Tops: 10 Best [Animated] Supporting Disney Characters

Welcome to Tops!  Wildly popular on As Seen By (2011-2013), Tops is a feature highlighting the “10 Best” [insert topic] in television or movies!  Lists like the Top 10 Animated “Awww” Moments or Ten 21st Century Documentary Films The May Make You Want to Occupy a Street are among the most popular ever written for As Seen By.  Now, I’m bringing the Tops feature to Bobby’s World and I’m launching with the “10 Best [Animated] Supporting Disney Characters!” Enjoy.

 

10.  PASCAL

Pascal

from Tangled (2010). Voice: n/a

The countdown begins with the most adorable little chameleon ever.  Pascal is a fun, good-natured little guy who’s very protective of Rapunzel, his sole companion.  When Flynn Rider comes along, Pascal is none too happy and spends a number of moments standing off against the wanted hero.  And who could forget the two times he mischievously throws his tongue into Flynn’s ear – or his adorable squeaks – or cute little facial expressions?  Pascal stands by his friend through it all and even has quite the adventure retrieving the wedding rings near the end of the movie.  He’s crafty and fun, and one of the best parts of Tangled.

Favorite Moment:  Every single interaction with Flynn Rider!

Favorite Quote(s):  n/a

9.  GUS GUS

from Cinderella (1950). Voice: James MacDonald

from Cinderella (1950). Voice: James MacDonald

Duh!  Octavius … or rather, Gus Gus, had to make the list.  He’s the funniest little fat mouse ever!  Whether he’s acting tough by threatening Lady Tremaine or her evil cat Lucifer, or trying to pick up almost a dozen kernels of corn, Gus provides a lot of comedy for Cinderella.  Rescued from a mousetrap, Gus becomes attached to and very protective of Cinderella.  He’s her tiny little aloof knight in a mustard tee – and for that, and his adorable laugh, he earns a sweet spot on the list.

Favorite Moment:  When he’s competing with the “cluck-clucks” for corn kernels and keeps losing them!

Favorite Quote(s):

“Duh, duh, duh…Happy Birthday!”

“Take it easy cluck-cluck!”

8.  SHENZI, BANZAI and ED

from The Lion King (1994). Voices: Whoopi Goldberg, Jim Cummings and Cheech Martin

from The Lion King (1994). Voices: Whoopi Goldberg, Jim Cummings and Cheech Martin

Hyenas…in the Pride Lands!  At number eight, Shenzi (Whoopi Goldberg, center), Banzai (Cheech Martin, right), and Ed (Jim Cummings, left) are the only trio featured on the list.  Notable not only for their comedic moments, the Scar sidekicks are a dangerous pack that aid in Scar’s takeover of Pride Rock, Mufasa’s death and Simba’s exile.  As a unit, they’re deadly and individually, their traits make them devious yet joyfully memorable.

Favorite Moment:  The “Mufasa, Mufasa, Mufasa” scene.

Favorite Quote(s):

“Make mine a ‘cub’ sandwich.” – Shenzi

“There ain’t no way I’m goin’ in there! What you want me to come out there lookin’ like you, cactus butt?” – Shenzi

“[uncontrollable laughter]” – Ed

“Who you callin’ upid-stay?” – Banzai

“Do you know what we do to kings who step out of their kingdom?” – Shenzi

7.  RAFIKI

from The Lion King (1994). Voice:  Robert Guillaume

from The Lion King (1994). Voice: Robert Guillaume

Like the circle of life, Rafiki begins and ends the story of The Lion King hoisting a cub into the air from atop Pride Rock.  A friend to Mufasa, Rafiki (whose name means “friend” in Swahili) serves as an advisor to Simba, as he grapples with his destiny as “the one true king.” An inhabitant of an old baobab tree, Rafiki is wise, mysterious and a tad bit eccentric (Simba even refers to him as a “creepy little monkey”) – but his lessons are invaluable to Simba, who learns quickly from the loveable mandrill.

Favorite Moment:  Rafiki’s lesson to Simba about running from or learning from the past.

Favorite Quote(s):

“Oh yes, the past can hurt, but he way I see it: You can either run from it, or learn from it.”

“Asante sansa Squash banana, Wiwi nugu Mi mi apana … can’t cut it out, it’ll grow right back!”

“He lives in you.”

