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Matt McC

Screentime: The Lego Movie – Building Something That Lasts

(YouTube//Warner Bros Pictures)

A Foregone Conclusion

For my final Screentime column, I wanted to talk about a movie that meant something to me personally. I considered picking something from my own childhood, maybe the first movie I saw in a cinema (Aladdin), or some obscurity that we just happened to own on VHS (1997’s MouseTrap, for example). But this column isn’t about looking back, about my own nostalgia. It’s about what kids movies mean to me now. How I interpret them today, as a 30-year old in 2018. As a father. So instead, I want to talk about The Lego Movie.

The Lego Movie was always going to have a special place in my heart: It was created with me in mind. I’ve always been a huge Lego nerd, and a lot of my happiest memories as a child center around that Danish construction toy. The directors, Phil Lord & Chris Miller, know their audience and pepper the film with references to Lego ephemera old and new, general and specific. For me, the film mines nostalgia in way that’s so precise as to feel personal. Many of the Lego sets that I grew up with are featured, and seeing details like the tiny break in Benny’s helmet feel like I’m hearing the fragment of the theme song from a long-forgotten, but much-beloved show from my childhood.

For my daughter, the thrill comes not only in seeing the toy she loves to play with come to life, but also in seeing the mashup of culture that Lego’s exhaustive brand relationships allows. Seeing Batman for the first time elicited a laugh from her, and every time he appeared on screen thereafter she would confidently inform me that “That’s Batman” or “Batman’s being silly.”

(YouTube//Movieclips Coming Soon)

Beyond Reference

This combination of general pop culture nostalgia and specific Lego fandom was enough to get me to buy a ticket way back in the halcyon days of 2014. Lord & Miller would have known this. Lego, backed by generations of devoted fans, was a pretty safe topic for a movie. That’s why so many of these branded tie-ins are so bad. The product is already so popular there’s no need to make the movie good. You sell tickets just based on the thing’s existence. A lesser creative team would have taken this route. Play up the nostalgia, throw in as many simple gags, memes, and winking references as you can and call it a day.

That approach may get butts in seats, it may pay the bills, but it doesn’t get people coming back. It doesn’t make for a cultural experience that affects people, that elicits emotions, that lasts.

The reason movie studios can so easily leverage those cultural touchstones, the reason that we will buy a ticket for The Lego Movie simply because its The Lego Movie, is that these references are shorthand for something deeper, something more personal and more meaningful. Lord & Miller understood this, and understood why it was important. A Lego brick, or the Batman logo, or the Thundercats theme; these things are like snapshots, reminding us of memories and feelings we used to have. But their thin evocations pale in comparison with what we’re searching for, which is to feel those feelings again.

It is obvious that Lord & Miller are, themselves, huge fans of Lego. They understand this longing. They understand that these trappings of memory are not enough. The simple fact that we all know and remember the shape & colors of a Lego minifig isn’t enough. What truly binds us to these commonalities is the actions they evoke. The sight of a Lego brick brings to mind the action of building with it, the feel of it in your hands. So rather than simply show you the object of nostalgia, The Lego Movie places the act of building, the act that binds Lego fans across the world together, centrally not only in its narrative (more on that later) but into the way the film itself is constructed. Watching The Lego Movie is the nearest you can come to actually playing with Lego without, you know, actually playing with Lego.

This raises the movie beyond an act of mere reference. It is not just paying lip service to the things we love, but actively evoking them.

(YouTube//Warner Brothers Pictures)

Building Something That Lasts

Most creators would be happy with this achievement, with turning a corporate exercise into an act of love, with transforming cynical reference, alchemy like, into passionate evocation. But Lord & Miller know that even this isn’t enough. Playing on familiar brands & ideas was enough to summon an audience, elevating that reference into something deeper was enough to turn that audience into a fanbase. But in order to turn those fans into devotees, people who watch the film not once, but 183 times, people who do deep dives into the film’s mythology, you need something more.

The films that last are the films inspire people, films that change the way people think, the way they feel. Films that say something.

Because while quick jokes or nostalgic brands or memes may make us smile, the media that stops us in our tracks, the media that we tell others about, the media that we return to again and again and again, are the films or TV shows or websites that present us with an idea we’d never considered before, an idea that scares us, an idea that changes how we look at the world, even just a little bit.

So Lord & Miller took the audience they built with their attention to detail, with their love of Lego, and they told us some things. They told us not only that “Chosen One” type stories (Harry Potter, The Matrix, Star Wars) are ridiculous and undramatic, but also the exact ways in which they are toxic. They told us that individualism is doomed to failure, but we still need to embrace each other’s unique perspectives and talents. They told us that Lego and life is about ever-changing creation and innovation, not unbending rules and inflexible ideas. And they told us that we were playing with Lego wrong.

Think about that last one. They took a movie designed to appeal to 30-something nerds. The kind of guys who spent hundreds of dollars on a Lego Millenium Falcon to display in their home. They took a movie created with those specific guys in mind. And they used that movie to tell their audience they were wrong.

And their audience loved them for it.

Because what Lord & Miller understand is this: If you love something, be it Lego, or Paw Patrol, or your kids, you think about it a lot. You are passionate about it. And that passion means you cannot be neutral about it. You have strongly held opinions and beliefs, and you want to fight for those beliefs. And when you see someone else fighting, arguing passionately that Lego is to be built with, not to be displayed, you know that that person loves Lego too, just like you.

(YouTube//ThFerAnima)

The Dad Upstairs

Of course, the Lego movie is about one more thing. One thing I didn’t mention earlier. It’s about being a parent. About playing with your kids and listening to them and embracing what makes them special and unique. Its about treating your kids with love and respect, like the little people they are, not the annoyance they can be.

Because Lego, like Kung Fu Panda and Spirit: Riding Free and Tangled and Frozen and Elf and The Muppets and How To Train Your Dragon and Moana and Trolls and The Wiggles and Winnie The Pooh and Paw Patrol and The Lego Movie, is for kids. That’s what makes it so important. That’s why its worth fighting for, and about. Because as a parent you want to build something that lasts. You want to instill your kid with passion and strength and love and hope. And media is one of the most powerful tools we can use to do that. Which makes it one of the most important things in the world.

(YouTube//Warner Brothers Pictures)

Screentime: 3 Possible Explanations Of Paw Patrol

(Nick Jr)

We don’t watch Paw Patrol in my house. I tell my wife and daughters that it’s because I find it annoying, or see nothing of value in it, or whatever. But the truth is, it terrifies me. To watch an episode is to be trapped in a world where something has gone horribly wrong with no clue as to what or why. Here are a few theories as to what may have happened.

Here we go. (YouTube//FunCartoons)

1- Scientific Experimentation Gone Wrong

The talking dogs are a dead giveaway. Clearly, something has happened to disturb the natural order of things. Some mutation has given Man’s Best Friend the power not only of speech, but of complex reasoning. It’s obvious that this was a deliberate act, a contagion released into the environment by some well-meaning, but deeply misguided scientist. The order of beings it effects are just too convenient. Dogs and Cats but not Birds or Fish. Someone with a brilliant mind and an attachment to pets so deep that they were compelled to elevate those creatures to become man’s intellectual equal, regardless of the cost.

