Sunday, September 26, 2010

Life Before Glee

Who enjoyed the Season 2 premiere of Glee? I sure did. I've watched the episode Auditions a few times already, mostly for Charice's appearance as new girl Sunshine Corazon. Filipino Pride Ya'lls!


Upon reading interviews with show creator Ryan Murphy, he blatantly states that he has never watched Disney's High School Musical, which some claim as an influence on the show's rising popularity. I can easily see that as a fact, I however think there might have been some other factors in the media that might have influence the look and feel of this ground breaking show.

Let's start at the beginning with the 80's series Kids Incorporated. While Fame dominated most of televisionat the time, Kids Incorporated is best known for starting the careers of Fergie (then known as Stacy Ferguson), Jennifer Love Hewitt (known simply as Love Hewitt), Mario Lopez and Eric Balfour among others. Like Glee, Kids Inc. would feature popular songs of the period as well as old favorites. Unlike Glee, it had more in common with an sitcom with stand-alone episodes as opposed to a serialized dramedy. The budget even equaled that of a cheap 80's sitcom, so of course it looked awesome to kids of the 80's like myself. The revolving cast made it hard for original fans to stay on board. Pretty much the quality started to decline when Stacy Ferguson bowed out. I loves me some Fergie.

From 1999-2001, the WB's most original show was Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But aside from Buffy, there was also the immensely popular Popular, which was created by Glee creator Ryan Murphy. The show featured two awesome female leads on opposite sides of the High School hierarchy who find that they will soon become sisters when their individual parents fall in love; an idea that was carried onto Glee when straight boy Finn's mom falls for homosexual cutie Kurt's dad. Also carried onto Glee from this show is the idea of jocks and cheerleaders in musicals, and all of that was waay before Disney's High School Musical as well. Characters occasionally break out into song, but it's too few and far in-between. Glee can be seen as a sort of spiritual sequel to Popular and I wouldn't be surprised if both shows were in the same TV-verse. The show was unfortunately ended too soon before it's prime. Both seasons can be bought on DVD. The Season 2 cover rocks. I voted for it on their webpage back in the day ;-)

Early incarnations of Kurt and Finn?
Popular - The Complete First Season
Popular - The Complete Second Season

After Popular, came a movie called Get Over It, directed by openly gay director Tommy O'Haver.  Get Over It is a long forgotten teen comedy with a musical angle. A high school basketball player falls for a girl, causing him to join the high school musical. This story premise should sound familiar to fans of Disney's High School Musical. The difference is that the movie is dominated not by original songs, but classic hits like "Love Will Keep Us Together" and "I'll Never Fall in Love Again." The original songs that are contained in the movie are awesome and penned by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman who also did the music for Hairpspray the Musical. Kirsten Dunst stars in this movie with an impressive supporting cast and does a lot of the singing, and she ain't bad. This movie is well worth a view if you can find it. I have a feeling it's out of print. 

Check it out, Mila Kunis was in it too
Get Over it
Glee is groundbreaking in the sense that it breaths new life into the musical genre. It takes what was before them and brings it to a level of a billion. Here's hoping that it continues to break new ground with it's unique storylines and interesting song-to-scene associations.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Megara - Who's the Damsel Now?

"I am a princess. All girls are. Even if they live in tiny old attics. Even if they dress in rags, even if they aren't pretty, or smart, or young. They're still princesses. All of us." - Sara Crewe, A Little Princess (1995)

Disney Animation Studios gets a lot of flack for creating weak characters: Princess that need their Princes to rescue them, to kiss them awake. This very stereotype was mocked in Disney's own movie Enchanted, but is this stereotype really applicable to Disney Films, even in the past? Are Disney Princesses always waiting for their Princes?

In the past, it did ring true. Snow White's longing for a true love when she sings "Someday My Prince Will Come" spells it all out. This chick is waiting for her prince. Cinderella's longing was a little step forward. She didn't want a prince. She wanted to go to a party. Holla! By chance she just happened to meet her prince while there. Briar Rose in Sleeping Beauty didn't even know she met a prince when she fell in love with Phillip. So after Snow White, the Disney Princesses in their own way tried to defy stereotypes of the princess in peril, albeit very subtly.

Beginning with Ariel, Disney Princesses started to have a sass all their own. Ariel was a typical teenager, talking back to her father and defying his rules, as was Jasmine, and she blatantly didn't "want to be princess." Belle was the town oddball who followed her own instincts and was the rescuer of her own prince. Many other strong female characters emerged liked Pocahontas, Kida (Atlantis: The Lost Empire) and Esmeralda (The Hunchback of Notre Dame) but the most interesting of them all would have to be Megara, the female lead in Disney's Hercules.

