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Ginie Reviews: Rise of the Guardians

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Film: Rise of the Guardians
Director: Peter Ramsey
Year: 2012
Notable Voice-Actors: Chris Pine, Jude Law, Alec Baldwin, Hugh Jackman, Isla Fisher
Rating: 4/5

While I have not been a die-hard hater of all things 3D when it comes to animation, I have to admit that up until now I was left mostly indifferent by it. Yes, even with the Pixar stuff – don’t get me wrong, I love Pixar movies for the story-telling and they’re visually fantastic but aesthetically it never quite moved me in the same way that a lot of amazing 2D animation does.

Basically, Rise of the Guardians changed all of that. Yes folks, I’ve been converted to the Church of 3D – and my god is it beautiful. Rise of the Guardians is easily the most visually gorgeous film I saw all year, and an animated film about childhood heroes is exactly the kind of thing you know I was going to love.

The basic premise of the plot is that there are four Guardians of Childhood – Santa, the Sandman, Tooth-fairy and the Easter-bunny and as their title suggests their job is to protect children the world-over. All of this is threatened when the Boogeyman, Pitch, plots to destroy the belief children have in these guardians. Without the children’s belief to sustain them, the Guardians could disappear. The story belongs to Jack Frost, who has been wandering the earth for the last 300 years trying to find a meaning to his immortality.

So far so good. I actually went to see this in theatres by myself like a loser because I’d been dying to see it since I first saw adverts for it and I couldn’t convince anyone I knew to come with me and I was damned if I wasn’t going to see something this visually spectacular on the big screen. You know what my biggest surprise was? A good month after the film first opens on a Tuesday night and the (admittedly just medium-sized theatre) is packed to the brim with adults. And every single one of them freaking loved it and so did I. This movie has lots of genuinely funny moments, so if amazing visuals aren’t enough of an attraction for you than then laughs and the genuinely moving parts of this film will.

I did have some beef with this film though. Especially on the “genuinely moving” parts. Jack Frost is clearly the emotional centre of this film – we see the story through his eyes and it is his existential search for meaning and identity that we care about. The whole save-the-world-from-the-Big-Bad is absolutely secondary to this in term of emotional stakes, and the character we keep coming back to that I couldn’t care less about was Jamie, the human kid and sole remaining believer in the Guardians. Basically Jamie saves the day by refusing to stop believing and ends up encouraging others to believe too.

Jamie. The kid without a freaking care in the world.

Jamie. The kid without a freaking care in the world.

This is all nice and well, but I just. Don’t. Care. The emotional scenes that Jamie’s involved in only have any emotional resonance at all because they are scenes in which Jack Frost comes closer to finding his purpose and comes closer to being believed in. And this is kind of a problem because I think the movie wants me to care about Jamie too, and I just don’t. He’s a generic white suburban American kid – one I actually have kind of a hard time believing actually exists in real life. Not because I don’t think that demographic exists – obviously it does. But I just don’t believe there is such a thing as a “normal” or “perfect” family and this character, for all intents and purposes, basically comes from what we must assume is a perfectly “normal” family where there is never any drama, there are no skeletons in the closet and no personal tragedy has ever befallen them. I do not know a single family like this in real life. I think this particularly bugs me in this instance because the film starts off quite global and epic because the guardians protect children from all over the world and then it’s like…this kid is the kid who is basically going to be the stand-in for children the world over. I don’t know about you, but he doesn’t represent me as a child or anyone else I knew as a child very well at all.

Setting aside the fact that this character doesn’t feel entirely believable or relate-able to me, there’s also the fact that I just don’t know why I should be invested in his belief in the guardians. Aside from the threat to the guardians themselves of course (who are far more fleshed-out than the human children in this film are). Why should I care if this boy stops believing in the Easter Bunny or not? What does he lose if he stops believing? I guess what I’m saying is, this would’ve meant more from a kid who needed to believe in the guardians. A kid who needed their protection and company. A kid who was lonely (for whatever reason) or who has been having a difficult time dealing with, well, life. From what we can see, Jamie has loads of friends, has a loving family who care for him and seems generally pretty chipper and happy with his life. I can imagine that it’s sad to lose faith in something you believed in, but I don’t believe him not believing in the guardians would’ve been that tragic.  Even within the movie’s cast I could’ve found a better candidate. You want to know who? Cupcake.

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Apologies for terrible screenshot. Apparently the Cupcake fandom is much, much smaller than the Jack Frost fandom.

So she’s all smiling in the above picture, but when we’re first introduced to her she’s like the big mean scary brutish kid that everyone else is afraid of. And you know what I can deduce from that? She was probably one damn lonely kid. You know what’s rough? Growing up as a Big Girl. That shit’s pretty painful growing up in a society that has some pretty damn narrow rules for what is acceptable femininity. Add on top of that the fact that everyone thinks she’s mean just because she (quite rightly) doesn’t let people mess with her?  And you have a kid who pretty desperately needs to not feel alone and probably needs to believe in the guardians some what more than Jamie does.

So yeah…that was my big beef with this film. Jack Frost’s story was genuinely moving and genuinely had me caring, but Jamie’s? Not so much. It wasn’t Jamie’s story, so he was never going to have the emotional narrative that Jack Frost has, but seriously. I should still care.

Otherwise my love for North, his Yetis, Sandy, Pitch and Baby Tooth is basically endless. They are all adorbs and fantastic and I love them. I found it harder to warm up to the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. Let’s not mention the fact that in the original books Tooth was meant to be South East Asian and in this film she is…

isla

…decidedly not. About the only thing left from Tooth’s South East Asian heritage is (very possibly) her Tooth Palace, the design of which I think looks vaguely South East Asian inspired. And by vaguely I mean very vaguely.