And truly, the costs were terrible. It was not only the animals’ minds that were effected. Many humans, once proud, upstanding members of society, have been reduced to drooling imbeciles by the contagion. Capt’n Turbot, once an esteemed marine biologist, is reduced to relying on a preteen boy and his pets for survival. Almost every adult we meet in the show is like this. Helpless, adrift. Unable to survive, let alone govern or breed, on their own, they must turn to their pets. Once their playthings, these creatures have become their only chance of living through the day.

Prediction: If this theory is true, we should soon start to see the infrastructure of Adventure Bay start to deteriorate, as the mentally impoverished denizens are unable to maintain or improve it. Within a few years, nature will have taken back the town, leaving Mayor Goodway and her constituents living on the beach, surviving only on what scraps of food Chase deigns to throw them.

 

No loving God could create abominations such as these (YouTube//FunCartoons)

2- Conservative Propaganda

Of course, there is another explanation for the idiocy of the human characters. Perhaps it is a deliberate ploy by the writers of the show to forward their ideology. “But surely,” you naively insist “PAW Patrol’s only ideology is that being kind & helpful is good.” Not so, simple dad! Consider the human characters we spend time with in PAW Patrol. Two mayors (Mayor Goodway and Mayor Humdinger), a marine biologist (Cap’n Turbot) and an immigrant photographer (Francois). These professions are not chosen at random. They represent what the right refers to as “the Liberal Elite”, scientists, artists, career politicians. Francois, as a photographer, stands in for both indolent artists and the incompetant media. (It’s also no coincidence he’s French: Liberalism began during the Englightenment, a movement partly started by French intellectuals and artists [including Francois Quesnay])*. In almost every episode of Paw Patrol, it is one of these elites who cause problems, either by their incompetance or, in the case of Mayor Humdinger, their self-interest.

And who is opposing them? The PAW Patrol, an organization completely independent from Goodway’s incompetent administration. (An administration that, in one episode, spends a good deal of time and money on a solid gold statue of the Mayor’s ancestor.) In the world of PAW Patrol, most of the services normally run by local government (police, fire & rescue, trash pick-up, etc), are now run by what appears to be a single, privately owned company. And that company is run by a child. And staffed by dogs. Liberals would have you believe that such a move would result in disaster. But The PAW Patrol is an efficient, successful team. They always save the day. The message is clear: Emergency services would be run more effectively by a child and 6 dogs than by local government.

Prediction: If this theory is true, expect to see an episode in the near future in which the pups have to rescue a coal miner from the dangers of excessive health and safety regulations.

Science & Art, engaged in petty pointless war games while the world burns. (YouTube//FunCartoons)

3- Ryder’s Dissociative Episode

It’s not likely, but there is a small chance that I’m reading too much into the show. Maybe all the random stuff in there really is just random, the product of a childish mind just trying to make sense of the world.

Before the start of the show, a ten-year-old Canadian boy undergoes some trauma, possibly connected to the loss of his parents. Unable to cope with a world in which the adults he trustedthe adults, whose job it was to keep him safewere unable to stop this happening to him, Ryder retreated into a fantasy world of his own construction. Here, he is safe in a literal tower of steel and glass (note it’s design: very similar to Toronto’s CN tower, perhaps somewhere he visited with his parents). He surrounds himself with his beloved pets, the only creatures who would never desert him. He places so much trust in them that he gives them the task of keeping him safe, replacing the human emergency services that let him down with the PAW Patrol. In this world, he can solve any problem, deal with any emergency. Nothing can hurt him. As time goes on, Ryder becomes more and more invested in this perfect world and more disconnected from reality. First introducing the mer-pups, then the sunken city of Atlantis, then the robo-pup, finally leaving any connection with the real world behind as he and the pups board the air patroller and take off into the depths of Ryder’s mind.

Prediction: If this theory is true, there would be absolutely no way to tell. Ryder would solve every problem, the pups would always save the day, just as happens in the show every. single. episode.

Ryder, controlling his terrible creations (YouTube//YEEAHH)

 

*Before you @-me, I’m aware that this sense of Liberalism, as a political system, is different from the way it is used in the phrase “Liberal Elite”, where it refers to left-of-center politics within said political system.

Screentime: I Love The Many Adventures Of Winnie-The-Pooh, And You Should Too

(YouTube)

Last week we were watching The Many Adventures of Winnie The Pooh and just as it was coming to a close, my daughter turned to me, sighed and said “Daddy. I luff Winnie-a-Poot”.

This is unprecedented. Normally movies are demanded or rejected, but rarely commented upon, and certainly never “luffed”. This is an expression of love usually reserved only for Mommy, Daddy, and blueberries.

What is it about Winnie-a-poot than inspires such high praise? Such devotion and admiration?

There’s a lot to enjoy in the 1977 Disney feature. The plot is airy and pleasantly free of high stakes or melodrama. The animation is beautiful. The songs are subtly hummable, quietly catchy. The nostalgic childhood feel is painted with a realistic, but light touch.

But none of these things inspire real love. What inspires love in my daughter is the characters, and it isn’t hard to see why. They are all proper role models of people she could/should grow up to be.

Rabbit

Take Rabbit, for example. Rabbit is a fussy, self-important scold. He spends his time in the movie alternately trying to minimize the impact his friends have on his well-ordered life, or complaining about the mess they’ve made of it. He’s basically the same character as Zazu from the Lion King, but not as funny. The kind of human you’re most likely to find working behind the desk at a Post Office. Wait, that isn’t right. Let me try again.

(YouTube//WinnieThePooh414)

Tigger

Let’s use Tigger as our example. Tigger is pretty much the exact opposite of Rabbit. He’s chaotic and energetic, relentlessly positive. Always bouncing, always happy. If he had Facebook it would be wall-to-wall inspirational memes. The kind of guy who you bump into when he’s out jogging, he talks a mile a minute about all the great things going on in his life, while jogging on the spot and checking his heart-rate on his Apple Watch, then yells “Gotta go! It was great catching up!” as he’s already running away.

Damn, I did it again.

(YouTube//Walt Disney Animation Studios)

Eyeore

So these descriptions aren’t exactly the most positive ones, fine. I may have been channeling Eyeore a little. But they still show why these characters inspire real love in my daughter and me. Because they feel real. They aren’t cursed princesses or crime solving mice, they’re just people, muddling along. We all have a friend or family as controlling as Rabbit or, as irrepressible as Tigger. We all know someone like Eyeore; always pesimistic, always expecting the worst.

And the movie knows this. Unlike Zazu in the Lion King, Rabbit’s fussiness isn’t treated as a joke, or as an inherently ridiculous trait. Sure when he tries to control Tigger, he gets his comeupance, but his trepidations about Pooh’s appetite prove correct. Tigger’s positivity and Eyeore’s negativity sometimes come in handy, but also sometimes get them into trouble. These characteristics aren’t presented inherently good, or inherently bad, they’re just presented as inherently human (or rabbit, or donkey or…uhh… tigger I suppose).