Disney has their official line-up of who their princesses are - Snow White, Cinderella, Briar Rose, Ariel, Belle, Jasmine, Mulan, Tiana and sometimes Pocahantas - and a lot of deserving female heroes they have created are not included in that line-up, namely Megara. I think she should be included.

Megara is spunky, strong and beautiful. Most importantly, when Hercules comes to her rescue, she is very quick to dismiss him. She can save herself. The song provided for her is also about "not" wanting a man. In the end when Hercules and Megara are standing side by side after all is said and done, it's not because of a grand wedding they are having, it's because there's no doubt in the world that their experiences throughout the film have led them to each other. Their future is no doubt full of love, but they're story doesn't have to end with a wedding.

So how about it Disney? Wanna include Megara in that Disney Princess line-up? She's died twice, I think she deserves it.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Wizard of Oz - A Parody Review

(The following parody review may contain spoilers) 

MGM's The Wizard of Oz is based off of the book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz; the first book of the Oz series by L. Frank Baum. Newcomer Judy Garland plays Dorothy, a role originally offered to Shirley Temple, who looks more like how Dorothy does in the books. Veteran actors Ray Bolger as Scarecrow, Jack Haley as Tin Man and Bert Lahr as The Lion also star with Billie Burke and Margaret Hamilton as the two witches. A little on the lack of witches later.

Are you a good book? Or a bad movie?

While the film follows the book pretty closely, a huge portion of the classic children's novel is left out entirely, alienating the real fans, the fans of the books. For starters, they've added a huge portion of unnecessary exposition in the Kansas scenes. What was once a few pages in the book, is now a whole side story in which Dorothy's dog Toto has to be put down or something by Miss Gulch (Played by Margaret Hamilton who also plays The West Witch).

The Kansas scenes are in black and white and all the Oz scenes are in color, giving a striking affect. Probably the only faithful thing to come out of this film as Baum does describe Kansas as being "gray".

The Witches are all out of wack in this one. Glinda is now a combination of both The Witch of the South and The Witch of the North. She also replaces the role that The Mouse Queen plays in the original novel, so no Mouse Queen in this movie. Another insult to injury is the drastic changes to The Witch of the West. Where is her magic glass eye and her hat that controls the monkeys? Since when was she green?

And while on the topic of colors, ruby slippers? That's right. Just like our now green skinned Witch of the West, Dorothy now has these ruby slippers. What was wrong with the silver ones from the book? And remember the plot device of The Emerald City being only green because of the green glasses our characters are given? Gone also.

Other scenes like their confrontation with the Kalidahs, The Wizard's other two personas, and our main four characters' journey to the land of people made of china have been excluded, presumably to make space for hollow songs that do very little to move the plot along.

Instead of these lame songs, they should have included some friggin' story like how the Tin Man came to be and why Dorothy can't just take a cab back to Kansas, or even that rainbow horse carriage.

It's a nice try really, but a convoluted twist ending in which the whole movie was a dream makes it hard for the future books to be made into installments. If Oz isn't real then how will they adapt the rest of the series into film?

It's a nice fluffy movie, but as a companion to the books, I don't hold it that high.

If you enjoyed this article, you should check these links out:

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: 100th Anniversary Edition (Books of Wonder) - The original. A must read if you want to be a real Oz fan.
The Wizard of Oz and Philosophy (Popular Culture and Philosophy) - A discussion of both the books and the film adaptations.
The Princess of Oz - An unfinished Oz movie by yours truly ;-)

(Don't panic, the previous was a parody, only a parody)

Friday, September 3, 2010

Blood: The Last Vampire - Got Blood?

Nowadays, a girl kicking vampire ass immediately brings to mind Joss Whedon's Buffy the Vampire Slayer - hopefully the TV series version. America hasn't really had a real iconic female super hero with Buffy's iconic status since then. When you say Buffy the Vampire Slayer, images immediately sprout to mind, both good and bad. With that in mind, watching Blood is like watching one of those Slayer flashbacks from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.You almost expect Anthony Stewart Head to start narrating.

In Japan, it's no real stretch to have a strong female lead. Bubblegum Crisis, Sailor Moon, Cutie Honey, Devil Hunter Yohko, all had strong female leads - or several leads - that could kick your ass.

As an American, I loved the original Blood animated short. It was very well rendered. Even to this day it looks gorgeous. It was well acted, well scripted, and just an awesome production all together. I'm not sure how it did in Japan as it does resemble so many other of their animated features at the time, but I knew I loved it.

