Kenner in February 1981.

Artist Muriel Fahrion, who helped create Strawberry Shortcake’s look, was also among the franchise’s first concept artists. Working with TCFC Creative VP Ralph Shaffer, Fahrion designed the first six bears, creating greeting card themes for their belly graphics. Susan Trentel, Muriel’s sister, designed the Care Bears plush. Children’s book illustrator Elena Kucharik became the primary artist for the Care Bears creating hundreds of full color illustrations for cards, books and various licensed products.

The line was launched to the public in 1982 and the rest is history. Similar to the cutie marks of My Little Pony, each Care Bear had a symbol on his or her tummy, symbolizing their special personality and traits, which also had magical powers. Their mission in life was to help children learn the virtues of kindness, love, humility, generosity, compassion and selflessness. If you’re a child of the ’80s, chances are you’ve owned a CB toy or t-shirt, watched the Care Bears cartoons, or owned any of their movies. I used to own The Care Bears Movie II: A New Generation (1986) and The Care Bears Adventures In Wonderland (1987) on VHS. Another VHS I owned was a collection of episodes from The Care Bears Family (1986), which included “A Care Bear’s Look At Food, Facts and Fables”, “Gram’s Cooking Corner”, “It’s Raining, it’s Boring” and “A Day Without Tugs”. These episodes featured how – to projects ranging from baking gingerbread cookies to mixing play-dough, which we did. It was so much fun.

Oh, and I’m still hoping for a Care Bears/My Little Pony crossover special. Make it so, Hollywood.

Shardik (1974)

Related image   After his first novel about bunnies hit it big, Richard Adams published a second novel about a giant bear known to the inhabitants of the Beklan Empire as “Lord Shardik”. He’s described as “more than twice as tall as a man, with huge curved claws longer than a man’s head.” Shardik is worshipped as a god by the human characters, but there’s no evidence that Shardik is an actual god or displays any divine powers, nor does he speak or appear to have conscious thought.

Years later, Stephen King would introduce a “cyborg-bear” with the same name in his Dark Tower series.

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And now I’ll leave you with some scary pictures of bears as I…exit…pursued by a Bear.

(Man I scared myself just posting them…)

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Sweet dreams kids!

Grrrrrrr

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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7 Stories Disney Should Adapt Instead of “Mulan” & “The Little Mermaid”

Oh what a tangled web we weave.

First there was that live action Beauty and the Beast (which got more award nominations than it deserved).

Then Dumbo flopped.

Then there was the lukewarm response to Aladdin.

Then there was that Twitter “flame war” (if that’s the right word) over Halle Bailey’s casting as Ariel in the upcoming Little Mermaid remake.

Then there was another “flame war” over the teaser trailer for Mulan because Mushu, Li Shang, nor any of the songs, won’t appear in the live action 2020 film.

And now early reviews for The Lion King are coming in and… oh boy, why am I not surprised?

I think we, the audience, are partly to blame for this since we’re the ones that made Maleficent, Cinderella, The Jungle Book and Beauty and the Beast successful. That (partly) made Disney think: “see we can just remake our classic film catalog, make it more PC and we’ll still make money!”

It also doesn’t help when you get this:

Click on the tweet and you’ll learn that the original film “offended” Chinese audiences with its humor and “lack of respect for Chinese culture”. So apparently Disney is trying to “get it right” (Never mind that China released a film about Mulan in 2009). Correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t Mulan a legend who never existed? I remember reading in The Art of Mulan that when Disney animators went to China, the locals couldn’t agree on which province Mulan came from or which time period the story originated.

Mulan means a lot to me. I remember seeing a preview of the film when Hercules was released on video in early 1998.

The moment I saw this trailer I knew this movie was for me. I knew Disney was breaking barriers and leaving its comfort zone. I knew Mulan would be unlike any other Disney heroine before or since and I knew I HAD to see this movie. And I did. Twice. In theaters (a feat I wouldn’t repeat until Wonder Woman). I checked out the official soundtrack from the library multiple times. Bought Mulan toys. Drew Mulan characters like crazy. It’s my favorite Disney film of all time. Mulan resonated with me not because of her ethnicity or her culture but because she was a woman finding her way in a sexist society, something all women could relate to regardless of color, class, country or time period.

So why am I upset about this live action Mulan?

Because it shows laziness on Disney’s part.

It saddens me that people are coming to the defense of a multi-media corporation’s uninspired decisions all in the name of “representation” and “diversity”. How is casting a black singer in a fairy tale based in 19th century Denmark supposed to be a win for representation when there are plenty of stories from around the world that could use a wider audience and meatier roles for people of color? Why make a live action Mulan when you can adapt another legend of a Chinese or Asian heroine? Let’s look at some fairy/folk tales & legends that need a film adaptation. Take notes Disney.

 Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters

I grew up with John Steptoe’s 1987 award-winning adaptation of this Zimbabwean tale about two sisters whose differing personalities are put to the test when a king announces that he’s looking for a wife. This story has been featured on Reading Rainbow and has beautiful illustrations that still hold up to this day.

The Rough Face Girl

I was introduced to this Algonquin tale by the PBS show Storytime and I never forgot it. Similar to Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters, it tells the story of a man with three eligible daughters who are invited to meet another eligible bachelor with special powers but must past some tests. The difference here is that of the three sisters, only two are beautiful but the third sister, has skin that’s been damaged over the years. But as we all know, true beauty lies within.

Aida

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This is the role I’d like to see Halle Bailey play. Did you know that Disney was planning on making an animated film based on Verdi’s opera about the titular Ethiopian princess? Did you know that they owned the rights to the picture book written by the Leontyne Price? And did you know they wanted Elton John to write the music? Alas, Sir Elton didn’t want to do another animated film, so they gave him the option of doing a Broadway musical instead. It went on to win 4 Tony Awards and one Grammy. I think it’s time Disney brought their musical to the big screen (with a happy ending of course). More info can be found here. I, for one, would love the idea of adding Ethiopian and Egyptian princesses to the Disney Princess roster, don’t you?