(YouTube//ZoeLove 199)

Owl

But of course, just being presented in this way isn’t enough to inspire the adoration of everyone from two to ninety-two. There’s one more ingredient that makes these characters truly loved: They are kind. Despite their quirks and foibles, despite their irritations and annoyances, the characters of Winnie-The-Pooh invariably treat each other as kindly as they can.

When Pooh shows up at Rabbit’s door, Rabbit freaks out, panicking over the mess he knows Pooh will make of his perfectly organized life. But Rabbit offers him lunch anyway. And you get the impression that, despite everything that happens, despite Pooh eating every ounce of honey in the place, despite his blocking Rabbit’s door for weeks, if Pooh showed up again the next day with an expectant look in his eye, Rabbit would offer him lunch again.

This kindness goes a long way. Owl’s longwinded, indulgent speechifying, is rendered harmless and even enjoyable by his offer of an accompanying lunch. (It’s telling how often this kindness involves food: something well understood by your average two-year-old). And this kindness is repaid ten-fold in Eyeore’s finding Owl a house, albeit Piglet’s, and in Piglet freely gifting him that home.

(YouTube//Walt Disney Animation Studios)

Piglet

These characters, you see, are truly friends. They love each other not despite, but because of their idiosyncracies. Piglet, more than all of them, understands this. He understands that without his friends he is helpless, tiny, too timid to succeed. He understands, too, that this is true for each of them. Without Piglet & Eyeore, Owl would have no-where to live. Without Tigger, Rabbit would never learn to bounce. Without Rabbit, Pooh would have gone hungry.

(YouTube//Daniel Boyle)

Pooh

And when we see their true, unswerving friendship to each other, we feel part of it. They become our friends too. We love them for their self-importance, and for their impulsiveness, and for their lack of brains. And no matter how ridiculous Pooh’s latest scheme is, no matter whether we’re disguising ourselves as rainclouds or hunting Heffalumps, that friendship keeps us invested. We’d follow them anywhere.

5 Great Titles From The Minds Behind Black Panther On Netflix Right Now

(YouTube//Marvel Entertainment)

As a human being on Earth, you either just saw Black Panther at the theater or you’re desperately searching for a babysitter so you can go check it out. Either way, you’re probably anxious for more. Of course, if it’s superheroics you’re after, Netflix is littered with Marvel movies and shows to fill that particular void. But if you’re looking for more of the feel, look, and talent that makes Black Panther special, here are some recomendations you might want to check out.

Screentime: Let Them Eat Trolls*

fucking trolls, man
(2oth Century Fox)

(*Note: The author wishes it to be known that the original title for this piece was “A Modest Protrollsal.” The title was changed due to the current editorial board’s irrational hatred for obscure puns)

The Trolls are happy. It’s their defining characteristic. They are so happy that consuming one makes you deliriously happy. So happy that it has seeped into their physical essence, like cheap vodka into a gummy bear.

But they aren’t born that way. The movie makes it clear that happiness isn’t some hereditary trait. It isn’t something you have, it’s something you do. Poppy and the others are so incredibly happy because they practice it, they devote time to it. Hugs every hour, songs every 5 minutes, parties every night. This is how they spend their days.

(Youtube//DreamworksTV)

Meanwhile, what are the Bergens doing? The Prince is living a life of luxury, it’s true, but those around him are anything but idle. Chefs prepare meals, maids clean, guards stand watch. Behind the scenes too, the Bergens are industrious. Gristle and Brigette visit a pizza parlor and a roller-rink. We see storefronts, billboards, magazines! The Bergens are working! They are keeping the lifeblood of the economy flowing, toiling for the betterment of society. They aren’t unhappy because of some innate melancholy nature, they simply don’t have the time to devote to its practice!

And why should they? Time is a worker’s most precious resource, and an instant, renewable, efficient method of obtaining happiness is right there for the taking. Why raise, shelter, and feed the cow when you get the milk for free? As far as we know, the ruling Bergen class has provided this resource, free of charge, to every man, woman, and child, from the moment it became available, to shortly after the film begins, when the Trolls revolt and escape the confines of Bergen Town. From the Bergen’s perspective, the system was working.

(YouTube//Biz Halo)

One could also argue that it was working from the Troll’s perspective too. They were free to live lives of absolute indulgence, seeking happiness however and whenever it suited them. Infrastructure, insurance, irrigation; such things did not trouble them, the Bergens would take care of it. The Trolls’ work, their contribution to the grand ongoing project of civilization, was merely to increase their own happiness as much as they could. In exchange for this Dionysian freedom, certain among them would be required to pay the ultimate price to spread this happiness among those who were working elsewhere, contributing to the betterment of all in other ways. Just as the baker sells his bread in order to buy clothes, the Bergens sell their work to buy happiness, and the Trolls sell their happiness in order to avoid work.

Pictured: Avoiding Work (YouTube//DreamworksTV)

But this isn’t quite right. The mutually beneficial marketplace described above does not exist in Trolls, at least, not at the beginning of the movie. Instead, statist concerns (namely King Gristle Sr., and later King Gristle Jr.) throttle efficiencies by placing regulations and restrictions on trade. There are several examples of this through the movie, but the most egregious one is that neither the Trolls nor the Bergens are free to choose a profession that best fits their talents. All Trolls are designated Happiness Creators and all Bergens must find positions in the traditional labor market. This is ludicrous, economically speaking. In order to fully realize the most efficient balance between Happiness and Labor, both Trolls and Bergens must be free to select professions.

A perfect example of this inefficiency can be found in one of the film’s leading characters, Branch. For the majority of the movie, Branch has no interest in increasing his stock of happiness. He seeks solitude, mopes, and does not enjoy utilizing dancing or any other tools of happiness production. Instead, he builds and stocks an impressive safety bunker. This bunker is by far the most impressive structure we see a Troll create, and is not only fully stocked with food and water, but also contains a system for storing and filtering bodily fluids and a system of automated elevators unlike anything else we see in either the Troll settlement or Bergen Town itself. Clearly, his natural talents and inclinations lie more in the fields of innovation and construction than happiness generation. If he were able to join the traditional labor market, it would transform him from underperforming Troll into Galtian superhero. Allowing him the freedom to choose a different profession would also introduce the fruits of his talents to enter the general marketplace, where they could contribute to the betterment of all.

(YouTube//Flicks And The City Clips)

We can also assume, although we do not see them, that there exist Bergens who’s natural inclination would make them much more efficient Happiness Generators than traditional laborers. It could even be argued that Brigette is such a Bergen. She certainly shows much more talent for this field than any other Bergens we meet.