South East Asian palace? Very possibly. Probably. I think.

South East Asian palace? Very possibly. Probably. I think.

So is it a good film? Definitely yes. Do I love it? Yes! To bits, which is why it’s getting a 4 star rating even though I can totally see why someone else may watch this and be left decidedly less impressed. For what it’s worth, it is a visually stunning feel-good movie with some surprising moments of emotional depth and poignancy.  If you are not at least impressed by Sandy’s dream sand then I do not know what’s wrong with you.

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Ginie Reviews Film: Batman – Under the Red Hood

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Film: Batman: Under the Red Hood
Director: Brand Vietti
Year: 2010
Notable Voice-Actors: Jensen Ackles, John DiMaggio, Neil Patrick Harris, Jason Isaacs
Rating:4/5

So this film has actually been around for two years, but I’ve recently just discovered it and it’s pretty awesome. Seems like DC Animation has been taking a turn for the more mature and making quite a few animated films actually geared towards an adult audience, and this is very prominently displayed in the opening scenes of “Under the Red Hood”.

It’s like the film is shouting “Hey – hey you! If you’ve put this on for your kids you should turn it off now. Like, right now. This isn’t a kid’s film. And to prove it we’re going to have the Joker beat the crap out of Robin with a crowbar in the opening five minutes of the film. Got it? This is not a kid’s film!” but honestly? I actually really enjoyed this film and while there is a lot of violence it never feels unjustified or excessive. We are dealing with the Red Hood after all, one of DC Universe’s most messed-up Robins (maybe after Damian Wayne) and violence is absolutely in his modus operandi.

I think perhaps what is most interesting about this film is that in a way, it addresses the age-old concern of whether or not superheroes actually help, or whether they’re the root cause of all the super-villains in town. It also forces Batman to confront the extent of his commitment to his cause and how many people he’s endangered and put at risk because of it. Because if you really think about it? Bruce Wayne has to be one of the worst guardians/foster parents ever. Not only does he risk the life of one orphan kid by training him into becoming his side-kick super-child-soldier, he risks the lives of like, six. Seriously, the list just doesn’t end, and although it’s frustrating that the DC editorial team seems to feel the need to add more and more to Bruce’s already gigantic man-pain, I do think that Jason’s story (not his death, so much as his resurrection and coming back to be a blight on Bruce’s city) does shed not only some vulnerability to Batman, but also some fallibility.

Source: Baturday Tumblr

Holy smokes Batman! Whatever happened to our family-friendly Boy wonder?

The plot and the conflict set up in this film is really well-done, but then I’ve always been more partial to character-driven stories and this one does get very personal for Bruce. To summarise: five years after Robin (Jason Todd) dies by the Joker’s hand there is a masked vigilante known as the Red Hood who has taken control over all of Gotham’s drug trade, happily beheading any drug lords that stand in his path or don’t fit his code of conduct. Batman keeps trying to take him down, but the Red Hood knows his every move before he can even make them (quel surprise…) and in desperation, the last remaining Drug pin has made a deal to break the Joker out of Arkham…if the Joker will take out the Red Hood. But of course, the Joker is a wild card and who knows what will happen when you throw him into the mix?

Who is the Red Hood? Can Batman and Nightwing outmanoeuvre him? And finally, who is actually in the right? Red Hood, or Batman?  These are just some of the questions that the movie forces us to ask and I must say watching the movie to get the answers is an entirely enjoyable experience (although the first one is pretty damn obvious). Oh and there’s Ra’s al Ghul, the League of shadows and the Lazarus Pit thrown in there too for good measure.

I also wanted to make a note about John DiMaggio’s performance as the Joker – I think like for most kids of the 90’s, Mark Hamil is the definitive Joker, but I have to say I really enjoyed John DiMaggio’s performance too. He’s a very different Joker, much less polished and quite a bit less theatrical (despite trademark make-up and purple suit). He also feels a lot rougher and a lot more physically brutal and very unpredictable. In short, he’s pretty amazing and it’s a joy to watch him on the screen. (And also possibly my new favourite Joker).

As for the animation, it is just wonderful. And if you love watching the Bat-family interact, then this movie is a pure gem. Basically go watch it now.

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Ginie Reviews TV: The Legend of Korra (Book One: Air)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TV Show: The Legend of Korra (Book One: Air)
Creators: Michael Dante Dimartino and Bryan Konietzko
Years: 2012 –
Rating: 3.5

Maybe it’s unfair to review a show that has only had its first season, but I think Book One of The Legend of Korra has given me plenty of initial thoughts and feelings about the show, the characters and the direction it all seems to be heading in and I thought this would probably be the right time to get them all out.

I get the feeling I may get some flak for this, but while I did love The Legend of Korra and would definitely call myself a fan (the kind of fan that listens to Republic City Dispatch podcasts and gets into speculative discussions about who Amon might be, etc.); a part of my feels a bit let down by The Legend of Korra.

If Avatar: The Last Airbender was a show for kids that dealt with various issues and themes with a far greater sense of maturity than most adult-TV-shows; then The Legend of Korra is a show that’s clearly aimed at an older audience and yet fails to adequately tackle the mature issues and concerns that are raised by the very nature of its central premise. Namely, that there is a non-bender revolution taking grip of Republic City and that balance needs to be restored by Korra, the Avatar (and as such, the ultimate bender as she can bend all the elements).