The Woman Who Outshone The SunImage result for the woman who outshone the sunBeautiful Lucia Zenteno is special. She has a skirt covered with butterflies and animals love her, but the villagers fear her and drive her away. Unfortunately, the river leaves with her and the village has no water supply. Will they apologize to Lucia?

The Maid Who Braved The Deep

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I will retell this Japanese story, word for word, from the TIME LIFE book, The Enchanted World: Dragons. Her story was also told in Robert San Souci’s book, The Samurai’s Daughter (note: he was also a consultant and storywriter for Mulan).

Long ago, an Emperor banished a famous warrior to the Oki Islands, in the storm-wracked Sea of Japan. The reason for the punishment is not known. The offense may well have been a minor one, for the Emperor suffered greatly from an illness that had come upon him suddenly, and his temper was uncertain. In any case, the samurai was taken guard to the place of exile. He left behind a daughter, Tokoyo, who was as pretty as a chrysanthemum and as strong as the steel of her father’s sword.

She mourned, but she was a brave young woman, and soon she set out to find her father. For weeks Tokoyo traveled alone along the coast of the great island of Honshu, until she came to Hoki Province in the north. From the rocks there she could see, faint in the sea mist, the silhouette of the isle where her father was imprisoned. But she could find no sailor or fisherman to take her across the water, because it was well known that the Oki Islands were haunted by dragons.

Night fell, and in the concealing darkness, Tokoyo stole a small fishing boat. She rowed the little craft through the waves for hours. The moon set, the sun rose, and still she rowed. Not until late the next day did she reach her next destination. Leaving the boat on the rocky shore, Tokoyo followed a path to a road cut into the coastal cliffs. She came to a shrine and there she lay down and slept.

On the following morning, faint sounds of weeping awakened her. At once she scrambled to her feet and followed the road to its end on a windy headland, where she discovered a piteous scene.

At the edge of the cliff, high above the seething sea, stood a maiden robed in white, and near her knelt two aged people – her parents. They were sobbing uncontrollably. Behind them stood a priest, his head bowed.

It was a sacrifice, the priest explained. Each year the people of that island gave a maiden to the dragon Yofune – Nushi, ruler of the deep and bringer of storms, and the offering held off the tempests the creature could send.

Impulsively, the Tokoyo offered to take the maiden’s place. She put on the ceremonial white kimono, clasped a warrior’s dagger between her teeth and, without hesitation, leaped into the boiling waves.

Down through the green depths she plummeted, swimming as strongly as she had in her childhood, when she dived with the pearl fishers of her own province. She neared the sea bottom, and there she found a cave mouth. Beside it was a curiosity – a wooden statue of the Emperor who had banished her father. And streaming from the opening was an undulating serpent with dagger-like claws and luminous scales.

It glided swiftly toward her, eyes alight with fury and anticipation. Tokoyo struck at it. She thrust her dagger into one of the creature’s eyes. Half-blinded, the dragon lashed at her clumsily. The woman struck again. Then the end came quickly. The dragon sank to the ocean floor, its coils slowly stirred by the tide.

Charged with a greater-than-mortal strength, the dragon-slayer grasped the serpent with one hand and the statue with the other and kicked her way back to the surface.

When the priest and the others saw her head appear above the waves, they ran down to the shore and stretched out helping hands.

The ending of the tale was wonderful and strange. Tokoyo was taken with her prizes to the lord of that island, who greatly honored her bravery. He sent messengers to the Emperor about her feat and thus discovered the meaning of the statue. When the image, which had been cursed and thrown to the sea god, was removed from the water, the Emperor’s illness disappeared. In his gratitude, the ruler reunited the woman and her father and brought them back to their homeland.

And from then on, the city of Edo was renamed Tokyo in honor of the Maid Who Braved The Deep.

Gordafarid from The Shanameh

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Gordafarid is the most famous heroine of Hakim Abu I-Qasim Firdawsi Tusi’s epic poem. In it she faces off in battle against Sohrab, commander of the Turanian army and held back his troops from invading Persia. I first heard about her in Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel, Perepolis and learned that she is an icon to Iranian women. So of course I will include her.

The Twelve Dancing Princesses

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Before Frozen‘s release, many news media outlets kept pointing out that this was Disney’s first film with two princesses. Well here’s a story about twelve sisters who disappear every night to go dancing and the young man (on orders from their father) follows them to investigate. It’s about clubbing and raves before clubbing and raves happened. Think of the catchy songs Disney could come up with! And here’s a chance for each princess to be a different ethnicity (they don’t have to be sisters, just BFFs). That way everyone’s happy!

Do you know of any stories from other cultures that you’d like to see on the big screen? Do you think there are better roles for Halle Bailey and Liu Yifei? Drop a suggestion or tell a story in the comments.

 

 

 

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DC Super Hero Girls: If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It

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I’ve just finished Spaced Out, the last comic of Shea Fontana’s DC Super Hero Girls series as the torch is passed to the new incarnation of the show. I’m sorry to sound like a negative ninnie (again), but I’m just not feeling the new DC Super Hero Girls series. If your not familiar with the franchise, it started out as a web series written by Shea Fontana – with books, comics, action figures, dolls, legos, etc. – about teenage versions of DC’s sheroes (and male heroes to a lesser extent) attending a high school that teaches them how to be good superheroes. Then in 2019 a cartoon series by Lauren Faust was introduced with a new redesign and premise. This time the girls: Wonder Woman, Bumblebee, Supergirl, Batgirl, Green Lantern Jessica Cruz and Zatanna, are attending a regular high school where they have to juggle their civilian and superhero identities before the bell rings. I’ve seen some of the shorts and clips on YouTube…and unlike other fans I’m just not feeling it. I miss the Superhero High setting and I miss characters like Principal Waller, (good) Harley Quinn and (good) Poison Ivy.