6.  GENIE

from Aladdin (1992). Voice:  Robin Williams

from Aladdin (1992). Voice: Robin Williams

Remember wanting to find your own magic lamp in a Cave of Wonders, so that you could have a friend like Genie?  Me too.  Genie is one of the most animated and boisterous supporting characters in all of Disney.  He transformed Aladdin into “Prince Ali,” and is responsible for the set up between Aladdin and Jasmine.  He’s loving, loyal and loud, but beneath all of that, he only really desires his freedom.

Favorite Moment:  The “itty bitty living space” moment and the “Never Had a Friend Like Me” musical number.

Favorite Quote(s):

“Phenomenal cosmic powers, itty bitty living space.”

“Yo, Rugman!  Haven’t seen you in a few millennia, give me some tassel!”

“You ain’t never had a friend like me!”

“Beeeeee yourself.”

“Do you mind if I kiss the monkey?  …Oh, hairball!”

“Thank you for choosing ‘Magic Carpet’ for all your travel needs. Don’t stand until the rug has come to a complete stop.  Thank you, goodbye now.  Goodbye. Goodbye. Thank you. Goodbye.”

 5.  OLAF

from FROZEN (2013). Voice: Josh Gad

from FROZEN (2013). Voice: Josh Gad

Some people are worth melting for – so are some of Disney’s supporting characters, especially Olaf, the snowman who longs to “do whatever snow does in summer!”  First introduced as a lifeless snowman while Elsa and Anna are kids, Olaf is later brought to life and becomes one of the most animated and flamboyant characters in recent Disney memory.  His many adorable moments, quotes and “In Summer” number made him relatable, lovable and instantly classic and memorable.

Favorite Moment:  When he tells Anna that some people are worth melting for, or when he’s admiring his nose!

Favorite Quote(s):

“Winter’s a good time to stay in and cuddle, but put me in summer and I’ll be a … happy snowman!”

“Oh I love it [his new carrot nose]! It’s so cute, it’s like a little baby unicorn.”

“Hi everyone! I’m Olaf and I like warm hugs.”

“Heads up! Watch out for my butt!”

“Yeah! It really is beautiful isn’t it? It’s so white – you know have a little color! I’m thinking like maybe some crimson, chartreuse … how ’bout yellow? No, not yellow – yellow and snow [muffled brrr-sound] no go.”

4.  RAY

from The Princess and the Frog (2009). Voice:  Jim Cummings

from The Princess and the Frog (2009). Voice: Jim Cummings

Ray, the Cajun firefly, is the only supporting character featured on the list that dies, while battling “The Shadow Man,” Dr. Facilier!  Before Ray meets his tragic end though, he wows the audience with the “Gonna Take You There” number in the bayou and his story of Evangeline.  Ray (alongside ‘gator Louis) adds a great deal of soul, humor and folklore to The Princess and the Frog.  His bittersweet end sees him finally be united with Evangeline, as a star beside her.

Note:  Ray’s funeral was ranked as my #10 Animated “Awww” Moment.

Favorite Moment:  Meeting Ray and the numbers “Gonna Take You There” and “Ma Belle Evangeline.”

Favorite Quote(s):

“My name Raymond, but everybody call me Ray.”

“Ooo, I’m a Cajun, bro!”

“Go to bed! Y’all from Shreveport?”

“First rule of the bayou – never take directions from a ‘gator.”

“Don’t make me light my butt!”

3.  SEBASTIAN

from The Little Mermaid (1989). Voice: Samuel E. Wright

from The Little Mermaid (1989). Voice: Samuel E. Wright

Who doesn’t love Sebastian?  Sure, he’s a little crabby, but it’s because nobody listens to him, especially Ariel!  From start to finish, the wee crustacean transforms from a hard-shell crab into a softy! His calypso-reggae infused songs are brought to life by voice actor Samuel E. Wright and endure as some of the most memorable and timeless.  Recall “Under the Sea” or “Kiss the Girl?”  What’s great about Sebastian is that he’s always got everyone else’s best interests in mind – and he works tirelessly to help in any way possible.  Aww.

Favorite Moment:  When Sebastian teaches Ariel how to pucker her lips OR when Sebastian faces off against Chef Louis to the song “Les Poissons!”

Favorite Quote(s):

“Teenagers!  Dhey dink dhey know everything. You give dhem an inch; dhey swim all over you.”

“My nerves are shot.  This is a catastrophe! What would her father say? I tell you what her father’d say.  He’d say he’s gonna kill himself a crab, dat’s what her father’d say…”

“You gotta pucker up your lips, like this…”

“Geez mon, I’m surrounded by amateurs!”