~*Spoilers Ahead*~

So first of all, the things I loved: the animation is, as ever, absolutely gorgeous. It’s so fluid, the character expressions are great and the designs are wonderful. I loved the idea of a 1920’s industrialised Avatar world! It just had so much potential and was so awesome – not to mention the soundtrack which is also beautiful and combines traditional Chinese music with jazz. Just. So. AWESOME. Not to mention the fashion, the Sato-mobiles, Republic City itself – there’s been a lot of fantastic world-building for this city and I loved every bit of it.

And I also loved the premise, although from the start I was weary about the real-world parallels that were being drawn between The Equalists and the rise of Communism in China. Not because I didn’t think it was an interesting idea to explore – more because I wasn’t sure a Nickelodeon show (however awesome) could do justice to that kind of seriously turbulent history, and furthermore the in-universe history of the United Republic and Republic City is different to real-world Chinese history. You can’t understand the rise of Communism in China without understanding the civil war and the Imperial system that came before it. But I was willing to be open-minded and I trusted that the show’s creators knew what they were doing: that they’d offer some insight into how this world has evolved with a bending elite and a non-bending underclass who are under-represented in government, in the police (Beifong’s Metal-benders) and in other crucial areas of Republic City life. And that Korra’s restoration of balance would involve an acknowledgement of this – that it wouldn’t just be about getting rid of Amon and the Equalists, but that it would also be about re-dressing the balance so that non-benders have an equal place in Republic City’s society.

So far that hasn’t happened yet.

Now I know this is just Book One, and that maybe these issues will be addressed in the next season (I dearly hope so). But I can only assume that with Amon and Tarrlok out of the picture for good, Book Two will have to introduce a new antagonist – and that means there might be a chance that this theme is dropped in favour of something else.

I suspect this might happen because the Book One finale had clearly tried to tie up all loose ends. Korra lost her bending, unlocked her air-bending, unmasked Amon who was later killed by his brother Tarrlok, entered the Avatar state, got all her bending back and the ability to return bending to others all in one fell swoop. Not once in the entire season were the actually legitimate concerns of Equalist sympathizers acknowledged or addressed and indeed, Amon and his Equalists are nearly always dismissed as “that madman and those crazy Equalists”. Now while Amon clearly uses manipulative fear tactics and could be labelled a terrorist, I was disappointed that Korra was only forced to confront the inequality between benders and non-benders once: when Tarrlok and his task-force were rounding-up protesting non-benders (“You’re our Avatar too!”).

Not to mention I was hoping to hear more about the Spirit World (and had secretly hoped that Amon was somehow linked to Koh, the Face-Stealer – an excellent, excellent potential villain that has been totally under-utilised in both A:TLA and TLOK). Considering how much emphasis was put on Korra’s spiritual block at the beginning of the show, I can’t help but feel let down that her spiritual block had been “solved” so quickly and so effortlessly. I don’t buy that Korra losing all her other bending and sulking about it constituted some great spiritual epiphany, even if it is true that her bending is very tied up with her own sense of identity and self-worth. And while I totally bawled like a baby when Aang turned up with all the other past Avatars and Korra finally went into the Avatar-state (shut up!) I was disappointed that Korra had lost her bending, only to re-gain it all within a matter of screen-time minutes. Maybe I’m being nitpick-y, but a loss isn’t really a loss if it’s so easily re-gained (which is also why if you choose to kill off a character they had better stay dead, at least for a little while, because otherwise it’s just cheap and there was nothing really at stake).

So those were my concerns with Korra on a thematic level. But I also felt somewhat let down by The Legend of Korra on a character level.

All I can say is that while a lot of the characters are awesome and show a lot of potential (LIN BEIFONG IS MY FAVOURITE-EST PERSON EVER) so many characters have had their character development and storyline pretty much shafted (I’m looking at you, Asami and Bolin). I’m still holding out that Asami will become more than just a useful plot-device to throw in extra romantic ~tension~ between Mako and Korra. And that Bolin will evolve to be more than just a comic relief character. And I’m hoping that the romance between Mako and Korra will eventually feel natural and not so forced. But I’m not nearly as optimistic as I was at the beginning of the season. Here’s hoping things will change though, and we get to see the New Team Avatar interact with each other more and actually give us a better idea of who they really are.

So is The Legend of Korra a good show? Absolutely yes. It has plenty of tension and enough mystery and questions that you’ll keep coming back for each new episode to find out what it will reveal. Is it as good as Avatar: The Last Airbender? Still hard to say at this stage – I genuinely think A:TLA was a better show, but then I went into A:TLA expecting nothing and the show did mature a lot over three seasons. We are only into Book One of Korra, and I went into TLOK with very high expectations following my love for A:TLA. While I think I do have legitimate reasons for preferring A:TLA to TLOK, I’m also willing to admit that at least some of it may be due to my own biases.

Conclusion? Definitely go watch it! Lord knows Tumblr needs more fandom theories about what the future holds for our heroine Korra 😉

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Ginie’s Top Ten: (Mostly) Nostalgic Animated Crushes

I noticed that for something I really love, I actually haven’t talked much at all about animation on this website. And I’ve decided that I’m going to address that! With – what else? A Top Ten list of Hotted Animated Guys, partially inspired by Nostalgia Chick’s Top Ten “Hottest” Animated Guys list. A point Lindsay raises in her list is that while Top Ten Hottest Animated Women lists tend to be quite unanimous, Top Ten Hottest Animated Guys tend to have a lot more variation in  them and I guess are much more subjective to whom is drawing up the list. That being said she still discovered a trend: apparently we like them dark, and we like them tortured. Also we freaking love woobies (I’m totally with you there Nella). In drawing up this list I’ve come to realise that basically…yeah. Spot on. Apparently I, like most fangirls, just want to save you! And give you a hug or something. So anyway, here’s my personal and absolutely subjective Top Ten, with some nostalgic crushes and some more recent ones.