Don’t get me wrong. I loved Lauren Faust’s work on My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and I don’t begrudge her pumping some (much needed) fresh blood into the MLP franchise. I also adored her Super Best Friends Forever shorts which is one of the reasons why I’m not happy with this new incarnation of DCSHG. It feels as if Warner Bros. gave her this show as a consolation prize for not giving her the go-ahead to make SBFFs into a TV show which would’ve been awesome. I also wished her dream project, Milky Way and the Galaxy Girls had become a TV show and I know I would’ve liked it. Just think how many girls would’ve become budding astronauts/astronomers had that show existed.

But I’m also concerned for the old DCSHG. Does this mean that we won’t get a sixth season of the web series? No more straight-to-video movies or comics? Can we at least get the entire series on DVD? I plan on contacting DC Entertainment, but as of this writing e-mail contact is temporarily unavailable and there’s no guarantee I’ll get a response if I write to them.

Now I now what you’re thinking: “this show wasn’t made for you so you have no right to criticize.” Well the 2015 web series wasn’t made for me and I own five of the comics and Hero of the Year on DVD. Super Best Friends Forever wasn’t made for me and I loved it. MLP: FIM wasn’t made for my brother AND HE’S A FRICKIN’ BRONY (seriously the way he squees over the Mane Six, scares me – and I’m the original pegasister!) And if you like the 2019 DCSHG TV series then more power to you, enjoy it. Have fun. But like She-Ra before, I just feel that this is laziness on Warner Bros. part for making Faust piggyback on Shea Fontana’s creation when they could’ve given her the freedom to create something new. Like Milky Way and the Galaxy Girls.

Or better yet, have two versions of DC Superhero Girls: Ms. Fontana’s version on the web and Ms. Faust’s version on TV. Y’know, just like in the comics. It can be a multiverse. Doesn’t that sound better? It does to me.

Do you agree or do you think I’m being a grouch? Are you enjoying the new show? Let your voice be heard.

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“Star Wars: Queen’s Shadow” Is the Book Every “Canon” Novel Should Emulate

 

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Since the cancellation of the Star Wars Expanded Universe, fandom response to Disney’s new Star Wars novel timeline has been lukewarm to say the least. For me the only exception is Christie Golden’s Dark Disciple and that was based on an unproduced script from the then-canceled Clone Wars show (now that the show’s been “renewed”, does that mean the book is no longer canon? Does that make it a “novelization”?). Well now I can add another exception.

I’ve just finished reading E.K. Johnston’s novel Queen’s Shadow and dear Star Warriors, I loved every minute of it. It manages to answer all the questions we’ve been asking for the past 20 years about Padme’s career between The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones while still respecting the movies, the Clone Wars and the Legends timeline. It passes the torch from Amidala’s royal handmaidens to her senatorial handmaidens. And – most importantly – it tastefully introduces diversity to the Galaxy Far Far Away without virtue signaling.

For those of you irritated with current Star Wars authors (and we know who they are), this is the book for you, even if you prefer Legends, like me. In fact it renewed my love of Star Wars reading, because I’m finally reading Heir to the Empire. 

Four years after The Phantom Menace, Naboo is electing a new monarch while Padme and her handmaidens: Sabe, Sache, Yane, Eirtae and Rabe, are enjoying a swim at a lake retreat (perhaps the same one she described to Anakin in AOTC?). This is the last time all six young women have together as Queen and Handmaidens as the girls go their separate ways thinking about what to do next with their lives. Also present is Captain Panaka – who plans on retiring – and his wife, Mariek – who plans to take over as Padme’s Captain of the Guard. Before you ask, yes, Typho shows up later in the book but as a sergeant.

Padme is unsure where her future lies in the world of Naboo politics, until the newly elected Queen, Reillata, asks her to serve as Senator for Naboo. She accepts the offer but learns that the transition from Queen to Senator is not as easy as it seems. She tries her hand at freeing Tatooine slaves but fails at locating Shmi Skywalker. In her first meeting with Bail Organa she’s nearly killed in an assassination attempt (the first of many). Due to her role in ousting Valorum as Chancellor, many see her as Palpatine’s lapdog. And the Galactic media still sees her as the naive, aloof Queen from Naboo. She’s going to need a lot of allies. Good thing she has her loyal handmaidens to help her. While Sache, Yane, Eirtae and Rabe go their separate ways, Sabe continues to serve as Padme’s “secret agent” and decoy, while the novel introduces us to Padme’s senatorial handmaidens: Dorme, Verse and Corde.

If you’re a big fan of Amidala’s handmaidens, then this is definitely the book for you. Let’s not kid ourselves here: as much as I love Legends, the backstories of the handmaidens, the Queens of Naboo and Queen Breha Organa of Alderaan are regrettably sparse. Compare the Legends and the Canon entries for Naboo monarchs on Wookiepedia. The book also reveals some interesting details about the Queen’s wardrobe and Naboo politics. Senators Mina Bonteri and Rush Clovis from The Clone Wars also make an appearance. It’s interesting how Johnston uses the theme of duality to highlight Padme’s relationships to Bonteri and Mothma, foreshadowing the sides both women take in the Clone Wars conflict.

However (and there’s always a however), I have two minor complaints. One chapter ends with a passionate makeout scene (but no sex) between Sabe and Captain Tonra (the previously unnamed Naboo Royal Pilot played by Richard Armitage) that I felt was a little too inappropriate for a Star Wars novel. Yes, there’s been some sexy scenes in previous novels (see Shadows of the Empire), but this felt a little too much for a novel aimed at teens and was unnecessary.