2.  TIMON & PUMBAA

from The Lion King (1994). Voices: Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella

from The Lion King (1994). Voices: Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella

Timon and Pumbaa are inseparable!  They’re two of the most beloved characters of all-time, and the most dynamic duo ever created by Disney.  They enter the story of The Lion King at the most somber moment to provide hope, humor and even more spirit.   They’re rambunctious and zany, but above all, they’re tender-hearted and endearing.  After all, they save Simba – a lion – one of their natural predators!  Together, as co-parents, they protect Simba until he’s an adult – and they stand beside him as he takes his “rightful place as king.”

Favorite Moment:  When Pumbaa is stuffed and Timon dresses in drag to do the hula.

Favorite Quote(s):

“What do you want me to do? Dress in drag and do the hula?” – Timon

“Pumbaa:  It’s times like these my buddy Timon here says: ‘You got to put your behind in your past’. / Timon:  No, no, no.  Amateur.  Lie down before you hurt yourself.  It’s ‘You got to put your past behind you’.”

“Hakuna Matata”

1.  LUMIERE

from Beauty and the Beast (1992). Voice: Jerry Orbach

from Beauty and the Beast (1992). Voice: Jerry Orbach

“But of course!” The French candelabra Lumière tops the list.  Named after pioneering filmmakers, The Lumière Brothers, and fashioned with Pepé Le Pew in mind, Lumière is the quintessential supporting character.  He’s witty, charming, free-spirited and romantic – not to mention, one of the driving forces behind Belle and Beast’s romance.  His resistance to Cogsworth’s traditional attitude, hospitality toward Belle, and fiery romance with Featherduster provide plenty of memorable moments or musical numbers, like “Be Our Guest!”  He is the perfect host for entertaining and embodies all that one might imagine about France.

Note:  Lumière has been my favorite supporting Disney character since I was a child.  I oftentimes reference Beauty and the Beast, Lumière and Pepé Le Pew when discussing why I studied French, or explaining why I love the idea of Parisian life.

Favorite Moment:  The “Be Our Guest” sequence and his on-screen moment with Featherduster.

Favorite Quote(s):

“But of Course!”

“Ma Chère mademoiselle.  It is with deepest pride and great pleasure the we welcome you tonight …”


That’s the countdown!  How did you like the list?  Are there moments or quotes from these characters that you liked but don’t see here?  Share it in the comments section below.  Are your favorite supporting characters missing from the list?  Make the case for them below too!  Thanks for reading.

A Media Comment: Animated Feature ≠ “Kid’s Movie”

"Hiccup" from DreamWorks' How To Train Your Dragon 2

“Hiccup” from DreamWorks’ How To Train Your Dragon 2

Have you seen DreamWorks’ How to Train Your Dragon 2 yet? If not, do so – it’s a fantastic animated feature that, in a roundabout way, is the basis for this post.  While I was surfing Facebook, I saw Moviepilot Animation’s article:  So Let’s Talk About How To Train Your Dragon’s Gay Character.  Upon completing the article, I read through a few of the responses, but the top rated response said:

“He is not gay…my god its. A kids movie..people are such idiots trying to make something out of nothing…get a hobby!”

While those of you who know me may think this will focus on the emergence of openly gay characters in animated movies, it won’t.  Trust me, I’ve been toying with the idea of doing a research article analyzing gay characters in animated movies.  That project looks more like a go every day.  Instead, I’m going to comment on why ANIMATED FEATURE does not equal KID’S MOVIE.

This is something that’s bothered me immensely over the years, leaving me curious to know:  Why do so many people say animated movies are just for kids? Is it the bright and bold color, the catchy musical numbers (ahem, Frozen - I know, I should just “Let It Go”), or is it simply because it’s animated? A cartoon.  I can’t figure it out.

Now, if you’re like me, you love animated features – and you like to go to the theater while schools are in session, so that you may enjoy them without all the chatterbox-children around.  But doesn’t it just so happen that kids are almost always on break when the animated features flood the box office? It does. Then, you go to the theater not thinking much of it and surprise! A million kids.  The kids aren’t the problem though, it’s their chaperoning adult(s), right?

