Posts Tagged Writing
After last week’s mediocre outing, Gargoyles takes a step back on course with “Eye of the Storm” and “The New Olympians,” although it’s a small one. I’ve mentioned earlier that unlike more fans, I prefer the one-off type episodes, where the gargoyles crew find themselves in an insular mystery and have to solve it via brain and brawn, usually with the help of a one-off character. Of course, the core mystery has to be sustainable; both these episodes function fine but lack the heft to make it intriguing throughout.
Gargoyles 2×36 – Eye Of The Storm
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“Eye of the Storm” in particular is as straight-forward as it comes, with a simple conflict and an obvious twist. The crew arrives in Norway, and they meet a guy in a wizard robe, who just wants the Eye of Odin. Well, the guy turns out to be Odin himself, but he doesn’t really reveal himself to be so until late in the episode, but by that time everyone’s just throwing fists at each other. There’s a bit of an “Idiot Plot” here, Elisa’s too damsel-in-distress-y, and the two Norway residents are fairly useless.
Also, Goliath punches a polar bear.
Granted, the polar bear isn’t a real polar bear, but Odin in disguise. And you don’t actually see Goliath punch the polar bear – the moment is framed so that Goliath punches the screen (the screen acting as the bear’s POV). But it is what it is, and “Goliath punching a polar bear” is the kind of thing the internet lives for, so it’s cool-funny to see, and I’m glad this was done in the pre-Internet days.
I digress, but in some ways the whole “Goliath punches a polar bear” represents the off-key nature of the episode, which moves through its beats harshly to get to the crux of the episode, which is when Goliath puts on the Eye of Odin and becomes corrupt and obsessed over his role as protector. Over the course of the show, Gargoyles has presented various angles to its theme of finding a purpose, and obsession over one’s purpose would make a fantastic direction to take the show. But the process to get there is flawed, it doesn’t tell us much about Goliath, and it doesn’t say much about the idea of taking one’s purpose in life too far, other than “don’t.”
Odin and the world tourists meeting for the first time and immediately coming to blows (without any attempt at a reasonable discussion) is way outside Gargoyles’ normal purview. The show tries to wave this off by declaring Odin being out of touch in how to deal with mortals, but it probably would’ve just worked better to portray Odin as being a giant dick. By ending the episode with Goliath and Odin coming to an understanding, it raises the question why Odin just didn’t come out and say, “Hi, I’m Odin. That’s my eye. Here’s some magic shit to prove I’m who I said I was. Can I have my eye now?”
Because we wouldn’t get all the fighting and battling, hence the Idiot Plot. We wouldn’t get to the crux of the episode either, where Goliath adorns the Eye of Odin and levels up, going way overboard with his inherent desire to protect, trapping Elisa, Angela, Bronx, Gunther and his father (who do nothing but warm Elisa up at the beginning of the episode) in a cave and instigates dangerous weather to pin on an angry Odin. Angela discovers this (Angela seems to be developing an uncanny ability to notice details when things are way off), and everyone tries to get Goliath to pull back from that kind of power, but it’s proven elusive. The only way is put Angela in harm’s way, harm devised by Goliath himself, who realizes how far he has gone, saving her and ripping the Eye of Odin off in the process.
It’s okay stuff, but the lack of discussion of any type between Goliath and Odin makes it hard to stand up for the episode, and Elisa just gets captured a lot, which is always a detriment to her as a character. The more questionable thing here is the Eye of Odin itself. They say the Eye brings out your basest instincts to its most viciously aggressive point, and they point to Fox and the Archmage as examples. But… that’s not exactly what happened with them, is it? It’s a stretch to say Fox, internally, metaphorically, whatever, is a raging man-beast. And the Archmage was so pumped full of magic drugs, it’s hard to say what the Eye specifically did to him. It’s a bit of a retcon, and an unnecessary one. The Eye is just a powerful piece of magic that does crazy shit. There’s no need to shoehorn-in a specific purpose. The Eye of Odin is just a thing – leave the “purpose” stuff to the characters. You may have had a stronger episode.