Another complaint isn’t in the novel but on the last page, and this may be a deal breaker for some. In the acknowledgements: Johnston thanks the Lucasfilm Story Group and design team. “Natalie Portman, Keira Knightley and Trisha Biggar, who gave me the best fifteenth birthday present ever, and Cat Taber, who kept it going.” And every girl “who ever asked for more from Star Wars”. 

Yet the one important person Johnston never thanks is George Lucas and that’s a big no-no. Every writer before her (In the EU at least) always gave a shout out to Lucas for creating Star Wars and “allowing them to play in his sandbox”. I think I’ll have to e-mail Johnston’s publisher a complaint about this oversight.

But despite these setbacks, I hope Queen’s Shadow will be the beginning of a Padme rehabilitation in pop culture that leads to more Padme appreciation. Purchases of this book may convince Lucasfilm and Disney that there are #PeopleForPadme because…

We are brave Your Highness.

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How the MCU Failed Women

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Tweets like the one above address MCU fanboy “sexism” against Carol Danvers, but what Ms. Gaither and others fail to recognize is that the MCU may have coerced sexism into fanboys long before Captain Marvel.

Throughout its 11 years as a franchise powerhouse, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has had a problem with its depictions of women. I’ve heard the refrain: “Unlike Kathleen Kennedy, Kevin Feige listens to the fans” and I’m sorry to tell you, he doesn’t.

Now I know what some of you will say: “but there’s plenty of female superheroes/characters in the MCU” and you’ll list them all. But including women with superpowers and fighting skills does not automatically make your films female-friendly.

In fact there’s evidence that proves Marvel doesn’t understand women.

In 2014 the films in the MCU with the highest female viewers were Guardians of the Galaxy (in which 44% of the audience was female) and The Avengers (whose female audience was 40%).

However when it comes to female characters, the MCU has a female problem.  Digital Spy did a little math and here’s the outcome: not a single MCU film has women on the screen for more than 40% of runtime (barring Captain Marvel of course). See the list here. The womens’ character development in the films has also been a cause for complaint. The following are snippets from articles written by female critics and journalists.

Here’s what Shanahan Europa said about Guardians of the Galaxy 1 & 2:

When The Guardians infiltrated the villain’s ship, they have all  learned each others back stories and have gained each others trust. So, when Drax verbally acknowledges their collective friendships, the moment feels earned. He says, “I want you all to know that I am grateful for your acceptance after my blunders. It is pleasing to once again have friends. You, Quill, are my friend….This dumb tree, he is my friend. And this green whore, she, too—”

Justifiably angered by the epithet of “green whore,” Gamora yells back, “You must stop!”

Drax’s brusqueness in this scene does align with the curt and frank personality Gunn has created for this character. But Drax’s choice of words here commits a disservice to the relationship of trust and respect he and Gamora have built up to this point.

A similar pattern is seen in “Vol. 2.” Take for instance halfway through the film when Kraglin, a ravager, asks Nebula, one of the antagonists, what she will spend her cut of a bounty on. She shares her story of emotional and physical trauma at the hands of her father Thanos and, indirectly, her sister Gamora. Growing up, Thanos would have the two sisters spar each other, and everytime Nebula would lose, he would replace one of her body parts with a robotic equivalent.

But Gunn undercuts the horror and tragedy of her backstory through an abrupt tonal shift when Kraglin voices his awkward surprise. “I was talking about, like, [buying] a pretty necklace…Something to make the other girls go, “Ooh, that’s nice!”

From Frederica Bocco:

Of course, Natasha Romanoff was an amazing character, before Age of Ultron ruined her. Maria Hill is badass, when she gets more than a second of screen time. Peggy Carter was incredibly inspirational, before she was moved to television and ABC decided to cancel the show despite the praise of most critics.

The fact that we are finally getting a Captain Marvel film in 2019 is not something to be celebrated and praised as groundbreaking. It’s something to be ashamed of that Marvel’s first female superhero-centered movie is only coming out in 2019.

Before you say that Jane Foster is an amazing scientist and one of the most intelligent people in the MCU, and that Pepper Potts has the power and the ability to run a gigantic company like Stark Industries, ask yourself this: if these women are not just love interests, where have they been for the past films? If the very purpose of their characters isn’t to be Thor’s and Tony Stark’s girlfriends, then how come they don’t get a storyline after the breakup?

KC Moore at The Bull and Bear:

What do these women  have in common with pretty much every other female character existing in the Marvel Cinematic Universe?

They function as Love Interests.

Jane Foster is an accomplished astrophysicist, whose original interest in Thor is scientific. Except what’s science compared to Chris Hemsworth’s biceps, right? Gamora is a trained assassin with a perfectly valid reason to be fighting on Peter Quill’s side. She then falls prey to Quill’s “pelvic sorcery,” and it’s okay because by the end of the movie, they love each other. Pepper Potts from “Iron Man” is the only woman not repulsed by Tony Stark’s spectacular narcissism. She loves him because she sees the real him underneath all those layers of money. Too bad this doesn’t make him any less of a jerk. Betty Ross from “The Incredible Hulk” (yeah, remember that movie?) had no other purpose but to serve as an aspect of Bruce Banner’s character development. She was a pretty reminder that even though he’s an enormous green rage monster, his humanity remains intact and he is capable of attracting women. In “Ant-Man,” even though Hope is way more qualified than Scott Lang to be a hero,  her father was just trying to protect her from dying like her mother. Except by the end of the movie, she’s fallen in love with Paul Rudd and donned The Wasp suit.