I generally make it a point to see every animated feature that comes out.  I’ve loved them since I was a child – and since the emergence of Pixar, the ante’s been upped!  Many more animated features are sophisticated and contain social commentaries (ex. openly gay characters emerging in animated features), subtle humor and storylines for adults.  The [mostly] breathtaking animation is still there, but that’s for the enjoyment of everyone right? So I can’t figure out why when I walk into a theater full of kids I’m shot a dirty look from time to time.  Am I not allowed to see an animated feature in theaters if I don’t have children?  Because I’m seeing the movie alone, am I weird? …or worse, a suspected pedophile?

On countless occasions, I’ve had friends tell me they wanted to see whatever the newest animated feature was, but they can’t go alone because “it’d be weird.” Why is it weird? Why can grown men or women not go see an animated movie alone? Who says and what authority do they have? Then I think, it all comes back to this idea that animated features are “Kids’ Movies.”

Newsflash: They’re not.

Animated features, like all other Hollywood productions are rated in accordance with the MPAA.  Generally, these movies are rated G or PG (you can explore all that who, how, etc. here), but that alone doesn’t mean the movie is strictly for kids. When I envision kid-centric entertainment, I think of programming like Baby Einstein, or Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, just to list some obvious (TV) examples.

Carl and Ellie from Disney-Pixar's Up

Carl and Ellie from Disney-Pixar’s Up

Have you seen the Shrek or Ice Age franchises? I don’t think I need to elaborate on all of that adult humor.  What about more subtle movies like Disney-Pixar’s Up?  The entire Carl-Ellie relationship is adult-oriented, as is the “Married Life” montage.  Sure, it’s brightly colored and full of wondrous imagination and imagery, but Up‘s core (its heart) appeals to both children and adults.  My point is, these animated features are made for the enjoyment of everyone.

By design, animated features resonate with each of us differently.  They could inspire a child to become an animator.  They are proponents of imagination (children may want to be ruling princesses or explorers imagining great adventures of their own).  In the same way kids are inspired, adults may find humor, they may reminisce of days gone by, or they may be inspired themselves.  An adult may write that book or screenplay they always wanted to write, or to take the adventure they’d always imagined (I went to New Orleans in 2012 because of The Princess and the Frog), or just to laugh and love as much as the animated feature suggests.  Through the lens of adulthood we “see” and take away more from animated features, we understand their souls and not just the pretty pictures.

Now please, don’t think my last statement discredits a child’s ability to understand a movie (or any piece of media or art).  I’m the last person that would do that.  In fact, in my own endeavors, I find myself fighting for the kids, saying they deserve complexity, subtlety and perfection in the media they may consume.  What I am saying, is that adults have a greater understanding (sometimes) and that just because it’s animated doesn’t mean it’s not for them too.

Call it a Family Movie or better yet, just call it what it is – an animated feature or an animated movie – but unless it’s directly stated to be so, don’t call it a “Kid’s Movie.”  Recognize they’re made for the enjoyment of everyone – take away the weirdness and the odd looks.  Give everyone the chance to be inspired, just because you’re grown doesn’t mean you don’t need it.   Go watch any one of your childhood favorites now, and as Beauty and The Beast suggests:

“There may be something there that wasn’t there before.”

I’d like to know, is there a movie you feel bridges the gap between childhood and adulthood?  What are some of your favorite animated moments or quotes?  How about your favorite animated characters and why? What themes do you see in animated features that appeal to adults?  Let’s talk in the comments section!

A Media Comment: Hollywood’s New Obsession with Bizarre Sex

Sex

Penis.  Vagina.  Queer Sex.

When each of the above words are visualized in cinema or television in the United States, harsher scrutiny is applied by American censors (MPAA, FCC).  It’s something film and media students have discussed amongst themselves and in their classes for years.   How can a person be more permissibly tortured and graphically killed in a franchise like SAW (2004-2010) beneath an R-rating, while “a scene of explicit sexual content” in a film like Blue Valentine (2010) warrants an NC-17? This well-documented dilemma has been discussed and contested multiple times, yet European films are reputed to be more sexually liberal – that is, until recently.

Eva Green responds to MPAA vs. Sin City Poster controversy

American movies and television are beginning to embrace sex more freely, but violence isn’t tapering off.  Instead, what’s happening is a blending of sex and violence and audiences are witnessing controversial, discomforting, and sometimes erotic scenes or images.  Below I’ll present to you several recent instances that illustrate America’s new-found obsession with bizarre sex.

Let’s begin first with a title making headway with our new fixation:  American Horror Story (2011-).