  1. Howl (Howl’s Moving Castle)
    So I’m developing a theory that Howl represents a certain character archetype that I think is really appealing to young girls – the fantasy character who crashes into your hum-drum life, grabs you by the hand and whisks you off to somewhere exciting and dangerous to have adventures together.  I’d argue that that’s definitely one of the appeals of characters like Doctor Who for instance (especially in the episode The Eleventh Hour), and I find it hard to believe that TV Tropes doesn’t seem to have come up with a name for this trope yet. (Dear TV Tropes: get on it!) Otherwise what is there to say? Animated!Howl is basically fangirl catnip: he’s handsome, he’s charming, he does magic, he’s noble of spirit – but he’s also tortured with (literal) personal demons and needs a hug! I actually much prefer his bookverse counterpart, but that doesn’t mean that teenage me wasn’t totally in love with Hayao Miyazaki’s version of Howl, especially as the English dub was voiced by Christian Bale.
  2.  Li Shang (Mulan)

    What can I say? Let’s get down to business! To deafeat – the huns! Li Shang is well, hot. But despite that he’s also got this kind of awkward thing going on which makes him quite relateable and likeable and I imagine that for most  fans of this character it’s the awkward likeability that puts him above all other similarly hot-ly drawn Disney princes(?) Also! Bonus point for being the kind of animated guy who acknowledges he was wrong and makes up for it by following Mulan’s lead into battle. And having the most awesome song in the movie while not being a Disney villain.
  3. Dimitri (Anastasia)
    Ahh, Anastasia! What a way to completely re-write history, movie! But of course, Anastasia is hardly the only serious offender in that category (*cough*, Pocahontas, *cough*). Anyway, I saw this movie long before I knew anything about 20th Century Russian history (which is why, dear animators, making animated films based on “historical facts” and getting them completely wrong is absolutely awful! CHILDREN DON’T KNOW ANY BETTER, and you’ve deliberately misinformed them). But back to what I was saying – I saw this movie when it first came out and obviously had this huge nostalgic crush on Dimitri. If Howl represents the fantasy-character-who’ll-take-you-on-adventures archetype, I’d argue that Dimitri (and Aladdin further down this list) represent the “real-world” counterpart to that archetype. As a side-note: re-watching this film as an adult is hilarious because I actually get references to 20s/30s Parisian things like the Josephine Baker cameo.
  4. Zuko (Avatar: The Last Airbender)
    Oh Zuko. Was there ever an animated woobie that needed just needed a hug more than you? Seriously though, I do love Zuko as a character and of all the characters in Avatar: The Last Airbender, he is the one with one of the most interesting and fully-developed character-arcs in the entire series. From conflicted antagonist and general bratty shit-head to ultimately becoming one of the series’ heroes, Zuko is easily a fan-favourite and it’s not hard to see why we all love him. I think one of things I love most about A:TLA though, is the amount of self-aware humour that is used, and isn’t spared when it comes to Zuko. Sure, Zuko’s story is pretty tragic but that doesn’t stop characters in-universe making fun of his obsession with restoring his honour. (Sidenote: Aang is disqualified  on account of age, basically.)
  5.  Link (The Legend of Zelda)
     Oh man, this is a long-standing nostalgic crush for me. I know this is also kind of cheating as Link isn’t a character from an animated movie or show (shut up shut up, that animated show doesn’t count!), but he is an animated character so as far as I’m concerned his position on this list is totally legit. My first introduction to Link was my step-cousin play The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time  back in 1998, and I just loved Link. He’s another archetypical character, the Hero who must go on his Hero’s Journey and I guess the great thing about Link is that you’re adventuring right alongside him on his Hero’s Journey. He is intentionally silent in all of the games as he’s meant to be your avatar into the Zelda-universe, but I actually think the animation (especially in later games like Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword) have been great for actually expressing giving him a personality and expressing emotions.
  6. Count of Monte Cristo (Gankutsuou)
    This is a much more recent one – anyone who knows my reading habits knows I love me some French 19th Century writers, especially Alexandre Dumas’ adventure stories and having finished The Three Musketeers books as a teenager I’m now working my way through The Count of Monte Cristo which I think I’ve already decided I like better than The Three Musketeers. This anime is actually a surprisingly faithful adaptation of the novel, but with a few key differences that make it its own story. First of all it’s set far into the future (where apparently there’s been a restoration of the monarchy in France?) and secondly Edmond Dantes’ drive for revenge is fuelled by a pact he made with a demon while incarcerated in the Chateau D’If. There are other differences of course in terms of the different characters and their relationships and motivations, but those two are the most notable differences with regards to the plot. The anime is quite dark, and the Counts’ thirst for revenge is shown to be a all-consuming destructive force that almost completely engulfs the good man that the Count used to be – Edmond Dantes.
  7. Aladdin (Aladdin)
    I think Aladdin’s position as on this list was solidified by an encounter I had several years ago with a IRL hot guy who actually looked like Aladdin. Despite all the race-fail there is in this movie, I do really enjoy it and I think the appeal of Aladdin is that he’s clearly a flawed character but one who learns from his mistakes and most importantly wants to take you on fun adventures. (We’ll firmly ignore the part where his character design was apparently based on Tom Cruise. Why..?)
  8. …Entire Prince of Egypt Cast
    Whether it’s Ramses or Moses or even Joseph from the less-good King of Dreams movie, I’ve got to hand it to the animators of The Prince of Egypt: all their animated characters are ridiculously good-looking. (I’ll momentarily ignore the fact that I just called a bunch of Biblical characters hot). Re-watching The Prince of Egypt makes me kinda sad that Dreamworks doesn’t do this kind of animation any more, because this film was amazingly epic and the music was gorgeous and the animation was beautiful.
  9. Dr. Facilier (The Princess and the Frog)
    Dr. Facilier is easily one of the most awesome characters in The Princess and the Frog, has one of the best Disney villain songs ever and possesses just an amazing amount of style and charisma. It also helps Keith David’s voice acting is nothing short of amazing and spine-shiveringly cool. There is a lot of race-fail in this film too when it comes to the representation of Vodou, and I take issue with how easily Dr. Facilier is defeated but regardless of these issues I can’t help but love this character to bits.
  10. Scar (The Lion King)
    What? I dare you not to love Jeremy Irons.