Therefore, while Branch is confined to the unsuitable role of Happiness Generator, we must assume there is at least one equivalent Bergen for whom the inverse is true. Although Branch is not consumed during the course of the narrative, it must be true that, given his actions, the quality and quantity of happiness he places on the common market is much lower than the average Troll, to whom happiness creation comes naturally. It logically follows, therefore, that if there is any single Bergen who is able to create happiness at the rate of the average Troll, Branch’s confinement to this role serves to decrease not only the total happiness available on the open market but the total labor available to purchase also.

We can only hope that, given the newly forged alliance between Troll and Bergen that we see at the end of the film, Trolls 2 brings us scenes of the two species working together to form a new society. A society in which a Troll can choose to use his labor to buy and consume the happiness of a Bergen, and a Bergen can choose to sell her happiness to purchase a life free of toil.

(Of course, given the natural tendencies of each species, and also their relative sizes, one can assume that a free market situation would still predominantly feature the consumption of Trolls by Bergens rather than the inverse)

(YouTube//The Fox Kids)

Screentime: The 6 Stages Of Ready Steady Wiggle

(Wiggles Wiki)

Stage 1: Nostalgia

Your kid points up at the screen “Watch Wiggles?” she asks. “Why not?” you think, smiling to yourself. You were perhaps a little old for them when the Wiggles first appeared on TV screens, but you remember them nevertheless. The smiling faces, the brightly coloured outfits, the fun yet educational songs. What could be more wholesome?

You throw on the show. It’s just as you remember it. The faces may have changed, but the smiles haven’t. Here they all are – Red, Yellow, Blue, Purple, singing the perfect blend of the classics: “Hot Potato,” “Fruit Salad,” “Apples & Bananas,” with some new stuff thrown in. It’s like seeing your favorite band do the perfect reunion tour.

(YouTube//gaywad53)

Stage 2: Confusion

Around episode 2 or 3, you start to notice something. This isn’t right. It can’t be. It’s just the same 8 or 10 song segments over and over again in different orders with short, dumb skits about the Blue Wiggle speaking in slow motion or some garbage. And there’s 52 episodes of this unwatchable hell. There’s no way it was like this when you were a kid.

Then maybe you do a little research and see that every Wiggle TV series ever, spanning over 20 years and 7 different titles, has been identical. It’s been this bad forever. This is when you start drinking.

(Youtube//The Wiggles)

Stage 3: Anger

By now you’re probably on episode 8 or 9. You’ve seen the same lip-synched video for ‘Toot Toot, Chugga Chugga, Big Red Car’ a minimum of 5 times. The hooky melody combines with your whisky-haze in a way that feels like seasickness. You’re starting to lose it.

This isn’t a TV show. You can’t just record an hours worth of footage, then keep re-ordering it to generate “new” “episodes.” If Game of Thrones only shot one battle per season and then just reused the footage every episode, people would riot!

The Wiggles isn’t a TV show. It’s a fucking fast food chain. Just churning out something that looks and tastes enough like the real thing. Dead-eyed employees shovelling reheated slop into a bag. They don’t care what’s in it, so long as overheads are low and you keep coming back. It’s disgusting.

(YouTube//The Wiggles)

Stage 4: Fear

You’re 20 episodes deep now, and something permeates the dark fog of booze. It’s Captain Feathersword, that irredemable bastard. He speaks to you. “Let’s Go To The Wiggle Show,” he cackles grotesquely. “Yes,” you find yourself thinking. “That sounds great.”

Suddenly you are whisked to a familiar, comfortable location. Footage from the live Wiggles show. The one bright spot in a sea of repetitious mediocrity. Sure, it’s the same old songs and all the footage in the season is from a single concert. Sure, it’s the same people doing the same dances. But suddenly, they’ve come to life. This is where the Wiggles thrive, surrounded by their fans–their devoted followers.

Then you see him, in the center of it all. The Blue Wiggle. There’s a glint in his eye. He knows something you don’t.

(YouTube//The Wiggles)

And you realize.

This isn’t a band, a TV show, or a fast food chain.

It’s a cult.

Anthony Field, the Blue Wiggle, created The Wiggles. All of this was his idea. He has been the driving force behind them for 27 years.

You pull out your phone, one eye on Anthony grinning at you from the TV, and google this demon. You begin to learn the Blue Wiggle’s dark secrets. The complete re-recording of albums to erase the existence of former bandmates. The Firing Of Moran. The punishing touring schedule. The fitness competitions. It’s all there.

The Blue Wiggle crafts everything to his whim, manufacturing an image, a brand, a message, all designed to cast a thrall over young minds. You see them all out there; the followers, dressed in the robes of their order, singing the sacred hymns along with their chosen leader.

(YouTube//The Wiggles)

Stage 5: Acceptance

But they aren’t dressed as Anthony. Even in your rye-soaked pallor you can see that the dominant color out there in the frenzied mob isn’t blue. It’s yellow. They’re not here for Him. They’re here for Her.

Emma Watkins, the Yellow Wiggle, dancing accross the stage, bow in her hair, genuine glee on her face. Everything is going to be okay.

(YouTube//The Wiggles)

You now know of Anthony’s machinations, and strongly suspect Lachy’s behind-the-scenes scheming and Simon’s blind obedience, but none of these things matter. Only the Yellow Wiggle matters. The whole sad affair is worth it for the genuine excitement and admiration on those kids’ faces. They love Emma. They love The Wiggles. And now, so do you.

(YouTube//The Wiggles)

Stage 6: Hands In The Air

Everybody clap *clap* *clap *clap*

Everybody sing, la, la, la, la, la

Bow to your partner, then you turn around, (yippie!)

Hands in the air, rock-a-bye your bear

Bear’s now asleep, sh, sh, sh

 

Bear’s now asleep, sh, sh, sh

(YouTube//The Wiggles)

Screentime: Moana’s Dad Sucks

(Walt Disney Studios Motion pictures)

Where You Are.

“Daddy, this you.”

My daughter loves to identify the characters she sees, in books, TV, movies, with counterparts from her real life. She’ll point to a random woman in a picture book and loudly declare, “It’s Grandma”. There’s an illustration snail she will reliably identify as “Mommy” for no discernible reason. In The Cat In The Hat, there’s a crudely sketched portrait of a dude with a huge nose

Every time we read the book she points at the damn painting and says “PICTURE OF DADDY” over and over again until I say “Yes, that’s a picture of daddy can we please move on?”

So it came as no surprise when she held up a figurine of Chief Tui, Moana’s father, and told me “Daddy, this you”. In fact, it made more sense than many of the characters that are “me”. My daughter obviously identifies with Moana and Tui is Moana’s dad. Simple.

Initially, the comparison seemed favorable. For a start, Tui is a pretty impressive-looking guy. If this is what my kid sees when she looks at me, I’m doing something right. He’s also the Chief of a whole dang island, which looks pretty good on your CV.

Pictured: Me (Left); Other Dads (Right) (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures/20th Television)

The Perfect Daughter

But the more I thought about the movie, the more uncomfortable I was about being linked with Tui in my daughter’s mind. Obviously, there is the fact of his being the main obstacle to Moana exploring the ocean, saving the world and finding herself in the process. But that’s just the start of it!