Viewing the live action version felt like such a treat from the get go. The opening is almost shot by shot taken from the original short. The whole first half of the movie is pretty much an homage to the original short.

The real treat comes in the film's second half when the film branches away from it's animated origin. What lacked in the original was any sense of history that our main character Saya had. It was touched upon, but never explored like how it is here.

This is a big action film, but thankfully it never reaches bullet time, or Matrix-like special effects. The action scenes are long, but I found it refreshing to have this petite Asian woman doing the actioning as opposed to someone like that guy from Crank.

The demons she fights have this Ray Harryhausen quality to them. They gave the movie this sense of fun, but they were still incredibly scary. I was genuinely terrified once they finally made their appearance. It was like I was a kid again :-) I wanna watch Ghostbusters now.

Though I personally loved this movie and will be saving up for the Blu Ray, I'm not sure if it's very welcoming to non-genre fans. I think some knowledge of Horror and Anime would be very integral to enjoying this film. It is worth a rental though. It's a kick-ass vampire movie, it'll be a fun ride at least :-)

Might I also recommend:

Blood: The Last Vampire [Blu-ray]  - The original animated short on Blu Ray :-)
Buffy The Vampire Slayer - Collector's Set (40 discs) - The complete Buffy TV series.
Charlie's Angels [Blu-ray]  - A similiar visual style as the live action Blood, but perkier

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Disney's The Little Mermaid and Gay Allegory

There's a moment in Disney's The Little Mermaid when Ariel is in her secret treasure grotto and she's dancing with a statue of Prince Eric. Uknown to her, her father is nearby watching her, disgusted at the display. When Ariel notices her father, she reacts with shame, and then meekly defends the world she wants to be a part of and the man she admires. The scene turns ugly once her father, the great King Triton, uses his magnificent powers to turn her secret grotto into a pile of rubble, ending with the complete destruction of the statue of Prince Eric, and the spirit of his daughter.

This scene always made me cry as a child. I'll always remember it, mostly because it happend in my 3rd grade class. We were watching The Little Mermaid since it came out on awesome VHS a few days ago, and this scene just made me tear up like crazy. Pointing and teasing followed as well as the nickname "Cry Baby" for the rest of my stay in elementary school. The taunting of my fellow schoolmates didn't break my spirit though, like Ariel's in her rubble-ized grotto, but it gave me strength.

I wanted to understand that scene and why it affected me the way it did. It wasn't until years later at the age of 17 that I found out the meaning of the scene. My parents entered my room, and told me they needed to talk to me. They wanted to confront me about the "gay thing." I felt ashamed and dirty, but most importantly, lost and alone. I never really had a close relationship with my father and my mother had already proven she had a closed minded view of homosexuality when she kept making the claims that gay people aren't real, just characters on Will and Grace. They made me delete everything gay from my computer, from my bedroom, from my life.

Of course I can't change who I am, and what my heart wants, so I sought out the Sea Witch Ursula...

I'm just kidding. I did though plunge head first into San Diego's gay scene, lost my sense of identity - or my voice - and only regained my sense of identity back again - or my voice - once things with my parents got better. Not perfect but better.

Parents of those who come out should really spend some time watching Disney's The Little Mermaid. It's an illustration of what happens when parents don't accept their offspring for who they are.

In the end of The Little Mermaid, Ariel is given legs by her father. Unlike Ursula - who bargained with her for her voice and left her naked without a voice on a beach confused - King Triton's gift left Ariel with her voice, her sense of identity, and clothed in the love of her family with the strength to make it in the strange new world on her own.

I know, she meets a Prince and marries him, but it is a fairy tale after all. It's all about symbols.

If parents could just sit and talk "with" their children, as opposed to "down on" them, our gay youth could be sent out into the world with their own voices, their own legs to walk on and the strength to take on all the hate, ignorance and whatever else can be thrown at them.

If you liked this article, you might enjoy these links

Feminist Fairy Tales - a collection of fairy tales retold with a feminist point of view. My favorite is Snow Night, the author's take on the Snow White story. Also included is a very different version of The Little Mermaid.

Another Gay Sequel- Uncut Theatrical Version - Features the adorable Brent Corrigan as a gay Merman

Tiana and Charlotte - Princess Evolution  - A look into the friendship between two of the stars of Disney's The Princess and the Frog.

The Princess and the Frog - Almost There? - A review on the movie, by yours truly, as well as commentary on the media hype this movie brought with it.