Honourable Mentions:

  • Prince Adam/The Beast (Beauty and the Beast)
  • Judge Claude Frollo (The Hunchback of Notre Dame)
  • Hadji and Johnny Quest (The Real Adventures  of Johnny Quest)
  • Haku (Spirited Away)
  • Gambit (X-Men)
  • Bolin (The Legend of Korra)

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Ginie Muses: Masculinity and Heroism in Avatar the Last Airbender

Following my previous post on women in the ATLA universe, I felt it was also important to discuss how masculinity is constructed, especially in relation to the series’ main protagonist and hero, Aang.

Discussions of mediated representations of gender usually revolve around embracing different portrayals of femininity, and I would argue that this discussion is also important when it comes to how masculinity is mediated and how rigid gender roles marginalises and (more often than not) shames the men who don’t fall neatly into those roles.

While I would argue that everyone in the ‘gaang’ are heroic and heroes in their own right (and that both Sokka and Zuko also have pretty amazing growth arcs and story-lines); I’d like to focus this discussion more on Aang as he is the only one out of the three main male gang members who I feel doesn’t conform to conventional portrayals of masculinity. This isn’t to talk down Sokka or Zuko in anyway – they’re both great characters and I love them a great deal, but they are closer to what you’d expect from male main characters and for the purposes of this discussion Aang is the one I want to focus on.

This isn’t to talk down traditional notions of masculinity in men either; but traditional masculinity in men is something that is accepted and often celebrated while different displays of masculinity are often marginalised. This post is just a celebration of a main character who doesn’t fall into what I would consider to be a traditional portrayal of what a man should be, and I think that’s a positive message for guys who don’t necessarily identify with conventional notions of masculinity.

As always, watch out for ~*spoilers!*~

Aang (Air Bender)

This isn’t to say that Aang is feminine per se, but I think Aang is usually contrasted quite effectively with Sokka, who is a more normative representation of masculinity.

He’s also a very different type of hero than what we are usually presented with, and I would argue that there are two main types: 1.) The Underdog who Succeeds Against All Odds (See: Scott Pilgrim, the Karate Kid) and 2.) The Action Man (See: James Bond, most other action movies of that ilk). Aang falls into neither of these categories. While he’s not initially as powerful as Firelord Ozai, he’s still not an underdog. We are shown right from the start that Aang is a powerful airbender; and even though he struggles with some of the other elements throughout the series, we never doubt that he has the ability to master them and that he will be good at all of them. Not to mention the fact that while he’s also at his most vulnerable, in the Avatar state he is also almost invincible.

But he’s not just an Action Man either, and his fighting style is notably defensive and evasive. Rarely does he actually attack people (unless he’s in the Avatar state, or in cases of extreme emotional duress, such as when Appa was kidnapped). The series follows his growth into his role as the Avatar, and while a large part of that growth is learning the different kinds of bending, the most important part of his growth is learning how to carry out his duties as Avatar while staying true to what he personally believes in and staying true to himself. I don’t think it’s an accident that when Aang chooses to abandon his principles (i.e. when he is asked to let go of all worldly attachments and forget about Katara) the moment he tries to actually go through with it, he is brutally brought down by Azula. Forgetting the people he loves isn’t him, and he is weaker for it. Similarly in the finale when he is asked to killed Firelord Ozai, he spends a large amount of time being conflicted between what he believes he should do and what others are telling him he should do. In the end, he defeats Firelord Ozai on his own terms, and is better off for it.

While drawing strength from emotional ties isn’t new in a hero (See: Harry Potter), I think it’s still relatively rare in an action-adventure story, especially when it comes to male heroes, who are mostly expected to be emotionally self-reliant. Moreover Aang’s extremely pacifist stance is quite unusual. While heroes are expected to be merciful, they are rarely shown to be actively pacifist and aren’t usually terribly conflicted over killing the ‘bad guy’ if their hand is pushed.  I think the fact that Aang has this conflict is an example of the show’s maturity. Killing someone, even someone who has devastated several cities, isn’t a casual matter.

Regarding gender, I don’t think the Ember Island Players portrayal of him using a female actor was an accident either. I mean aside from the obvious laughs (haha! Aang is being played by a girl!) I think the fact that the Ember Island players chose a big buff guy to act out Toph’s part and a lithe woman to act out Aang’s part actually says something about their characters. Just as Toph has elements to her personality that are traditionally considered masculine, I think there are elements of Aang that are traditionally associated with femininity.