Gargoyles 2×37 – The New Olympians
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And now Gargoyles will tackle racism.
I have yet to see a quality animated episode of a cartoon that focuses on the differences between “people,” tackling the social tension between groups defined by those differences and the antagonistic history behind it all. Part of it is sheer laziness, all coming down to “treat everyone the same!” type lessons, which tends to be muddled with the actual content of the episode. Part of it is the episode’s length – it’s hard to get into the nuances of such an issue with only 22 minutes. Part of it has to do with the crew being mostly comprised of middle-upper class WASPy men, who more or less understand prejudice and bigotry in terms of heresay, as armchair outsiders looking in. The one animated show that came very close to truly “getting it” was, surprisingly enough, Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness, in the episode entitled “Serpent’s Tooth” (before they borked the ending). And while “The New Olympians” make an admirable effort, it still does the same generic, simplistic stuff that cartoons of this stripe do. Considering that Elisa is both a woman and black, there’s a whole ‘nother angle on this that the show never bothers with.
Gargoyles isn’t above dealing with an episode that uses societal tension to build its stakes, but the introduction of a shapeshifter named Proteus (Oberon’s child, yadda yadda) is proof that the writers here are tip-toeing around the broader topic (apparently this was supposed to be a backdoor into a spin-off pilot, which never materialized, but that’s hardly an excuse for anything). Proteus is cool and all, and he’s definitely one of the smarter shapeshifting villains on television (and one of the coldest), but using him to pair Taurus and Elisa together – ie, to create a common enemy – is the simple writers’ way out of this quagmire.
I know full well Greg Weisman is committed to the portrayal of diverse faces in his work. I will always commend him for this, no matter what issues I may with his material otherwise. Yet when a cartoon attempts to engage into historicisms of diversity, historicisms, fabricated or otherwise, that contain systematic oppression, subjugation and violence, only to end on the ideology that these people should just forget all that and come together, I have to call foul. To be fair, this episode doesn’t exactly end on this note – there’s still a bit of simmering tension when the Olympians conclude that, soon, they’ll be meeting up with the humans, and that future meeting is going to be very, very awkward. Yet overall this episode, and episodes of its ilk, overall still tend to impart the same misguided social concepts.
Part of the problem is that Gargoyles, I think, is trying to be funny here. Not overtly funny, but sort of clever/ironic funny, with the portrayal of various Greek-deistic creations voicing their oppressive opinions against Elisa based on past human atrocities. Taurus even describe the tale of the Minotaur from his perspective, as an ancestor unfairly trapped by humans, thrown in a maze, then subsequently killed by a human. This is cute, but then you consider the Minotaur was a killer of men most of his life, and then he was killed by a half-human, half-god. In fact, none of the various god-descendents in the room are innocent here, and Gargoyles is making a point about how these years of misguided violence begat more misguided violence, and at some point someone needs to say stop.
Yet Gargoyles doesn’t really make this point clear. This clever observation, even within the show’s made-up history, is undermined by the lack of self-responsibility (kind of like the awkward realization Goliath had in “Outfoxed,” but across thousands of years). Elisa says that she shouldn’t be held responsible for the actions of the human race from years ago, and of course that is true, but it’s self-serving and not at all empathetic (as a black woman, she should know better, but I’m willing to chalk this up to being in a tense situation). Likewise, the behavior of the crowd that grows hostile just by the presence of Elisa in public casts them as just a wrong-headed group of thugs and not at all people tied close to a powerful, depressing history. No one speaks about how wrong this behavior is. No one works to try and understand the other side. This isn’t an episode about coming to terms and some kind of understanding about a messy, brutal era of (creatively concocted) history, but of just random spouts of violence mixed in vague allusions to real life, socially charged historicisms, then the villain comes in so everyone can band together.