Moana is rightly praised for being a female-led film in which the heroine’s victory is her own. No man swoops in to save the day, or to offer a ring. Instead, the men of the film represent the status quo, the facts of the world that Moana must navigate around. It is no accident, therefore, that the two most significant male presences in the film are both authority figures. Tui and Maui are both powerful men, and each can be seen as representing different types of dad. (Stay with me here)

Maui and Moana
(Youtube//DisneyMusicVevo)

You’re Welcome

Maui’s is less so, but still valid. Maui is the figurative father of humanity. The litany of feats he lists in “You’re Welcome” demonstrate that without him, human lives would be unrecognizable. Tides, Wind, Land, Fire, Coconuts. All the things Moana and her people treat as givens, he handed to them. In the same sense that Prometheus is the father of humanity in Greek mythology, Maui is father to us all.

Maybe this is the dude I want to be compared to. Magic, heroic, legendary. Sounds pretty good!

But what kind of a father is he? As his song proclaims, he is a heroic one. He has performed incredible, dangerous feats to improve the lives of his children. He is brave and strong, fun and adventurous. But he also solves all his problems in the same way: Brute force.

He is also an absent father. His version of fatherhood consists of providing, but not sustaining. As soon as a complication approaches, he runs away.

His self-image is so dependent on his heroic victories & his strength that he cannot face the possibility of failure. I don’t want that.

Maui Flies Away
(Youtube//Nicole Sthefania)

Consider The Coconut

So I guess it’s back to Moana’s actual father, Tui. He has a more grounded, less spectacular, approach. He emphasizes tradition, tries to teach responsibility. I can get behind this, I suppose. I mean, kind of boring, but commendable.

Apart from two things. Firstly, he uses the twin swords of Tradition and Responsibility to hem his daughter in, stopping her not only from following her heart, but from coming up with genuine solutions to real problems they both face.

Secondly, it becomes clear he’s doing this not in order to help his daughter develop or grow, or even because he genuinely thinks its what’s best. He’s just projecting his own fear of the ocean onto her. His talk of tradition is just a cover for his own hang-ups. He doesn’t run away, he just hides behind his value-system!

I don’t wanna be either of these dudes!

(YouTube// Ultimate Productions)

A Girl Who Loves Her Island, A Girl Who Loves The Sea

In the end, though, Moana herself doesn’t outright reject either of these flawed father figures. She embraces the Tui’s responsibilities and traditions while rejecting the fears that guided him. She embraces Maui’s bravery and sense of adventure but rejects his fear of failure and his violence. She takes the best of each of them, rejecting their shortcomings, and becomes her own, stronger, person, finding solutions neither of them could ever see. (Obviously, this is also in large part due to the supportive maternal figures in her life, but you knew that.)

So I suppose I don’t mind whether my kid sees me as Tui, or Maui, or Heihei. I just hope that she can take the best of me, and use it to forge her own, better, way.

I Am Moana
(YouTube//ArchieBuld)

Screentime: How To Train Your Dragon To Go To War

(Paramount Pictures)

Whether we like it or not, our kids are going to learn from the movies they watch. What’s more, we have very little control over which lessons they take to heart, and which they miss. Films have messages on the surface, messages buried within, unintended messages, poorly constructed messages. Whether the lesson they take from Spirit: Riding Free is “horses are great” or whether its “horses are terrifying” largely depends on which parts they were paying attention to, which parts linger in their little brains.

Dreamworks’ 2010 animated feature How To Train Your Dragon has a lot of different messages in it, most of which are great. There’s the lesson about being true to yourself, finding your own purpose. There’s a story about a young boy raised in an aggressive, violent society, taking it upon himself to redefine what masculinity and courage actually mean. There’s even a message in there about what loss and grief can do to a family dynamic if you really look. I don’t know which of them my daughters’ will take on board, but I know which one lingers in my little brain: The message about warfare.

Towards the end of the first act of the movie, there’s a line which feels weird, out of place. Its spoken by Astrid, after Hiccup yet again embarrasses himself in anti-dragon training. Furious with his ineptitude, she loudly yells “Our parents’ war is about to become ours!”

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The reason it stands out is that in an instant, the conceit of the film is reframed. It brings the concept of warfare to the front of what was previously more an issue of pest control. Suddenly we are thinking about HTTYD in terms of War, it’s lessons recontextualized as being about not everyday life, but about conflict.

This is a deliberate act. The film-makers wanted to make a connection between the Vikings’ “war” against the Dragons, and present-day warfare. Well, if they want to make that connection, let’s do it.

What does How To Train Your Dragon have to say about warfare?

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At first blush, the message is a simple one: Humanize your foe. By treating your enemy with empathy, you can learn about the underlying cause of your conflict (be it socio-economic, or, y’know, a Big Dragon with a magic roar). This is a nice message, and it is handled well by the film. Hiccup slowly builds trust with Toothless, then teaches others to do the same. It is only after everyone learns to think of the dragons as sentient creatures that the larger problem can be addressed.

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Unfortunately, that message falls apart when they reach the Larger Problem. As mentioned above, the larger problem is just a much larger version of those creatures the film has spent its entire run-time teaching us to sympathize with. So is the message “Empathize with the enemy unless the enemy is very large?”, “Empathize with the enemy unless they have a power you don’t like?”, “Empathize with the first enemy you encounter, but kill the crap out of the second one?”

Worse, it’s pretty clear that the Big Dragon is acting out of self-preservation. Sure, she’s enlisted an army of smaller dragons to help feed her, and that’s no good. But how else do you expect her to eat? She’s clearly too unwieldy to do much hunting herself. And given Toothless’ appetite, can you even imagine how much a dragon of her size would eat?

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Hiccup, after risking everything to convince the Vikings that dragons aren’t so bad, doesn’t even ATTEMPT any of his non-violent tricks to subdue Big Dragon. He just goes straight for destruction. He makes no effort to delve any deeper into the socioeconomic or evolutionary circumstances that have created this nest. Perhaps dragons operate something like bees, and by destroying their queen he has doomed them all to extinction. Perhaps Big Dragon is an elected official and the food brought to her is akin to taxation.

I mean, yeah, that bit where she eats another dragon seems bad, but to be honest, it’s not even super clear she realized he was there. Even if she did, plenty of places still have the death penalty and we don’t know what kind of heinous crimes that dragon committed. At the very least we see him attempt to get away with tax evasion. Seems like a harsh punishment, but I imagine Hiccup’s remote village of literal Vikings has some pretty backward ideas about law & order too.

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But none of this matters to Hiccup. All he sees is a big ol’ dragon getting fed, and that’s enough to scare him into destroying her.

Of course, it always had to end this way. Final acts require a climax, action movies require a final fight. The dictates of the genre have to win out in the end, no matter how good your intentions.