Lady Sif is a warrior and a Norse deity, but the writers couldn’t leave her at that. As if being childhood friends with Thor wasn’t enough to validate her presence in the movie, they had to make her in love with him. She’s a literal goddess, she’s lived thousands of years and killed thousands of men, and she still has to cast longing looks at Chris Hemsworth and shoot Natalie Portman unfriendly, jealous glances.

Emily Asher-Perrin

In the end, Natasha Romanoff is mourned but never celebrated. The story has too far to go, and Tony Stark’s epic death undercuts her own. The film ends on his funeral, and hers is never seen, mentioned, or noted. It’s almost as though she never existed at all.

We arrive at Carol Danvers, the first female Marvel superhero to headline a film (it only took a decade…). Carol is brilliant throughout Endgame, but she’s also underused because she’s not been given any time at all to acclimate to the group setting. This is not her farewell tour, so she only shows up in special bursts, powered by fists of space-energy and little else. The same is true of Okoye, who Marvel rightfully gave top billing to, but never the screen time to match. Wanda Maximoff also shows up briefly to flex her extraordinarily powerful magic muscles, but her only stake in the film is being pissed with Thanos for killing her boyfriend Vision. All her fury gets her nowhere, which is hardly surprising because these films have never known what to do with someone as powerful as the Scarlet Witch is meant to be. She’s always getting sidelined because dealing with her true skillset would make most of the other combatants seem superfluous.

Then there’s Valkyrie, who has been in charge of New Asgard since Thor went into a spiral of depression and binge-drinking. Though the film treats the God of Thunder terribly, Valkyrie doesn’t come out of the situation any better, as she works herself to the bone to keep the ship running for the sake of the Asgardian people. By the end, Thor abdicates the throne in her favor, noting that she has already been doing the job for him, and that she’s an excellent leader. These things are true, but Valkyrie also expressed a hatred of Asgardian monarchy when Thor first met her. And more to the point, no matter how good Val is at steering their people, she is essentially being made to shoulder Thor’s burden simply because he has decided he can’t handle it anymore. Rather than offering to help her set up a new form of government, or see that the transition of power goes smoothly, he just up and leaves all of his responsibilities on her plate.

Even the final romantic nod of the entire series can ring hollow: While we’re supposed to be happy for Steve Rogers and Peggy Carter finally getting their dance on at the end of this, it’s hard not to be a little insulted over all the film is choosing to ignore in that tender moment. It is unclear if any of Peggy’s former trials will come to pass with Steve Rogers back in her life, and the idea of all of her adventures—in her own series Agent Carter and beyond—being overwritten for a life in a cute suburb with her man is frankly just as depressing as them losing one another. Peggy Carter claims to know her value, but in this moment, it’s hard to tell if the MCU knows it, or if they ever cared about it at all. Love is truly grand, but shoehorning Peggy in there for a kiss when we get no time with her at all feels like a particular kind of cheat.

Jordan Sickrey:

Betty Ross is a woman who has only ever been in one movie, and it is a movie that most people tend to forget is part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That movie would be The Incredible Hulk from 2008. Betty Ross has a PhD in cellular biology and was shown working at Culver University. She is the daughter of General Ross, though he appeared to have been promoted in Captain America: Civil War (2016).

Betty has not been talked about at all since The Incredible Hulk. She was so important to who Bruce Banner is as a person, but she has not even been mentioned once since her appearance in 2008. She was the first person to ever break through the Hulk’s mind. The Hulk was not mindless when it came to Betty Ross. Yet, she just disappeared. Even after Bruce appeared to be able to control the Hulk after the events of The Avengers (2012), there was no mention of him even calling her.

Now, her storyline is revolving around Bruce. However, Betty Ross was not just the love interest. She was able to assist a fugitive and help him escape, and she fought against her father—a general—to protect him. She was no limp noodle. She was her own character who made her own choices and stood on her own two feet. Her story did revolve around Bruce in The Incredible Hulk, but her character was not only there for Bruce.

And Marvel just made her disappear.

Rebecca Wright: 

From the first MCU films, examples of pervasive, everyday sexism have been overlooked or dismissed in the name of history. Take, for example, the moment Tony Stark meets an undercover Black Widow in Iron Man 2, stating “I want one” after their almost Weinstein-esque introduction.

Even more recent films are occasionally marred with a sense of humour that tends toward displays of toxic masculinity and casual misogyny, denoting an air of sexism the films can no longer afford. From the way the women are spoken to, to the way they are spoken of, the men of the cohort consistently undermine the female action heroes. In Captain America: Civil War, Black Panther’s female security chief warns Black Widow to “move or you will be moved”. The interaction is abated by Black Panther with the line “As entertaining as that would be…” – an all too common inference of woman on woman action to fulfill male fantasy.

In the case of 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, a scene when the male Avengers each attempt to lift Thor’s hammer – an exercise in worthiness and not strength – Iron Man’s offhanded joke about reinstating prima nocta presents rape humor as permissible, in an age when it is anything but. The time is up for cheap efforts in entertainment of this nature.

(Don’t forget in The Avengers Loki called Natasha a “mewling quim” which translated means “whining cunt”.)

Kathy Banjamin at Cracked.com:

Black Widow is like the redheaded stepchild of the Avengers when it comes to stuff you can actually buy. She gets lots of screen time in the movies, which is good, but any kid who wants a toy of her is better off making one out of Play-Doh. It’s so bad that even Mark “chillest guy to ever play the Hulk” Ruffalo called Marvel out.

There’s an entire blog that does nothing but point out how Black Widow is nowhere to be found on Avenger’s merchandise. We could see some executive getting away with saying that boys wouldn’t play with a girl action figure, even though that is obviously bullshit (and what about the girls who want those action figures?).

(Note: When Avengers: Age of Ultron was released, a toy of the scene where Black Widow rides a motorcycle was released – with Captain America instead.)