Fans of FX’s original series will immediately recognize any number of scenes depicting controversial sex.  Season one, “Murder House,” repeatedly teases and shows a man donning a bondage suit.  The man is the source of Vivien Harmon’s (Connie Britton) psychological torment and eventual rape.  Then, the significantly darker season two, “Asylum,” provides viewers with even more controversial “love.” From the nearly instant death of Leo Morrison (Adam Levine) mid-fellatio to start the season, to Shelley’s (Chloe Sevigny) sexual advances toward Nazi doctor Arthur Arden (James Cromwell), to Sister Jude’s (Jessica Lange) fantasy with Monsignor Timothy Howard (Joseph Fiennes) – American Horror Story: Asylum upped the ante for bizarre TV sex – then came “Coven.”

Queenie and the Minotaur

Queenie and the Minotaur (AHS: Coven)

According to creator Ryan Murphy, season three was tonally lighter – but Coven wasn’t devoid of bizarre sex.  If anything, Coven pushed the boundaries further.  Viewers of the show will recall several edgy instances of sex, most notably Queenie’s (Gabourey Sidibe) with the Minotaur (Ameer Baraka).  As she encouraged the mythical beast to mount her, Queenie motions her hands to lift her skirt and begs the line, “Don’t you wanna love me?”  Additionally, the season featured a satanic, snake-laden pregnancy ritual between Cordelia Foxx (Sarah Paulson) and husband Hank (Josh Hamilton), and an implied/lightly featured incestuous relationship between Kyle (Evan Peters) and his mother that was interwoven with an on-going necrophilia-ménage-a-tois between Kyle, Zoe Benson (Taissa Farmiga) and Madison Montgomery (Emma Roberts).

American Horror Story isn’t the only show to present necrophilia or incest in primetime, either.  These themes figure prominently into two other top-rated shows, one airing on FOX, the other on A&E.

Season two of FOX’s The Following (2013-) features Sam Underwood as twin brothers Luke and Mark.  The brothers calculatingly murder and dine with female corpses amidst sexual suggestion and homoerotic, incestuous undertones.  What is the basis for their strong connection to one another? Yes, they’re fighting for the same cause as serial killers and rapists, but is it normal for these brothers to be intimate together?  What about their unyielding commitment to one another?  Luke and Mark’s connection is suggestively deeper than brotherhood, though it’s not overstated and was downplayed after the first few episodes.

Norma and Norman Bates

Norma and Norman Bates (Bates Motel)

A&E’s Bates Motel (2013-) poses a similar question – this time about the relationship between mother and son.  For two seasons, Bates Motel has been teasing Norman’s (Freddie Highmore’s) obsession with his mother Norma (Vera Farmiga).  Season one featured a surprising, but inevitable (perhaps “predictable” would be a better word) kiss and awkward relationship between the two.  Season two pushes the envelope a little further by not only depicting more shared kisses, but by placing the characters in bed (non-sexually) together on different occasions, and by revealing a previous instance of incest – the rape of Norma.  The entire premise of Bates Motel is to explore the psyche of Norman Bates pre-Psycho (1960), so naturally, the relationship will only intensify.

Artemisia and Themistocles

Artemisia and Themistocles (300: Rise of an Empire)

Intensity’s become a key factor in both television and cinematic sex.  Take the movie 300: Rise of an Empire (2014) for example.  The sex scene between Persian naval leader Artemisia (Eva Green) and the Grecian Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) is one of the most intense I’ve ever seen.  Mortal enemies on opposing armies, the two come together to forge a deal and end up engaging in a fierce scene where seduction is filled with danger, passion is replaced by power and violence becomes empowering.  From this – what appears as a psychosexual game – allows Artemisia finds superiority against her male counterpart.

While I’m not saying Hollywood hasn’t exploited female sexuality to “empower” women in TV or movies, I am saying that there’s been a shift in the way women have presented and owned their sexuality.  In 300: Rise of an Empire, Artemisia exists as a formidable force beyond her sexuality before and after the scene – and during the scene, she was always in control.  Take the Starz series Spartacus(2010-2013) for another example.  Creator Steven S. DeKnight gave the series several strong, empowered female leads – notably Lucretia (Lucy Lawless) and Ilithyia (Viva Bianca).  Both women existed in the aristocratic echelon of society – and while they employed seduction and sex to further their own political agendas, they also used sex for pleasure, to objectify men (their property), and each other.

