Frozen

TV Review: Once Upon a Time (Season 4)

Ever since season 3, Once Upon a Time has adapted a “split season” approach in order to allow a more “gap-free” airing of episodes. While this idea seemed quite good when ABC was selling it since the “momentum” of the series was sometimes broken due to random stretches without new episodes. However, 2 years of this format has shown that it does not work very well. It leaves the series feeling rather fractured and quite honestly, 11 episodes is not “long” enough to fully flesh out meaty storylines (especially with the extensive characters in the Once universe). The writers have good concepts/ideas, but all of the half-seasons have felt rather disappointing and half-baked. Season 3A (Neverland/Peter Pan) was extremely slow-paced and season 3B (Oz/Wicked Witch) was more hype than substance. What about season 4A and 4B?


Season 4A: Frozen
I adored Frozen, so I was quite ecstatic at the glimpse of Elsa during season 3B’s ending and looked forward to seeing how the Frozen characters/world would be incorporated. Overall I thought Once did a fantastic job translating the animated movie into the “real” world. Elizabeth Lail was spot-on as cute/funny Anna and she honestly had the best lines; I was less impressed with Georgina Haig as Elsa, but grew to like her. The highlight casting though was Elizabeth Mitchell as the Snow Queen; she was an absolute scene-stealer with her gripping performance. I was quite sad to see Mitchell go.

Story-line wise, season 4A was the most coherent, balanced, and well-written arc of all the half-seasons. While certain aspects of the story were rather forced/unexplained, as a whole it had plenty of surprise, fun, and excitement. It brought new life to the show and actually made it feel rather fresh again. I really liked Emma’s friendship with Elsa and it helped to develop Emma’s character into accepting her magic. The blending of the original Snow Queen fairytale with Frozen was quite creative.

The main complaint that I have is that the Frozen characters dominated too much of the screen time and I got rather tired that most flashbacks were based in Arendelle or involved Anna/Elsa. What I loved about the Once flashbacks from other seasons (as I did with LOST) was that each episode would focus on a different character/story that would tie in with “current” events, which kept things fresh.


Season 4B: Queens of Darkness/Heroes & Villains
Similar to season 3B’s Wicked promotional tactic, season 4B was full of hype for the incorporation of Maleficent, Ursula, and Cruella de Vil into the Once world. Consequently, the “Queens of Darkness” was more superfluous than anything else. I still do not understand how they originally banded together in the Enchanted Forest and they did not live up to their “threatening” name. Worse, they were all under-developed (with the exception of perhaps Ursula who at least got a “complete” story, but her end was too abrupt) and did not meet any potential. The most enjoyable “Queen” was Cruella, who had delicious zingers and Victoria Smurfit gave her great sass; her lone flashback was arguably Once‘s darkest and most chilling episode. I really hope we have not seen the last of Kristin Bauer van Straten because Maleficent’s story remains so incomplete. I was under the impression that we would see more of Aurora/Sleeping Beauty, but we only got one scene. For all of her talk, Maleficent seemed rather powerless and was always so easy to defeat that it was laughable. I also did not like her “upgraded” costume (which seemed to borrow from Angelina Jolie‘s costume from Maleficent).

I was always under the impression that the “Author” storyline was a ruse for the characters (namely Regina) to realize that there is no “magical being” that grants happy endings and life is all about choices and consequences. I thought the quest to find such an “Author” was a futile one. How disappointed I was to learn that there truly was an Author who does have the power to “change” things. Fortunately, in the end, the message of the “Author” storyline was indeed that the characters write their own stories and that the “evil Author” who had such “powers” to change fate had gone astray in his duties.

Season 4B is probably Once‘s worst writing thus far. There were too many inconsistencies, too many incredulous plot/character devices to invoke twists/shocks, lack of character development, and just felt terribly disjointed. It seemed to be an array of action rather than trying to tell a coherent story. Here are my main complaints:

– The constant “hero” and “villain” labels/speeches felt very forced and contrived. I hated it. While I understand that this has always been the underlying theme, but having it repeated over and over again was overkill. If there’s one thing the Once writers need to improve on, it’s that they need to show and not just tell.
– I did not think the “twist” with Charming and Snow carrying a deep, dark secret was needed or credible. They had interesting gray layers already! How could they reach Glinda if their hearts were not “pure” in season 3B?
– The immense “fear” that Emma would turn dark was ridiculous. Again the characters seem to act according to the plot rather than maintain their characterizations.
– There are so many phenomenal existing characters and so many unfinished/untold stories that I really don’t understand why the writers forsake them for the inclusion of even more characters. It is like they are too greedy for a large cast and end up underutilizing most of them (or they just disappear).
– Belle is the worst treated “main” character. She was so good in season 1 with her strength and she is supposed to be intelligent and “book smart”, but the writers continuously make her brainless and spineless. It is so frustrating to watch her and Emilie de Ravin‘s acting is going downhill. Also, Will & Belle were a waste of time; the fact that they were dating came out of nowhere. Are we supposed to believe Belle moved on in 6 weeks? They also had no chemistry. I am praying that season 5’s Belle will be better (and she should be with Rumple having to overcome life without any power/darkness). I really do like Belle & Rumple, but she is just so badly written as of late.
– The “villain” Hook is far more interesting than the love interest/background he has become.

While 4B was weak, the two-hour finale offered some hope.  The “alternate” world was rather fun and reminded me of LOST‘s season 6 parallel timeline.  The “Author” storyline came to a satisfying conclusion and I really liked how Snow summarized what a “villain” makes (someone who forsakes others for their own happiness). The tremendous sacrifice that Emma made to fulfill her promise to Regina of giving her a “happy ending” was so touching. The growth and strength that Regina displayed when she stopped believing in a cursed “fate” and instead faces things highlights her multi-season journey – she is the best written, most layered, and most consistent character of the show. Lana Parrilla is also the best actress on Once with her nuanced and multi-faceted performace (just see the finale where Ginnifer Goodwin seemed rather fake/stiff as Evil Snow while Parrilla was convincing as a tragic bandit). The seeds are definitely planted for some interesting storylines next season.

Overall Thoughts
Something needs to change with Once… and soon. Either they need to get rid of the half-seasons or they need to have an “end-date”. At this point, I am not sure where the series is going. While I continue to love it because of the great “core” characters and for those genuinely magical moments, the creative spark and excitement from season 1 seems to have fizzled. It has so much potential and so many seeds they can sow that I find it frustrating they pursue lesser plots. I am cautiously hopeful that season 5 can improve and am curious to see what will become of Emma being the new “Dark One” and with the new quest to find Merlin.

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Movie Review: Big Hero 6

Title: Big Hero 6
Directors: Don Hall, Chris Williams
Cast: Scott Adsit, Ryan Potter, Daniel Henney, T. J. Miller, Jamie Chung, Damon Wayans, Jr., Génesis Rodríguez, Maya Rudolph
Genre: Animation
Running Time: 102 minutes
Accolade: Academy Awards for Best Animated Feature

Plot
Based on a comic book by the same name, on the exterior, this movie is an action-packed adventure/comedy about how an unlikely group of 5 “kids” and an oversized robot came together to “fight evil”, but at its core, it is a beautiful story about overcoming grief.

He Said
I was skeptical about this movie due to the unappealing title that makes it sound like a sequel and lackluster “teaser trailer”, but the fact that it was from someone who worked on Frozen made me curious. Additionally, as a healthcare professional, I also thought the concept of Baymax, a personal healthcare robot, was hilarious. Therefore I watched Big Hero 6 with little knowledge of the plot/premise and relatively low expectations… and what a splendid surprise! The beginning is admittedly slow, but once Baymax comes to life and attends to the needs of the depressed Hiro, it is golden. There is so much humor and joy to be had from the scene-stealing Baymax! The action and animation are so well done, but what impresses me the most is the brilliant and mature script that so effectively portrays tragedy, grief, and healing. The emotional ending earns all of my heartfelt tears.

She Said
If the virtue of a movie resides in its ability to induce cathartic tears, then this movie ranks very, very high on my list. In short, I balled. Like Thanh, I brushed off the movie after seeing its unimpressive (and slow paced) preview. The movie, however, drew me in the moment Hiro explored the robotics lab at his brother’s university. The innovations! What started as an intellectual adventure quickly escalated to an emotional catharsis. I recommend this animation unequivocally and can’t wait to (re-)watch it with my niece and nephew!

We Say
Big Hero 6 is an amazing and brilliant movie that has tremendous emotional resonance. Disney continues to prove it is in a new “Golden Age” with Big Hero 6 deservedly earning the studio its second consecutive Oscar for “Best Animated Feature” (after 2014’s epic Frozen). This is a must-watch movie for all of its action, comedy, and heart – it is all-around fun for all ages (although “younger kids” will probably not appreciate it as much) with a wonderful message about dealing with losses.