Perhaps that’s the real lesson behind Astrid’s words. We humans can empathize, we can form alliances, we can learn to see the humanity in even our deadliest enemies, but when it comes down to it, when we see something we don’t understand, something that scares us, our first instinct is always to shoot first and ask questions later. No matter how sensitive or evolved we are, when something new comes along, we fear too much, too quickly, to ever consider understanding first. The cycle of violence repeats. Thoughtlessly, we attack. Our parents’ war, inevitably, tragically, becomes our own.

Hopefully my kid just picks up on the “Be nice to animals” thing.

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Screentime: How Gonzo Made Me A Bad Parent

(YouTube/YouTube Movies)

On Being A Good Parent

Being a good parent means a lot of different things to different people, but one of the things it means to me is this: I will always try my hardest to take time and answer my daughters’ questions. She may have asked who’s shoes those are 16 times in the past 10 minutes, but each time I calmly respond “Those are your shoes, that’s why you’re wearing them.”

This philosophy also means that when the time comes that I don’t have an answer for her, I’m committed to finding one. I expected that time to come around when she started school, but as it happened it came this year when she is but 2 and a half.

On The Muppets

My daughter loves The Muppets. The first movie she ever sat through was Muppet Family Christmas. She has watched every episode of The Muppet Show at least twice. I maintain that this love comes entirely naturally to her, and has nothing to do with my own Muppet fandom.

So it was only natural that one day she would point at Gonzo and say “Daddy, What That?”

We’d been through this before with the other Muppets, and it had gone swimmingly. “That’s Kermit,” I’d say, “He’s a frog.” “Kernit. Frodd” she’d repeat happily. Miss Piggy (Pig), Fozzy (Bear), The Swedish Chef (Chef). Easy stuff. But now we came to this. The first question I did not have the answer to.

What. Is. Gonzo?

The Muppets have been around for four decades. During that time they have starred in 8 theatrical movies, 9 TV shows and 26 TV specials. Kermit and his crew have used those productions to ask some troubling questions: What would the offspring of a frog and a pig look like? Can Michael Caine dance? What if Tim Curry was a pirate? Questions I’ve struggled with and bested. But to answer my daughter’s question, I had have to peer deeper into the heart of the Muppetverse than any man should ever peer. I have braved the Muppet wilderness, and this is what I have brought back.

Here we go.

(YouTube// Walt Disney Studios Australia)

 

On Reality Itself

Of course, you probably think you already know the answer to my daughter’s question. “What is this idiot on about?” you think to yourself, “Gonzo is an alien.”

This idea was first put forward in 1999’s Muppets From Space. In fact, the entire plot of Muppets From Space is concerned with Gonzo’s “people” coming to earth to take him home. Case closed, column finished, move on.

Not so fast, bucko. What makes you so sure Muppets From Space is real? What makes you think its telling you the real story behind Gonzo? Its long been the conceit of Muppet movies that they are either presenting a fictionalized version of the real story or are just completely fabricated.

This tradition goes all the way back to 1979 and The Muppet Movie. The film begins and ends with a segment showing all the Muppets attending a screening of The Muppet Movie in a theater. Kermit explains that the movie depicts the Muppet’s arrival in Hollywood “approximately how it happened”. It’s therefore clear that Kermit et al. are merely actors playing themselves in a semi-autobiographical work.

NOTE: One important caveat here is that Statler & Waldorf appear in the audience for the film but NOT in the film itself. They are merely members of the general public. (This idea is supported by both The Muppet Show and Muppet Family Christmas). It shows that not all muppets are Muppets. That is, not all muppet-like-creatures are Muppet cast members. Remember this, it’s important.

This idea is made even clearer in their follow-up film. Released in 1981, The Great Muppet Caper stars Kermit and Fozzie as identical twins who are journalists. Miss Piggy plays an aspiring model. Kermit et al. have the same relationship with their characters here that any actor has with theirs. The movie exists entirely in its own fictional universe, without reference to the established characters that we know. Heck, the whole production even begins with a song called “Hey, A Movie!” to cement this idea.

(YouTube//ZuzuFitzwaller)

On Non-fictional Muppet Movies

“Ok,” you think, “Great. The tradition of Muppet movies dictates that Muppets From Space is a fictional story, so Gonzo is not an alien.”

Good job! You solved my Gonzo riddle. Pour yourself a drink.

But hold on just one second! What if I told you that the markers that prove that The Muppet Movie and Great Muppet Caper are fictional stories aren’t present for ALL Muppet releases. In fact, there are three releases that don’t contain the combination of an explicitly fictional plot and impossible metatextual references that indicate a fictional Muppet movie. Those films are: Muppets From Space, The Muppets (2011) and Muppets Most Wanted. That’s right, the very movie that establishes Gonzo as an alien!

(YouTube//HTK1968)

Muppets From Space has all the Muppet cast, acting exactly within their established characters, living in a house together. The Muppets living all together is not a completely new idea. The extremely short-lived CBS series Little Muppet Monsters established a shared Muppet dwelling way back in 1985. It is, perhaps, unusual that Statler & Waldorf live with the rest of the cast. As discussed earlier, they have been established as members of the public. However, their increased involvement in sketches in later seasons of The Muppet Show may indicate that, at some point between 1987’s Muppet Family Christmas and 1999’s Muppets From Space, they became fully-fledged cast members. So there is nothing in characterization or setup to indicate that Muppets From Space is fictional.

How about any meta-textual weirdness? Gonzo may be given some hope by one line in which Pepe refers to the adventure being like a “Muppet movie”, but the comment in context is not that much more meta than something you or I might say to a friend. Still very ambiguous.

On Job Security

However, not all hope is lost. As any private eye worth his salt will tell you, sometimes clues come from the most unlikely source. Thus, in order to finally solve the mystery of Gonzo, we must follow the tracks an unlikely suspect, an obscure Muppet who seems entirely innocuous, but may actually hold the key that unlocks the mysteries of the Muppetverse.

Bobo The Bear.

(YouTube//dangersque37)

Bobo The Bear was a late addition to the Muppet universe. He first appeared backstage on Muppets Tonight as a security guard at KMUP, the TV station which airs Muppets Tonight. After that, he shows up again only in the TV Special A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa and in the movies Muppets From Space, The Muppets (2011) and as a cameo appearance in Muppets Most Wanted. That’s right, the 3 movies we’re interested in! Each of his major appearances give him similar roles, outside of the Muppet cast, and it is possible to trace quite a neat career path for Bobo just from these productions.

1996-1998: Muppets Tonight – At the start of the show, Bobo is already working as a security guard for KMUP.

1999: Muppets From Space – At some point between the end of Muppets Tonight and now, Bobo has moved into government work, presumably with a good reference from KMUP. He now works in a prominent position at C.O.V.N.E.T. While his position is not exactly a logical leap from security guard work, he seems to be a general henchman, which his skill-set and experience make him a good fit for.

2008: A Muppets Christmas: Letters To Santa – Bobo has remained in government work but has, at some point between 1999 and now, been significantly demoted (presumably after the disastrous mission depicted in Muppets From Space). He is now working as an airport security guard.