Take for instance the palm-reading episode. While Katara gets excited and goes off to get her palm-read; Aang asks Sokka what he thinks they might be talking about. Sokka (normative male) is highly dismissive of his sister and her conversation with the palmist:

Aang: So…what do you think they’re talking about back there?
Sokka: Boring stuff I’m sure. Love. Who she’s going to marry. How many babies she’s going to have.
Aang: Yeah. Dumb stuff like that…well, I gotta find a bathroom.

This immediately piques Aang’s interest and then he is just as curious as Katara to know who he is going to marry and what his love life will be like.

Aunt Wu: Your destiny. This is incredible! You will be involved in a great battle. An awesome conflict between the forces of good and evil. A battle whose outcome will determine the fate of the whole world!
Aang: Yeah, yeah I knew that already. But did it say anything about a girl?
Aunt Wu: A girl? You want to know about love?
Aang: Yes!
Aunt Wu: I’m sorry. But I didn’t see anything… Oh, look I’ve missed something. Right here. It says “Trust your heart, and you will be with the one you love.”

We know that both boys are interested in love (through the course of the show Sokka has two girlfriends and Aang has a crush on Katara), but being seen to be highly interested in romance and actively being concerned about it (as opposed to just interested in girls/sex) is usually portrayed as something only women do (I am admittedly look at this from a hetero-centric point of view, as a lot of the media in which this dynamic plays out is hetero-centric).

Which is ridiculous of course, I know plenty of men IRL who are plenty more romantic than I am – but for some reason the admission of wanting love and romance is seen to be something that is only acceptable for women to do. (See also: the derogatory way in which we speak of boybands who mainly sing about romance; or the fact that romance fiction and romantic-comedies are seen as something only women would indulge in).

I am reminded of this article about masculinity in The Hunger Games and Peeta. Like Peeta, Aang wears his heart on his sleeve and is relatively open about his feelings for Katara. It takes a while for him to get the courage/confidence to admit his feelings to her, but once he does he doesn’t shy away from them. (I would even argue he is exceptionally-bordering-on-suspiciously mature about the whole thing considering he’s meant to be a twelve-year-old boy. I guess being the Avatar makes you grow up faster?)

Regardless, whether it is about Katara or about his flying-bison Appa, Aang is very in touch with his emotions and he isn’t afraid to show them. Once again, this is unusual for a male hero. (Because male characters are meant to be stoic, of course! Touchy-feely emotional stuff is for girls! Male characters are allowed occasionally to shed a single manly tear. Any other display of emotion must be done – with their fists.)

Aang is also remarkably comfortable in his own skin and knows who and what he is about. He does occasionally have doubts – but as we’ve stated before, he is always shown to be better off when he stays true to himself. When Sokka recommends a more macho-demeanour as a means of attracting female attention it only succeeds in doing the opposite – annoying Katara. Aang’s displays of sensitivity (which are much truer to his character) work much better and that is what Katara responds to.

This comfortableness and security in his own self also extends to when he is made to wear Avatar Kyoshi’s old uniform. Despite the lady’s clothing and make-up Aang is remarkably unfazed by it all. This is also very different to most male characters who, like Sokka, aren’t comfortable taking on different gender roles.  Men wearing women’s clothing has often been used as a comedic trope, and I would argue that while we’re meant to laugh at the sight of Aang in Kyoshi’s make-up and dress, the fact that Aang is entirely comfortable with it and the fact that the story and actions carries on (with Aang still dressed as Kyoshi) is a way of saying: it’s not a big deal. Yes, Aang in Kyoshi’s dress is an incongruous image and not what you’re expecting, but once you get over that it isn’t that big a deal. If Aang isn’t bothered by it, then why should anyone be bothered by the fact that he’s wearing a dress?

To conclude, Aang is a remarkable example of how masculinity and male heroism can be different from what it has always traditionally meant. Masculinity doesn’t only have to be the stoic, lone-wolf Marlboro Man. Male heroism doesn’t only have to be about using physical strength and violence to protect the ones you love. It can be so much more inclusive than that.

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Ginie Muses: The Women of Avatar the Last Airbender

TV Show: Avatar the Last Airbender
Creators: Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko
Years:
2005 – 2008
Rating: 5/5

Once again, I am several years behind fandom and have only recently discovered ATLA. To be fair – I partially blame M. Night Shyamalan for this. I may have ended up watching that terrible excuse for a film against my will, and it put me off looking into the TV show for a good few years (up until there was a lot of flurry on Tumblr over The Legend of Korra) and – having been drawn in by all the artwork and character designs – I ended up checking out the original series to see what all the fuss was all about.

All I can say is? Oh my gosh my feels. There are too many of them. How does a Saturday morning cartoon simultaneously manage to make me giggle-snort with laughter and also move me to tears? (Yes, I did. Just a little when Zuko was re-united with Uncle Iroh. Shut up.)

Basically, this show is good. Really, really good. The animation is stunning, the kind of research that went into re-creating a Sino-centric fantasy universe is impressive and fantastic and the characters are wholly believable and well-fleshed out with different motivations and conflicts; and as the series progresses they all learn and change a lot.

It’s also probably one of the few mainstream TV shows that features POC’s so prominently and also has a remarkable number of girls in the cast that aren’t merely love-interests and serve as main characters in their own right. Anyway, without further ado – here is my post celebrating the women of Avatar the Last Airbender.