Themes: Wreck It Ralph, Frozen, Tangled

My infatuation for Frozen sparked a renewed interest in Disney and a desire to watch the creative team’s past works. Having finished Tangled and most recently Wreck It Ralph, I observed very common themes among all 3 movies.

But first, a mini-review…

Wreck It Ralph runs in a similar creative vein as the Toy Story franchise. Instead of toys, Ralph brings to life video game (arcade) characters. It immerses the viewer into a colorful world with very “human” characters. Essentially Ralph is a story about discovering self-worth against prejudice and labels, told through the heart-warming quest of a misunderstood “villain” (Ralph) who just wants to be the “hero” for a change. This is a fun, feel-good family movie that offers a strong and touching message.

Themes: Identity & Acceptance
One of the biggest struggles that we can all relate to is learning and accepting who you are.

Societal “norms” correlate with acceptance, something that all humans desire. Divergence from said “norm” results in ostracization. In an attempt to fit in with the majority, some go to great lengths to change themselves and conceal any and all glaring “differences”; this can result in self-suffering with unexpected and undesired consequences.

Too often we are also quick to apply labels to others and form opinions without truly knowing who the person is. Indeed, prejudice can sadly cloud our judgment, which sometimes makes us lose out on potential relationships.

Thus the struggle for identity and acceptance can be hard and life-long. Fittingly breaking beyond their labels as “animated movies for kids”, Tangled, Ralph, and Frozen tackle these very “adult” topics through their characters’ journeys.

In Tangled, Rapunzel and Flynn learned who they were through their relationship with one another. Rapunzel overcame her fears of the unknown and became confident in herself. Flynn realized he was more than a “bandit” and found meaning and purpose beyond surviving and living for himself.

In most fiction, there are protagonists and antagonists. “Real life” is not so black and white. The video game characters in Ralph try to depict the multidimensional layers of people. During the day their “job” is to be either the “hero”, “villain”, or supporting cast. Sadly for “villains”, the stigma of their “job” carries off-duty and they are discriminated and considered by peers as “bad guys”. Ralph is the epitome of this prejudice; he consequently suffers from low self-esteem and just wants so badly to show others that he’s not a “bad guy” and be liked by others.

The movie chronicles Ralph’s quest to break through his labeled persona, but actually ends up with him learning who he is. In the touching and strong climax, Ralph boldly states:

I am bad, and that’s good. I will never be good, and that’s not bad. There is no one I would rather be than me.

In this epic scene, Ralph not only proves he is more than a “bad guy”, but he finds his self-worth and embraces his “difference”. It is only after he accepts himself that others accept him.

In Frozen, Elsa is forced to hide not only her magical ice/snow-making abilities, but also herself. She was miserable, trapped by fear. When her secret is revealed, Elsa is at first scared, but later becomes empowered by her new-found freedom as she belts in “Let It Go”. After years of isolation and trying to keep a secret, she no longer cared what people thought and just wanted to “live” for once. She relished in her abilities, her “difference”, as she makes a beautiful ice castle (and the lovable, scene-stealing Olaf).

Due to a lack of understanding, people believed Elsa to be a “monster” – a Snow Queen. People fear the unknown. It is only when they start to understand her powers (as a result of Elsa embracing, rather than concealing) are they able to see past her “difference” and realize that she is still human.

We Say
As people, we all have our own quirks; no two are exactly alike. It is crucial to learn who you are and especially understand the “differences” that make you unique. Don’t try too hard to conform to societal “norms” or appease the majority. Ultimately, the big message is this: Living life freely results in happiness.

Movie Review: Tangled

Title: Tangled
Directors: Nathan Greno & Byron Howard
Cast: Mandy Moore, Zachary Levi, Donna Murphy
Genre: Animation
Running Time: 100 minutes
Purchase Tangled: DVD

Plot
Tangled supposedly tells the classic tale of a girl trapped in a tower who upon beckoning, “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair”, unleashes her impossibly long golden locks. However, the fairytale is merely a backdrop for what is actually a coming-of-age story that explores self-discovery and empowerment.

He Said
I was not impressed by Tangled‘s trailer back in 2010 and had no intentions of watching it, but my love for Frozen (the tagline on the poster touts it as “From the creators of Tangled and Wreck It Ralph“) made me yearn for more of the same type of animated excellence. Perhaps, consequently, I came into the movie with far too much expectations and initially found the story very boring and the characters just not endearing. The movie thankfully picks up about 45 minutes in and becomes a rather pleasant watch until the end. The “lantern scene” truly encapsulates the movie-magic feel that Disney does so well when it gets it right. I appreciate Rapunzel’s strength (her character offers young girls a different type of “Disney Princess”) and Disney was quite creative with their use of her hair and I enjoyed the modern twists to the story. The surprisingly dark commentary on controlling and overprotective parenting was interesting. I do worry, however, that the story may feed (or initiate?) fantasies that young kids sometimes have about being adopted and actually having “better” [biological] parents (especially when they disagree with their parents).