Gargoyles isn’t above getting deep into its more socially charged topics, which makes me think that this could have been truly powerful and special, had they removed Proteus and truly focused on the pain and struggles of two groups of people in conflict and attempting to come to some sort of understanding (which I think they did fairly well way back in “Awakenings”). Perhaps that was going to the very point of the spinoff. Yet as it stands, “The New Olympians” is just part of the “take it easy” approach to society’s most painful past moments that harm most cartoon episodes of this type, and I know that this show, and creators as a whole, can do better.
[I do apologize for taking my particular frustrations out on Gargoyles here. It is, at its core, a decent episode, but the show can, and has, done better.]
“Eye of the Storm” B/”The New Olympians” B
With Frozen blowing up box offices and “Let It Go” erupting from the mouths of children (and adults) everywhere, it seems that there is small but noticeable interest in music in animation. Once considered a time-wasting trope that dotted Disney hand-drawn films, a tolerable exercise in audience patience, now seem to making a powerful resurgence, in TV shows and films alike. There were a few years where songs were on their way out – Toy Story nixed them, and Shrek actively called them out on their uselessness. Now expect to see them all over the place.
That all being said, there are a few songs out there that we ought to give more love to, whether it be the surprising craftsmanship, the entertaining performance, the perfect mood-setting, or just an overall catchiness. For this list I try to look outside of Disney’s oeuvre, although there are some of them here. I also try to focus on songs that aren’t discussed or overplayed, and have a unique quality beyond being designed for a sing-a-long. And of course, it’s personal, but I will try to explain why I like them. So, here we go:
10) Frozen – “Fixer-Upper”
The trolls in Frozen are somewhat problematic; even through they’re part of the original fairy tale, they really add nothing to the plot, and there is a creepy vibe to this song, a message that seems to run counter to the film’s general idea of a woman’s agency being beyond getting the guy. Yet “Fixer-Upper” works because its rhythmic quality is catchy, and its goofy lyrics keep it from becoming too forceful. It kinda reminds me of the Fraggle Rock theme song, with specific beats designed for specific lines. I personally think it’s better than “Let it Go.”
9) An American Tail: Fivel Goes West – “The Girl You Left Behind”
So it’s hard to really get a sense of this song since the animators decided to stage the Fivel chase sequences around the music, drowning out the Western/Country instrumentals and many of the sassy lyrics with the events of chase. Yet Tanya’s “debut” song is energetic and catchy, as the cats around her can attest to, and it’s energetic as all hell, even if the actual song has nothing to do with the film. It feels like a ol’ classic Western song by way of a full orchestra, which works better than it should. It’s a wonder more symphonies don’t channel old music and retool them for Radio City Music Hall.
8) The Spongebob Squarepants Movie – “The Best Day Ever”
I’m cheating here. “The Best Day Ever” is actually from an episode of Spongebob Squarepants of the same name. It was simply replayed during the movie’s end credits, yet for some reason, it works so much better there, mainly because it’s a stupidly fun denouement to a stupidly fun movie. It takes it its time with the lyrics and letting the simple guitar riff and drum beat carry it, and while Spongebob’s voice can be annoying, his words can’t help but make you smile a little bit. There’s a bit of a Beach Boys quality to it – which is obvious in retrospect. Modelling a song from a band known for its “perfect” beach music would be exactly how you’d tackle a song involving talking sea critters.
7) Cats Don’t Dance – “Big and Loud”
I will always look for excuses to post anything about the underrated Cats Don’t Dance. It’s such a fun, sincere, enjoyable movie that was hurt by bad marketing. That being said, I will admit that, for a movie defined by its 1950s Hollywood aesthetic, the music isn’t that good – but part of me thinks that’s by design, since it’s more about invoking a specific sensibility – the Merrie Melody short – than selling out its soundtrack. Yet “Big and Loud” is designed for the stage. Performed by Darla Dimple in a bid to manipulate Danny, “Big and Loud” is both a send up to the over-the-top performances of ridiculous set pieces as well as pointed satire calling out its superficiality, especially performed by the film’s antagonist. The reprise, which gives a more sinister edge to it, signs that satire in blood.