Also! ~*SPOILERS*~

Katara (Water Bender)

Katara

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of all the women on this show, Katara is probably the most conventionally feminine – she’s often described as motherly and caring, she has healing powers and she looks out for everybody in the group. But you know what? This is also cool. I feel too often when we think of “strong women” in the media we think of the Action Girl – she’s hot, she’s tough, and she fights and talks just like a man! And while there’s nothing wrong with this, this version of strong femininity often ignores or dismisses traditionally considered ‘feminine’ virtues such as compassion and mocks other displays of femininity, whether it be in dress or in interests. Katara takes all of that and shoves it back in their face – yes she’s motherly, yes she’s a healer and yes, she takes an interest in her appearance. But she’s also a master waterbender, a strong fighter and following the death of her mother, is someone who has had to grow up very quickly and learn to be brave very young. I also like that throughout the series she has more than one flirtation. Katara isn’t a particularly flirty character, but her interactions with Haku and Jet are refreshing in a female character aimed at young girls – finding “the One” was never her goal; she found different men attractive throughout the series and that was ok. The fact that she ends up with Aang makes sense when you consider all that they’ve been through together and the fact that they have quite compatible personalities (i.e. they’ll both always do whatever they can to protect and help people in need), that and she never really got to spend enough time with any of the other guys to see where those relationships might have led. But I liked that there was a possibility for something different, and I liked that as far as Katara was concerned, Aang wasn’t her only option.

I also like that despite all of this, Katara has her own potential for darkness: bloodbending. Although initially horrified by thought of controlling other people by bending the water in their bodies (i.e. blood – this kid’s show goes to some dark places), canonically Katara has used bloodbending twice. Once against Hamma to protect Aang and Sokka, and the second time against the man she thought killed her mother. While the first time left her anguished and horrified at what she had done, the second time she had done it was in revenge-fuelled rage, and you can see that even the best of characters have the potential to do evil things. What makes a person good is ultimately in the choices that they make, and when Katara finally comes face-to-face with her mother’s murderer, Katara makes the decision not to kill him – even though every fibre in her being wants revenge on what he had done. This level of complexity (moral or otherwise) is rarely ever shown in a female character, and for these reasons Katara is an awesome character. When people mention their favourite Katara-moment, they’ll usually cite her challenging Master Pakku to teach her waterbending (in the Northern Water tribe only men are allowed to learn this martial art) and the waterbending fight which ensues, in which Katara holds her own against a sexist waterbending Master. While that scene is awesome, I must admit that the defining Katara moment for me is when she tells Sokka:

“No! I will never, ever turn my back on people who need me… I’m going down to the village. And I’m going to do whatever I can!” – Katara, The Painted Lady (S3E03)

Because that is who Katara is. She learnt early on how to stick up for herself, but what makes her truly a hero is that she’ll always stick out for others too.

Toph Bei Fong (Earth Bender)

If Katara represents a more conventional view of femininity, Toph represents what we usually assume a strong female character to be. And just as femme heroes shouldn’t be dismissed because of their femininity, female heroes who don’t fit prescribed gender roles shouldn’t be dismissed either. She’s a tomboy, she spits, she’s sarcastic and she can kick your ass. She’s also blind and twelve-years-old. I tend to think Toph follows a more recent tradition of female action-heroes, the one where a young-harmless girl turns out to be far more deadly than anyone could ever imagine (See: Hit Girl in Kick-Ass, or Hanna). However unlike Hit-Girl (and unlike most female action heroes) Toph doesn’t need rescuing at the crucial moment by the ~real~ hero of the story. Toph holds her own in all fights, and in the season finale plays her role in defeating the Fire Nation. I must admit, that what I do love about Toph is her sarcasm. A lot of the more hilarious moments in the show are a direct result of what she says.

While being rescued from drowning by Suki.
Toph: Oh Sokka, you saved me! -kisses Suki-
Suki: Actually, it’s me.
Toph: Oh…well, aheheh. You can go ahead and let me drown now.

I also like that while on paper she is slightly in danger of falling into the disability-as-a-superpower-trope, Toph’s explanation for how she can “see” (i.e. through the vibrations she feels in the ground) makes intuitive sense considering she’s an earthbender and is used consistently throughout the show. Whenever she’s in water, sand or another element that doesn’t conduct vibrations as well as steady ground, she has trouble ‘seeing’ what she is doing and what is going on. Despite this, the show makes it clear that it isn’t her disability, her gender, her age or small stature that hold her back, but other people (most notably her overprotective parents). I think Toph’s initial clash with Katara also makes sense in view of all these things. Their personalities and experiences are very different – Katara who has had to take care of her family all her life is naturally motherly and slightly bossy. Toph on the other hand has been ‘handled’ all her life by her parents and carers and the last thing she wants when she’s finally found her freedom is to have someone else tell her what to do, even if some of Katara’s suggestions are entirely sensible. But I like that despite these differences they have quite touching moments of friendship, such as in Tales of Ba Sing Se and when they are both in prison together.

Also, Toph invents metal-bending. Basically she’s amazing.

Azula (Fire Bender)

So the first time Azula is presented to the audience, I must admit my first thought was “Wow. She is so eeeevil.” Like, I was genuinely impressed with how fucking terrifying she was, and I would happily list her as one of the most intimidating fictional characters ever created. This isn’t because she’s a firebending prodigy (which she is), or because she’s powerful (which she also is). It’s because she’s a master of manipulation, and one who knows just which buttons to push to threaten people into submission. I also think Azula is the one character who could have easily been a guy without changing a single thing to her storyline; and in any other production, they probably would have made her a guy. Tragic sibling-rivalries concerning actual struggles for power in fiction only ever seem to happen between two brothers (while female sibling rivalry is usually presented in the form of conquest over a male object of desire); and the fact that they chose to make her a girl (despite no ‘reason’ to do so story-wise) I think is a step in the right direction in terms of the way we think about representation. I think Azula presents an interesting contrast to Zuko, mainly because Azula represents what Zuko may well have turned into if he had never been banished from the Fire Nation. Of course, we’re given hints in their back story that Azula was always the more talented and the more violent one, but I think we have to remember that even though Zuko changed his mind  and decided to fight on Aang’s side in the end, he did some horribly manipulative things too. Both Azula and Zuko are a product of a self-aggrandising nation and culture that believes in its own superiority and only respects displays of  intimidation and power. While Zuko had an opportunity to experience a different kind of life, Azula did not; and moreover Azula was always rewarded for her  displays of ‘strength’, while Zuko was always punished for showing ‘weakness’. I think this is the true difference between the two siblings, and while I don’t excuse any of Azula’s actions there is something slightly tragic about her character.