And then there’s Mantis. Talk about character assassination. Literally.

Mantis exhibits all the signs of a woman who is being mistreated, but rather than save her immediately, the Guardians simply ignore it. Excited to finally meet his father, Peter is never bothered to acknowledge Mantis or her plight in any tangible way, a marked difference from the comics where Peter goes out of his way to recruit Mantis and has a positive relationship with her. As for the rest of the Guardians, they actively participate in Mantis’ abuse: not only are their insults and violence against Mantis normalized, they’re even used for comedic effect. Each of the Guardians’ actions help to enforce an idea that film Mantis has already internalized: she is worthless.

And then there’s the physical violence that Mantis suffers. When she meets Rocket Raccoon, Drax leads her to believe he’s his pet. When she reaches out to touch him, Rocket snaps around and bites into her hand; she cries out, terrified, as Drax roars with laughter. Later, when Mantis reaches out to Gamora to demonstrate her empath powers, she’s immediately grabbed by the wrists and told, “Touch me, and the only thing you’re going to feel is a broken jaw.” When Gamora finally finds out the truth about Ego’s plans, she runs up to Mantis, grabs her by the throat, slams her against the wall, and tries to choke her. Gamora never apologizes for this, and we never see any follow-up to assure us that Gamora and Mantis will have any relationship beyond these moments of animosity.

If you haven’t noticed by now, the women in the MCU never get along, while the males relationships are developed and celebrated (Steve and Bucky anyone?).

And speaking of relationships:

What tenuously binds everything together is daddy issues. The question of Star Lord’s father anchored the first film, and deserved a payoff to match. Things start with introducing Kurt Russell meeting Peter’s mother. Peter questioned his heritage in the first film, but this second movie sees Peter so hung up on his dad you’d expect to see him on a therapist’s couch. Instead, it’s the now motherly Gamora (Zoe Saldana, still pointless) who tells him to bond with his father. She’s also the one who simultaneously tells her sister Nebula (Karen Gillan) to get over her own father issues. Considering how the film presents Nebula’s hatred of her father in a way that feels like assault – he replaced parts of her with machinery against her will – the film has a very gendered look at how men and women are told to deal with their parentage. Peter gets to act like a 10-year-old and play catch with his dad; Nebula’s told “Eh, move on, girl.”

Madeleine Deliee:

And that was disappointing, particularly after all the build up of Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) as the strongest Avenger. I mean, Nick Fury paged her specifically at the end of Infinity War, making us believe she was clearly the one to stop Thanos. She was also coming off the first female-led Marvel standalone film, which meant the studio was moving toward feminism, right? Ehhh…not so much.

In Endgame, Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel felt like a guest star, popping off to handle matters elsewhere in the universe only to reappear toward the conclusion of the movie — and fail at vanquishing Thanos. Yes, it was a group effort. Yes, she spectacularly, single-handedly destroyed his ship. Yes, the guys needed her to wear Thanos down. But the message was still pretty clear: Saving the world is ultimately a man’s job. It’s tough to reconcile the way Endgame handled its female characters with what we see in daily life, as well as other onscreen representations.

But wait, I know what some of you are thinking: “What about that awesome moment when Captain Marvel is about to be destroyed and then nearly all the female characters in the MCU (except Peggy and, oddly, Sharon Carter) show up, announce they have her back, and are there to save the day?”

Well, the problem is… they don’t. Instead, we get this big “girl power” moment with a bunch of women we haven’t spent any time with…and then they’re all defeated.

Each woman is picked off by Thanos or his minions or, in the case of Captain Marvel, literally tossed aside.

Men have caught on too.

Derrick Clement’s title says it all: “The Early MCU Films Are As Sexist As The Trolls That Crashed ‘Captain Marvel'”:

The Marvel movies in “Phase 1,” as the episodes up to the first Avengers are known, established a toxic cinematic vocabulary, where sexual harassment is depicted as acceptable and funny, women are either sexualized or ignored altogether, and the male gaze dominates.

When The Avengers came out in 2012, Joss Whedon’s pseudo-feminism was celebrated, but it has since come under more scrutiny. After revisiting The Avengers this week, I’m sorry to say the red flags were there all along. Lots of male gaze, lots of dumb little jokes (like that one terribly misogynistic line Loki says) that were ignored at the time but which now seem like toxic masculinity bursting out of its leather skin of wokeness.

Steve Englehart, Mantis’ creator:

Well, I was not happy with Mantis’ portrayal. That character has nothing to do with Mantis. I really don’t know why you would take a character who is as distinctive as Mantis is and do a completely different character and still call her Mantis. That I do not know. That’s not Mantis.

Stephen Colbert:

Despite those setbacks, Marvel has plenty of female fans and for ten years they’ve been demanding one thing: a stand-alone Black Widow movie. What were Feige’s excuses? “We’re too busy to make a Black Widow movie.” “It just isn’t the right time.” “We have a lineup of films already in production.” etc, etc. Yet there have been 3 Iron Man films, 3 Thor films, 3 Captain America films, 2 Guardians of the Galaxy films, 2 Ant-Man films and soon to be 2 Spider-Man Black Panther films. Would it have killed them to change their schedule to make room for Black Widow, She-Hulk or Elektra?

When DC said the same thing, they got this:

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Never mind that the raccoon – and possibly the machine gun – are male.

And it’s not just women in front of the screen that get the short end of the stick. Women screenwriters, directors and critics have also expressed their frustration with the studio.

In 2009 screenwriter Nicole Perlman was hired by Marvel to pick a comic to adapt into a movie – and chose the then obscure Guardians of the Galaxy. She spent the next two years devouring its back catalog and drafting a story that so impressed the studio execs, they gave it the green-light – only for it to be re-written by James Gunn. One wonders how Gamora and the other female characters would’ve been presented had Perlman’s script been used.