6) A Goofy Movie – “After Today”
Buzzfeed seems to have a hard-on for this film, which is fine, except they keep ignoring the film’s more important moment – the dark, confrontational hot tub scene between Goofy and Pete. Yes, Powerline’s mid-90s R&B-stylized songs work so well in the movie’s context, leaving a generation to wonder why there’s no “official” Powerline album, but it’s the opening montage “After Today” that has stood the test of time. A rallying cry for summer vacation and all the “freedom” it entails, “After Today” surges by on energy and commitment alone. And if the animated version for some reason turns you off, there’s always the, uh, live-action remake.
5) Anastasia – “Journey to the Past”
There’s a sad desperation to Anastasia, Fox’s attempt to muscle in on the Disney Princess market. Even though the movie is fairly flat and lifeless, there is a Frozen-esque dedication to its songs, given an otherwise forgettable film a fairly decent soundtrack. “Journey to the Past” is like a proto-“Let it Go,” what with both women singing about their fates and desires in snow-capped locales. “Journey” is typical animated music fare but it builds nicely, with those jamming violin strings giving it a unique rhythm within its heavy orchestration that gives it a pep. It’s goose-bumps inducing, particularly that final line as the full scale of the song comes in full force.
4) South Park – “What Would Brian Boitano Do?”
“Blame Canada” got the Oscar nomination, but “What Would Brian Boitano Do” is the best and catchiest song of a movie filled with them. South Park, particularly the movie, reminds the world that Trey Parker and Matt Stone are clever, crafty, and talented musicians, and this ridiculous non-sequitur song cue gives the four main characters their own moment of inspiration. Many people may miss the film’s overall putdown of animated films’ over-reliance on song cues, but that doesn’t mean South Park can’t relish in them. Also, it sounds remarkably similar to “The Girl You Left Behind,” which either means BLATANT PLAGIARISM or just an example of my taste in music.
3) Ferngully – “Toxic Love”
There’s really nothing about Ferngully worth discussing. It’s typical environment clap-trap, aggressively biased filmmaking that encourages the protection of our resources (not that this isn’t an important message, but it’s no excuse for a mediocre film). That being said, “Toxic Love” is a surprising standout, with Tim Curry’s amazing crooning skills to a bluesy soundtrack, singing a sexually-charged ode to pollution. Even Captain Planet would be taping his toes to this one, especially in the final refrain as the trumpets blare and the background vocals add to Curry’s voice. We know Curry can sing, but turning an anthropomorphic smog-guy into a one-hit wonder is another thing entirely.
2) The Care Bears Movie II: A New Generation – “Forever Young”
There isn’t much going on with The Care Bears, the greeting-cards-turned-children-mascots that were popular in the 80s. Overall cutsey and cuddly, the only interesting angle was their “care meter” – if too many kids stopped caring, their world was destroyed. Odd. The movies aren’t much better, but the second one ended with this remarkably powerful ballad by Carol Parks, a musician known for her marriage to Dean Parks. “Forever Young” is perfectly 80s, but rather understated, particularly for this kind of film. It’s not a movie about passing down the “Care Bears legacy,” but the song, with its simple machine-produced beats and fake-instrumentals, as paired to the surprisingly poignant montage, creates a small piece of crafty work. Carol never oversings her lines, and the addition of the kids and adult choir lets the song end nicely. The electric guitar is unnecessary, but like I said, perfectly 80s.
1) The Brave Little Toaster – “Worthless”
Honestly, we should be talking about the music in The Brave Little Toaster more often, mainly because it’s so unique and quite unlike any animated film’s soundtrack out there. It feels experimental; its unrefined quality actually adds to the charm. And while “Cutting Edge” and “It’s A B-Movie” are specifically creepy-yet-enjoyable mood-setters, “Worthless” is by far the strongest, with aggressive piano and trumpet work, creating an angry and depressing homage to country music. The combination of multiple vocal styles gives it an everyman quality, leaving viewers contemplating their own legacy. It’s dark, it’s scary, it’s good.
In surprising (lazy) news, today’s Tumblr Tuesday has been released on Wednesday! Did I just blow your mind? No? Well, maybe these Tumblrs will.