2011: The Muppets – After presumably getting tired of low level government jobs, Bobo has entered the private sector. He is now working for Tex Richman, as (you guessed it) a general henchman.

There are three important things to note here: First, Bobo’s appearances all see him play a specific type of role, which can be added together to give a consistent career path. Second, all of these roles place him in opposition to the main Muppet cast. He is not shown to be a member of the Muppet crew at any point, nor is he ever seen to be affiliated with their productions except in a tangential way.

Finally, and most importantly, most of his appearances occur in works which depict themselves as being non-fictional. Muppets Tonight is a continuation of The Muppet Show, the place where the established characters of The Muppets come from. A Muppet Christmas and The Muppets (2011) are set in a world in which The Muppets are all famous actors.

This all seems to suggest that Bobo is merely a member of the general public (NOT a Muppet cast member), whose various jobs have brought him into contact with the Muppets several times. His appearance as a henchman in Muppets From Space therefore cements its position as a non-fictional work. It’s much more plausible to accept that a former security guard would accept government work than to assume he would join a group of actors with whom he has butted heads in the past. Finally, we have confirmation: Gonzo is an alien, everything is great.

(YouTube//Activeaffiliates)

On Ricky Fuckin Gervais

And then Muppets Most Wanted shows up.

Muppets Most Wanted begins at the exact moment The Muppets ends. The big dance number finishes and the crowd dissipates. The first lines of the film are spoken: “And…. CUT!”

The Universe is torn asunder.

With two words, Muppets Most Wanted retroactively reveals The Muppets to be a work of fiction after all. Kermit et al., were just playing versions of their real selves.

At first this seems fine. Its just a fictional version of a true story, like The Muppet Movie. But the problems run deeper than that. Bobo’s presence ruins everything.

You see, the fact that Bobo has a role in the The Muppets means he is not just some hard-working security guard. He is a member of the Muppet’s cast. When did he join the cast? Was it in 2011, after leaving his government posting? Or was it in 1997, after Muppets Tonight? If it was any time before Muppets From Space in 1999, Gonzo’s status is unknown yet again.

But more than Gonzo’s species is at stake here. So much more. What if Bobo joined the cast even earlier? Has he been a cast member this whole time? Is Muppets Tonight also fictional? Is it all a sham?!

The implications of this are staggering. If Muppets Tonight is just another work of fiction, that means that The Muppet Show is too. Nothing is true!

(YouTube//dorcm1973)

Well…not quite. This state of affairs leaves one movie, one keystone holding all the others in place: Muppets Most Wanted. By revealing everything else, everything upon which The Muppetverse is built, as fiction, Muppets Most Wanted reveals itself as the only thing that is real. Walter, Costantine, Ricky Fucking Gervais. That’s the real, true story of the Muppets. Everything else is bullshit. They were just playing roles for 40 years. And now, finally, we know the truth.

But Muppets Most Wanted has one more trick up its sleeve. Right at the end, right at the climactic wedding scene, who shows up in the audience? Bobo The Bear. Its as if he’s saying “I’ve been here all along, hiding in plain sight. Everything you know is a lie.”

Epilogue

And so I return to my daughter a broken man. Not only do I not have the answer she seeks, but I have knowledge that to impart to her would be to destroy her world. It would be better had I never attempted to answer at all, if I had given up my researches and used that time to play with her and like, teach her to count or whatever. But what’s done is done.

Later she asks again. Pointing to Gonzo and looking up at me, all innocence.

“Daddy, What That?”

That’s Gonzo, honey. He’s a….whatever.

“Gondo. Whaever”

 

(YouTube//Sam P)

 

 

ScreenTime: The Dark Secret Hidden In “Elf”

(Getty/Jason_V)

For most families, Christmas is over. Not so in our house. Rudolph’s dread hold still grasps us, and will continue to grasp well into February. The plaintive wail of “WANNA WATCH RUDOWW!” is heard night and day, ceaselessly calling us back to that winter wonderland.

To give myself and my family some respite during these trying times, I have resorted to playing any Rudolph-adjacent movie I can find. All the Rankin-Bass specials? Check. The Grinch? Check. Finally, running out of ideas, I opted for the 2003 Christmas classic, Elf.

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My daughter was indifferent until Leon the snowman appeared on screen. At this, she clapped her hands with glee and shouted, “RUDOWW!!”

And she was right. Leon looks and sounds EXACTLY like Sam, the narrator of Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer.

Leon claims to have no father, that he was, “just rolled up one day,” and we have no idea how old either character is, nor how aging or reproduction works for sentient snow creatures. But at the very least these two are related by species, and seem to hold a similar office in Christmastown. This, and a few other references peppered throughout, prove that Elf & Rudolph take place in the same world. Buddy & Rudolph come from the same North Pole.

StackExchange

It was a few minutes later that my daughter asked the fateful question: “Where Rudoww?”

She had noticed something I had not picked up on. A stark difference between Buddy’s North Pole and Rudolph’s. Something terrible has happened in the time between the two stories.

The reindeer have been silenced.

Gone are the sentient, talking reindeer like Rudolph and his friends and family. In their place are the dumb beasts of our world.

What did Santa do to the reindeer population? Where, indeed, Rudoww?

No clear answers are given by either movie, but the clues are there, if we care to follow them.

Let’s start by looking at the two biggest changes that occurred during our absence from the North Pole:

First, the toys have become MASSIVELY more complicated and more diverse. In 1966 the elves were building Jack In The Boxes (Jacks in the Box?) and dolls. By 2003 they’re building graphics processors, Etch-A-Sketches… oh, and also still building Jack In The Boxes for some reason. Santa’s operation has gotten much more technically difficult and much harder to manage. Hell, he’s even shipping branded gifts (the “real Huff board” for example), which would require corporate partnerships, factory inspections, licensing deals, etc. etc.

Second, Santa’s reserve of Christmas Spirit, his most important fuel source, is running low.

I put these points to my kid, and together we came up with a theory: A massive increase in the complexity of Santa’s operation plus a catastrophic depletion of resources has caused a full-on Kris Kringle Economic Crisis.

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Santa has had to cut costs. Drastically. But Santa also has an image to maintain. He can’t just outsource all his manufacturing to China. So what does he do?

First of all, break the Elf union. As we watch the Elves make toys in Rudolph, a whistle blows and the floor manager declares, “10 Minute Break!” There’s no way this isn’t union mandated. At the time of Rudolph, Santa is the ONLY elf employer, he has unparalleled demand, limited supply, and an extremely tight deadline. No matter how “jolly” he is, there’s just no way the self-styled King Of Jingling is giving these Elves hot chocolate breaks of his own accord.

Contrast this with the incredibly high-paced, quota-focused workshop that Buddy the Elf is working in. No union with any real power would allow such high pressure conditions. The Elves’ collective bargaining power has clearly been significantly reduced. We should assume this strategy was taken with all groups under Santa’s employ.

Step two: Restructuring and layoffs. In Rudolph, the North Pole’ s position is extremely clear: Elves Make Toys. Heck, a large section the plot is concerned with the one elf, EVER, who didn’t find this line of work appealing.