The episode The Beach shows a more human side of her, the tragi-comedy of Azula trying to flirt with a boy she finds attractive while failing miserably because the only interaction with others she’s ever had has always been through coercion and intimidation. (This is also different from most female villains; while most female villains are usually portrayed as manipulative, they are usually portrayed skilled seductresses who use their sexual wiles in order to manipulate supposedly hapless men. Azula is no seductress, and at no point does she use her beauty to manipulate anyone.) The betrayal of her friends of Mai and Ty Lee drives her to near insanity; first of all because I think a part of her maybe have believed that their friendship was genuine (but how can it be when it’s based on fear?) but also because Mai’s love for Zuko outweighs her fear of Azula. Azula, who has never been able to convince anyone to love her (not even her own mother) is suddenly left in a position she has never been before: powerless. Because if love outweighs fear, than what does she have left to bargain with?

And a special shout-out…

To Suki (Leader of the Kyoshi warriors, who shows Sokka a thing or to about what it means to be a warrior), Mai, Ty Lee and Avatar Kyoshi herself. They aren’t as central to the show as the above three ladies are, but the world of ATLA has a lot of interesting women both in the lead roles and in secondary roles and that is a welcome change from the usual line-up of characters in action-adventure stories.

Things also seem set to be just as awesome in the spin-off/sequel series Avatar: The Legend of Korra which I look forward to watching and reviewing. In the meanwhile if you’re interested in exciting previews (the shows doesn’t come out until the 14th of April) sign up to Korra Nation here.

For my analysis of how Aang challenges traditional narratives of masculinity and male heroism, please click here.


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Ginie Reviews Film: The Adventures of Tintin – The Secret of the Unicorn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Film: The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn
Director: Steven Spielberg
Year: 2011
Notable Actors: Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Daniel Craig
Rating: 4/5

I’m not going to lie – I was ready to hate this film. Like many Francophone kids, I grew up with the Tintin comic books and animated series and have a pretty fond memory of them (questionable racial dynamics aside) and when I heard there was going to be a feature length film I was unbelievably excited. Then I heard it would be animated using motion-capture technology and my heart plummeted. Oh god no, I thought – not another Polar Express.

The trailer and the teaser images released by the studios over the last six months did nothing to assuage my fears. As I had imagined, the characters seemed to look mostly creepy with their life-like human skin and eyes but cartoonish proportions – and all the reviews I’d read once the movie was released only seemed to confirm my prejudices. Still, it was a Tintin movie and I was going to see it regardless of how awful it might be, simple as that.

Now that I have actually seen it I can honestly say I think all the outraged reviews and accusations of corpse-like animation is mostly over-exaggerated. Genuinely, this was a really fun film with lots of really inventive action sequences and stunning animation that only very occasionally veered into uncanny-valley territory, mainly when the camera focussed a little too closely on the main characters’ eyes – which thankfully, it actually doesn’t do that often.

For fans who grew up with these stories there is plenty to be delighted by: the producers clearly did their research and there are plenty of fun references to other famous Tintin adventures, such as the lovely little cameo by Bianca Castafiore (also got me ridiculously exited). The movie is also visually stunning, from the awesome 2D animated opening sequence to the fight scenes out at sea and does actually make a good use of 3D (something I’m usually very sceptical about) with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments and the sense of adventure that the original animated series portrayed. Lest anyone think my enthusiasm is purely nostalgia-based, I’d also like to say my boyfriend who was equally prepared to be unimpressed by the film and had never grown up with Tintin at all still came out of the theatres agreeing that it was great fun and much better than he had imagined it would be.

I also enjoyed the way you got a feel for Tintin and Captain Haddock as characters, especially Tintin who I feel is usually very 2-D and bland; whereas here he seems to be much more fleshed out and much more like a real person. My boyfriend was surprised at how dark some of it was, especially Capt. Haddock’s battle with alcoholism which is played for laughs in the film, but it does also address how much Capt. Haddock’s addiction has negatively affected his life and his relationship with others, including his budding friendship with Tintin who initially finds Haddock impossible to trust.

My only criticisms then would be the occasionally uncanny valley-ish effects of the animation and the very odd gender ratio (which to be fair, was a problem that was also true of the original series). I think there must’ve been literally four women present in the entire film, only one of which had a ‘speaking’ part (sort-of. I don’t think Bianca actually spoke, just sang). It is very much a boy’s own adventure story, which means while it’s fun it definitely seems to exist in a weird world where women just don’t exist, not even as 2-D love interests. As for the racial dynamics of the film, similarly people of colour are purely background characters, but this is a problem that is also carried over from the original series. I suppose we can hope that any sequels might have a better balance next time, but knowing Hollywood I wouldn’t count on it.

All in all a really fun adventure film, well worth the watch if you’re interested in animation or Tintin and don’t let all the negative reviews about creepy-eyed corpses put you off.

Ginie

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