She Said
From the viewpoint of an aunt screening movies for her nieces and nephews, I wouldn’t recommend Tangled for children. The theme is unnecessarily dark. While I recognize that Gothel is a witch, she has nonetheless raised Rapunzel and one would hope all those years would amount to something more than an abusive and manipulative relationship filled with greed on Gothel’s side and fear within Rapunzel. The exchanges of “I love you” were completely empty. I prefer not to introduce children to these ideations of hypocrisy and schemes. To simply wave this off as “Gothel’s the evil character” doesn’t settle with me either. As an adult watching the movie, Tangled entertains but lacks a powerful message.

We Say
“Rapunzel” is a rather mundane fairytale that Tangled is able to spin into a rather entertaining take on entering society and growing up. It has a dreadfully slow start, but the characters and the movie itself ultimately become likable. Tangled has its moments, but is overall just passable and lacks that indescribable charisma that makes animated features like Toy Story 3 and Frozen unforgettable and far superior.

Movie Review: Frozen

Title: Frozen
Directors: Chris Buck & Jennifer Lee
Cast: Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, Santino Fontana
Genre: Animation
Running Time: 102 minutes
Accolades: Oscars for Best Animated Feature and Best Original Song; Golden Globes for Best Animated Feature
Purchase Frozen: DVD | Blu-ray | Soundtrack

Plot
Based loosely on a Danish fairytale entitled “The Snow Queen”, Frozen tells a story of family, love, loyalty, and all the familiar themes of a Disney animation, except with a great twist that turns gender stereotyping on its head.

He Said
I have a love/hate relationship with Disney movies. They have many memorable songs, characters, and scenes which I do recall fondly and enjoy in small quantities. However, I was not a fan of the sometimes contrived and unrealistic stories, especially as I got older. I didn’t think I’d watch another Disney movie until I was a parent. Surprisingly, I found myself curious of the immense hype and praise Frozen received and just had to see it for myself. Magical and engaging from beginning to end and filled with endearing characters, Frozen not only embodies the best of Disney’s DNA, but takes it to new heights with a surprisingly well-written, snappy, and rather mature story. I must admit I was caught off-guard twice, which was quite pleasant given how predictable most Disney movies are. The soundtrack is extremely catchy. I whole-heartedly enjoyed the laughs and heart strings which Frozen tugged.

She Said
I did not grow up with fantasies about love or being in a pretty white dress on my wedding day. I did not grow up with Disney or fairytales. Watching Disney as an adult, I hated it. It was too unrealistic, too romanticized. Why is there always a damsel in distress? Why must the prince save the day? But as an aunt, I do watch Disney to screen/approve what my nieces and nephews should watch. I was drawn to Frozen the very moment Anna spoke, “the sky’s awake so I’m awake so we have to play!” The exact words were spoken by my nephew before and my heart just melted. A few minutes later, I teared up realizing the tragic fate of our princesses. Yes, it appears every fairytale involves the passing away of parents – and I still cry every. single. time. I rolled my eyes when Anna supposedly fell in love at first sight, and heaved a sigh of relief when her engagement fell through. Anna’s feisty nature and bravery were nicely complemented with Kristoff’s skepticism and loyalty. Their journey together was made more perfect with Olaf, the hilarious and optimistic snowman. Frozen was engaging and quick paced. I dreaded getting to the ending because I was truly enjoying the film and did not want that cliched “happily ever”. To my heart’s delight, a plot twist revolutionized my vision of fairytales and I cried in agreement with Frozen‘s definition of love. Disclaimer: I was not heads over heels with the production. There is one scene that I must pick a bone with: “Let It Go”. The concept of accepting who you are and having self-confidence is wonderful. Why smear such a beautiful moment? Must one suddenly have an hourglass figure, adorn a sexy dress, and strut like a super model in order to gain confidence? In the year 2014, I am enraged that while gender stereotype can be addressed, Disney is still sending false messages about body image.

We Say
Frozen is an entertaining movie for viewers of all ages and truly deserves its Oscar for “Best Animated Picture”. Funny, touching, and above all else, it is smart and meaningful. You will simply “melt” for Frozen! Hopefully this movie heralds a new generation of Disney!

Side note… could we get an Olaf spin-off?