Contrast this with 2003’s policies. Shoe Making, Engine Maintenance, Teaching, presumably Dentistry. All these are now considered acceptable employment for elves. We must assume that Elves were forced into these other lines of work by not only massive layoffs at Christmas Incorporated, but also by other creatures being placed in toymaking roles (this is also further evidence that the Elf union has been broken).

(YouTube)

By Buddy’s own admission, the only reason that these other, presumably low-wage, creatures didn’t replace elves entirely was their lack of ability in their roles. What if Santa found he could replace his entire workforce with not only cheap labor, but effectively free labor. Labor that came without the burdensome costs of benefits, paid holiday, pensions. Wouldn’t he, in such dire straits, leap at such an opportunity?

I surmise this is what must have happened to Rudolph and his family. Upon discovering that (with the help of modern technology) he could entirely do away with sentient reindeer in his workforce, Santa replaced them with their dumb cousins. A cost-saving measure, a necessary evil to keep up with fast-paced 21st Century life.

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I explained all this to my daughter, who took it in with an impressed but serious face. Then she paused, considered for a second and repeated that fateful question.

“Where Rudoww?”

And the best I could tell her was that he had moved on. And together we hoped he had gone to greener pastures. Some magical land with strong social security initiatives and workers’ rights protections.

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ScreenTime: Tangled Is Better Than Frozen, You Morons

Frozen is a smash hit. I don’t need to tell you this. It made $1.3 billion at the box office and countless more in merchandise. Tangled? Not so much. It made less than half of Frozen’s haul at the box office and trying to find a Flynn Rider doll at your local Toys ‘R Us is like trying to find a chameleon in an Army Surplus store. No home is free from the scourge of Let It Go, which is heard daily in my house, hourly at the weekends.

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But when it comes to Frozen: The Movie, my daughter couldn’t care less. Cries for Tangled ring out nearly as often as requests for “Padda“, but she hasn’t asked for “Elsa” once since she first saw it a few months ago.

Upon delving into the finer details of my precious offspring’s lack of interest, it became clear that her issue was one of representation. Specifically that Disney‘s 2010 offering did not contain enough characters of the equine persuasion. But this is, frankly, untrue. There are many horses in Frozen. Prince Hans has a horse, as does Anna, and there are several background equestrians in many key scenes. But none of these scenes bring effervescent joy to my daughter’s face like the moment in Tangled where the palace horse Maximus engages in a sword-fight with renowned thief Flynn Rider, who is armed only with a frying pan. 

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One could argue that this scene resonates so strongly merely because of the spectacle of a horse wielding a sword. But while such pageantry is impressive at first blush, it rarely holds up to multiple revisits. No, the power in this scene comes from beyond this cheap thrill. The power comes from the clash not of steel upon cast iron, but of idea upon idea, of dream upon dream. For Flynn desires nothing more than complete freedom, liberty from the hardship of everyday life, from his past, from law of the land, while Maximus’ ideals run directly counter to such libertarianism. The Rule of Law, Order, Peace. These are the things our noble steed desires. So when he crosses swords with the roguish Flynn, they fight not because of some plot contrivance, but because the fight is inevitable, because to fight is encoded in their very nature. 

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In contrast, the big action set-piece in Frozen sees our heroes Anna & Kristoff face off against an abomination of snow & ice, who’s inner life is not even hinted at. Does the frozen creature hate simply because he is created to do so? Does he wish to protect his creator, whom he truly loves? Or does he chase the interlopers halfheartedly, resigned to his lot in life, but without any real passion for his job? We will never know, because Frozen is uninterested in telling us.

This is emblematic of the difference between the two movies, one has depth of theme, character, and motivation, while the other has a lumbering snow-monstrosity whose dead eyes taunt the audience with their emptiness.

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This creature stumbles through scenes, grimacing and screaming, with no purpose or reason for existence. His cruel creation, ripped from black nothingness into a tenuously connected collection of geometric shapes and inexplicable whims is a twisted corruption of Frozen’s own inception, seemingly Frankensteined together from jarringly unrelated song fragments. Every moment he is on screen he taunts us with his own impossibility, mugging and “joking” his way through an existence that must be as painful for him endure as it is for us to witness. And then he starts to sing.

When Tangled’s characters sing of their dreams in the modern classic “I Have A Dream”, those dreams speak to the very core of who they are. Thugs and ruffians with hearts of gold, orphans so scared of being hurt again they can’t stop running, young women who yearn to discover who they are. They dream of lives free of constraint, of freedom from the prisons of expectation and judgement. We sing along with them because their dreams are our dreams, their frustrations our frustrations.

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When Olaf sings of his dreams, those dreams speak only to his emptiness. Olaf’s desire for “Summer” may match up neatly with Anna’s desire to end Elsa’s winter, but it isn’t motivated by real character growth or thematic depth. To empathize with Olaf’s dreams we must accept one of two premises:

1) He doesn’t know what Summer is, and so his desire for it is completely shallow, a wish for the baubles and trappings of a season that has absolutely no meaning to him.

or

2) He is very aware of what Summer is, and is performing ignorance to hide the dark nature of his cravings. He knows full well that the heat of Summer will destroy him, finally releasing him from his meaningless immortality.

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Either option reveals thematic underpinnings to “Summer” (and hence the character of Olaf) that have absolutely nothing to do with the purported themes of Frozen, and in the case of option number 2, directly oppose those themes.

It is here that we reveal the real difference between Frozen and Tangled: Tangled is ABOUT something, Frozen is not. Every scene, every character, every song in Tangled have something to say about its themes. Hope, Dreams, and Freedom. Lost Time and Past Mistakes. Tangled’s approach to these things can be summed up in a single moment.

When King Frederick & Queen Arianna are lighting their lantern in the ceremony to commemorate the lost princess, the King looks at his wife. He suddenly looks old, tired, hurt. The camera lingers, no words are exchanged. In this silent moment we feel all the time that has gone by and all the hopes and dreams that have been dashed by that lost time. It is a moment that subtly but powerfully reinforces not only the motivations of the King, the Queen and Rapunzel, but also the deeper themes of the movie.

Frozen doesn’t have any moments like this. It wouldn’t know how. For a start, Frozen doesn’t have the time to spend on such quiet contemplation, it’s too busy filling its time with gags and songs. More importantly, upon what topic would it meditate? What, at its heart, is Frozen about?

Sure, the final scenes of Frozen are about sisterly love, but what does “Frozen Heart” or “Let It Go” or Summer” have to say about that topic? The romantic arc of the movie deliberately subverts the Disney Prince archetype, but what do Duke of Weasleton or Elsa or Olaf have to do with that idea? Elsa’s story can be read as a coming out metaphor, but what does Anna’s relationship with Kristoff or Olaf’s desire for summer have to say about coming out? Frozen contains all these things, but it is about none of them.

It seems that my daughter, unlike the general public, requires not only more horses, but more depth from her entertainment. This is some thing Frozen cannot deliver.