There’s a reason why Natalie Portman no longer makes any appearances as Jane Foster in the MCU (with the exception of Avengers: Endgame, and even that’s debatable). She originally turned down Thor: The Dark World because she wanted a break from acting to spend more time with her son – until she found out that Patty Jenkins was attached to the project and what actress wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to work with a woman director? But creative differences made Jenkins leave the project, much to Portman’s dismay. Today Jenkin’s Wonder Woman is considered the “crown jewel” of superhero movies. Thor: The Dark World on the other hand…

Critic Amy Nicholson of BoxOffice.com got subjected to a ton of hateful, misogynistic comments from fanboys for not giving The Avengers a good review. While there were articles reporting the incident, no one bothered to write some think piece about “toxic fandom/masculinity”. In fact, some even excused the fans’ jerkiness simply because Nicholson misidentified Nick Fury as Nick Frost. Never mind that she was the first to point out that Steve’s, Thor’s and Bruce’s respective love interests never make an appearance or are discussed, she misidentified Nick Fury! The nerve of her!!!

And with all the talk of sexism, “toxic fandom” and “manbabies” regarding Carol Danvers, where were the accusations of misogyny when the Oscars and the Golden Globes snubbed Wonder Woman and Patty Jenkins? Why didn’t the media call out the “toxic fanboys”, “mababies” and “misogynists” for saying Wonder Woman didn’t deserve an Oscar? I felt like the only person in the world who defended WW and a bunch of jerks sent me some gif of Peter Quill flipping the bird. Classy.

We can’t call out politicians for their sexism and then be entertained by sexist Marvel. We have to be better than this.

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“The Phantom Menace” At 20

I view the Prequel Trilogy as the The Next Generation of Star Wars: a franchise rejuvenation that was rejected at first, then celebrated as time went on. Star Trek: The Next Generation celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2017, now its Star Wars counterpart, The Phantom Menace, is turning 20 and finally getting credit for its brilliance.

I was born in 1984 – one year after Return of the Jedi – so I missed the phenomenon of the Original Star Wars Trilogy. However I discovered Star Wars in the ’90s as the trilogy was undergoing a revival: the success of Timothy Zahn’s 1991 Thrawn trilogy kickstarted the Expanded Universe. Commercials for Power of the Force action figures aired between kids’ shows. There was the 1995 multimedia project Shadows of the Empire (I’ve read it twice and it remains one of my favorite EU novels to this very day.  Joe McFeely’s soundtrack is awesome). Then in 1997 the OT was re-released as Special Editions. Then in 1999 the mania reached its pinnacle with The Phantom Menace. TPM marked the end of one era and the beginning of another. Before The Phantom Menace I was someone who “liked Star Wars”. After The Phantom Menace I became an out and proud Star Warrior. I wanted to buy anything and everything Star Wars.

Now like everyone else I could simply write about the first time I saw TPM, but that would be too predictable. Instead I’m going to tell you 20 things I’ll never forget about TPM mania.

1. The Feb. 1999 Vanity Fair Cover

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In the magazine section of my local library, this issue just stood out from the rest. I had no clue Lucas was making a new trilogy. Outside I was calm (it was the library after all), inside I was screaming. Looking at Annie Leibovitz’s behind the scene’s photographs had me excited and intrigued. Queen Amidala’s royal attire! Darth Maul’s double-bladed saber! Jar-Jar Binks! A Young Obi-Wan! Darth Vader as a little kid! I couldn’t wait!

2. The Fast Food Saga

Taco Bell, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Pizza Hut partnered up to promote Episode 1 with toys representing all 3 major planets of TPM: Taco Bell got Tatooine, KFC got Naboo and Pizza Hut represented Coruscant. But it didn’t end there. Fans could also order cup lids of their favorite characters, two frisbees featuring Jar Jar and a Battle Droid and enter a “Defeat the Darkside” sweepstakes. Plus there was a series of awesome commercials starring The Colonel, the Talking Chihuahua and a pizza delivery girl. Watch ’em all here:

Hasbro needs to make a Fast Food Saga 3 figure box set. Colonel Sanders with a lightsaber? Sold!!!

3. The Daily Chronicle‘s TPM Countdown

Back when newspapers were de rigueur, the Bay Area’s most prominent paper, The Daily Chronicle, would publish a countdown column that continued up until May 19th. It was titled, “(Insert Number) Days Until Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace”, and reveal facts and trivia about Star Wars. I remember one had a snippet of Lucas’ early draft treatment for A New Hope (I only remember the first line):

Far above the blue-green hills of Aquilae…

4. Toys R Us’ SW Toy Ad

…Where all your SW collecting dreams (used to) come true…

5. Lays Potato Chips

At the supermarket there was a standee depicting kids posing as their favorite episode 1 characters: a little boy making a funny face with Jar Jar, a girl’s hair fashioned in the style of Amidala’s “scorpion tails”. Lays bags had the characters and another sweepstakes called “Can You Resist?”

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6. Move Over Disney Princess, There’s A New Queen In Town

Image result for Queen amidala collectionAfter Disney purchased Lucasfilm, female fans were outraged at the lack of Leia merchandise in Disney stores. Rey got the same treatment when The Force Awakens was released. Female fans got up in arms and protested with slogans like #WeWantLeia and #WheresRey. But this was not the case in 1999. Despite being the (arguably) only important female character in the film, Padme Amidala got equal representation along with her male costars. She got three action figures, a fashion doll collection, a paper doll book, stickers, t-shirts, stationary, a necklace, a freakin’ makeup collection, a Halloween costume, the list goes on and on. Let’s face it, you couldn’t have anything Episode 1 without Queen Amidala included, which leads me to the next entry…

7. SW Is A Girl’s Thing Too

Amidala’s determination and battle skills added her to the list of ’90s “Girl Power” icons and there was a KMart commercial to prove it:

But that’s not all. There was another Episode 1 ad that interviewed audience members praising TPM. But what made this commercial stand out was that all the members were women. One little girl even said she wanted to be a jedi. It was as if Lucasfilm was saying, “let’s ask women what they thought of The Phantom Menace” and I remember how popular the film was among girls my age. One classmate of mine – who had never seen the Original Trilogy – fell madly in love with TPM and saw it twice in theaters. We girls would talk for days about TPM. I wish, wish, wish I could find that all-women SW commercial but I can’t find it on YouTube. If you have any information let me know in the comments, I’d appreciate it.

8. Browsing Star Wars.Com

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The Official Site for all things Star Wars launched in 1996 to coincide with the re-release of The Star Wars Special Editions. But after The Phantom Menace, StarWars.com became the place to look at Episode 1 pictures, videos and articles. I became obsessed with this website so that I could print out pictures to use for drawing projects. And speaking of websites…

9. The Rise (And Fall) of The Fansite

With the click of a button, StarWars.com could connect you to other sites created by fansNot surprisingly, I discovered a lot of fangirl sites dedicated to Amidala and Leia (and their costumes) as well as sneak peaks of Episode 2. One site even combined Star Wars with the Beatles (In John Lennon’s bio, the author says he was killed by a sith lord, which makes sense when you think about it). Alas, the links to the fansites were deactivated in the early 2000s.

10. Rogue Planet, The First EU Novel Set in the PT Era

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Three years after the events of The Phantom Menace, Anakin Skywalker and Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi encounter a mysterious world.

A 2000 novel by Greg Bear has Obi-Wan and a 12 year old Anakin traveling to the mysterious planet Zonama Sekot, which would go on to play a major role in the New Jedi Order series.

Yes there were PT novels before Rogue Planet, but they were mostly aimed at kids. This one was aimed at adults.

11. Entertainment Tonight’s Star Wars Week

What more can I say? The continuous coverage had me bouncing off the walls with anticipation. Then there was Leonard Maltin’s Q & A with George Lucas. Need I say more?

12. The TV Guide Covers

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I remember seeing these at the local supermarket.

13. Roger Ebert’s Star Wars Special

The critical response to Episode 1 was…lukewarm to say the least. The media took this and ran with it. But there was one critic who was impressed and that was Roger Ebert of The Chicago Sun-Times. After praising the film, he interviewed Lucas about special effects, talks about the inspiration behind the saga, and flashes back to 1983 when he and the late Gene Siskel analyzes the OT.

14. The Star Wars Episode 1 Visual Dictionary

In 1998, Dorling Kindersley published Star Wars: The Visual Dictionary, a visual info book styled similarly to their world renown “Eyewitness” series. So it would make sense they would follow up with an Episode 1 Visual Dictionary which I bought and looked to for art references.

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15. Lightsaber pens

 

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These Darth Maul and Obi-Wan Kenobi Lightsaber replica pens let you experience your own lightsaber duel. Look for other exciting Star Wars pens, pencils and markers from Pentech. 

I bought a set for the new school year. The Darth Maul one was really cool because you could connect it to make one long pen that schoolmates would notice and boy, did they notice. “Can I borrow your pen?”

16. “Babe Fett”

On the first page of the Episode 1 Visual Dictionary is an image of a character I don’t recall seeing in the movie but she was there in a blink-and-you’ll-miss moment. The caption next to her said that her long fingers were for drawing blood. Eagle-eyed fans must’ve wanted to know more about her because from then on, she was on the cover of Star Wars Insider, and she had her own Dark Horse comic series, appeared in video games and eventually made her way into The Clone Wars. I’m talking about Aurra Sing.

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17. George Lucas Poses for National Geographic

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The August 1999 issue of NatGeo (titled “Global Culture”) looks at the way the human race expresses itself through culture, both popular and traditional and how we use it to reach out to each other regardless of race, national boundaries or generation. The picture above shows Lucas posing in front of a theater with all of his galactic creations and a caption compares him to Homer (the only difference is Homer didn’t release any action figures of his characters – as far as we know). There was even a map showing how much money the Star Wars Special Editions grossed (with release dates for The Phantom Menace)throughout the world. I used to subscribe to NatGeo and I owned a copy.

Disney now owns Lucasfilm and NatGeo. How ironic.

18. The Jar Jar Binks “Tongue Lollipop”

Need I say more?

19. Star Wars: Power of the Jedi

The “Power of the Force” collection ended with the release of Episode 1. In 2000 a new collection, called “Power of the Jedi”, was introduced. This line included characters from (at the time) all 4 SW movies as well as – for the first time – action figures based on concept art. I bought mostly female characters and I still own most of those figures.

I wonder why they never released any commercials for this line.

Click on each figure to access the page.

20. Darth Vader & Darth Maul Duke It Out

It was only a matter of time until fan arguments would surface over who would win in a fight. Dark Horse gave us the answer in the 48 page comic “Resurrection”, which was part of the Star Wars Tales series. I won’t tell you the outcome, but the story is reprinted in Star Wars Tales Vol. 3 which you can purchase from Amazon.

 

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Thanks to Disney, Star Wars is more prominent than ever. It has its own holiday. It has rides and tourist attractions. It had a dancing show (no, really). An annual Celebration. More merchandise than you can shake a gaffi stick at. But 20 years ago, Star Wars was special. It came back into our lives in a way that will never be repeated, no matter how much Disney tries. We will never forget that summer when, once again, the lights in the theater went down, the screen went dark and once again, we saw those familiar words:

“A Long Time Ago In A Galaxy Far, Far Away…”

Here’s a happy 20 years to The Phantom Menace. May the Force Be With You.

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