Ilithyia and Spartacus

Spartacus and Ilithyia (Spartacus: Blood and Sand)

Spartacus’ most intriguing (and relevant) sex comes during season one (“Blood and Sand”), after Ilithyia oversteps her bounds in the eyes of Lucretia.  Ilithya desires one of Lucretia’s slaves, but the one Lucretia delivers only ensures humiliation.  Ilithyia’s sex scene with Spartacus (Andy Whitfield) delivers eroticism and fantasy to the viewer, but also on the murkiness becoming common-place in TV/movie sex.  The scene is immediately followed by two acts of violence that increase in severity and gruesomeness.  The erotic nature of draped sheets, gold body paint and secretive masks co-exists with themes of deception, humiliation, anonymity, and shame, yet the moment exists to create (or to inspire?) fantasy and allure.  No longer are men using women regularly for sexual exploitation – women are now using their sexuality against each other and men.

Deceptive “use” is a keystone figuring prominently into another primetime show airing on FX – The Americans (2013-).  The Americans introduced us to Phillip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth (Keri Russell) Jennings, two covert KGB agents in America during the 1980s.  In disguise, throughout seasons one and two, Phillip and Elizabeth both employ sexual activity to gain information from the US government.  The twist comes during season one when we repeatedly see Elizabeth disregard sex and harbor no emotional attachments, whereas Phillip becomes entangled in a faux marriage to FBI secretary Martha (Alison Wright).  The double life begins progressively affecting Phillip, becoming noticeable later (in season two) to Elizabeth.

After involving herself out of necessity, Elizabeth learns about Phillip as a lover to Martha, and asks Phillip to become “Clark,” his alter-ego with her for a night.  The scene is riddled with discomfort – Phillip is visibly frustrated and Elizabeth is left in pain, crying on the bed.  Here we have another instance where deception becomes a violent and emotionally damning sexual act – and we have a sexual relationship (Martha-Clark) built entirely on false pretense and the objectification of a woman.  The irony is that the same show sexually empowers and demeans women and men.  Is this depiction real? Are people this easily manipulated by sex?

Malkina and Ferrari

Malkina mounts the Ferrari (The Counselor, 2013)

There’s a particular scene in the 2013 movie The Counselor, starring Cameron Diaz, that addresses my last statement and question.  While Malkina (Diaz), an affiliate to the Mexican drug cartel, is empowered through cunning, association, and sex, she is demeaned by what could be considered one of the most bizarre sexual acts to ever be featured in a movie.  I’m talking about the moment she mounts a Ferrari and does the splits on the windshield, to seduce her boyfriend Reiner (Javier Bardem).  Interesting to note however, Reiner finds the moment less erotic and more unnerving and intimidating.

This moment and Diaz’s entire performance are powerful.  She’s continuously revered for her feminist traits, including intelligence, independence and boldness (which are stated overtly throughout the movie), but also for her incredible sex appeal.  All of these traits combine to create a dynamic and unpredictable female lead.  So are people easily manipulated through sex?  The answer seems to be that there are great powers in act of seduction – and if you’ve seen the end of The Counselor you know the answer to the question.

But while a woman like Malkina does exist, so too does a woman like Law & Order: SVU‘s (1999-) Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay).  Since 1999, Detective Benson has been a beacon of hope for strong female leads – in television and cinema.  She’s been portrayed as an intelligent woman not reliant upon her sexuality and as an equal member of the male dominated police force.  She’s risen through the ranks and now exists as the top-billed character and face of the show as it enters it sixteenth season.  Detective Benson has done well for herself – until being confronted by an intense arc that sees her victimized by serial rapist and murderer William Lewis (Pablo Schreiber).

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit - Season 15

Olivia Benson as a victim (Law & Order: SVU)

Lewis, one of SVU‘s most terrifying villains, is known to torture girls before raping and killing them.  He is eroticized by the helplessness of women – Benson becomes his strongest, most resilient target – his prize.  In the squad room, Lewis’ objective  is clear:  he wants his victims to fight for life, to resist him – it feeds his desire for power.  He tortures them (forces them to consume alcohol, burns them with cigarettes, and terrifies them with guns).  The last moments of these women’s lives are hell – but the Benson-Lewis saga was successful enough that it survived beyond the season fourteen finale and season fifteen premier and carried throughout all of season fifteen.

Why was SVU‘s victimization of Benson such a successful storyline?  Was it because the crime-procedural had an actual arc? Or was it because of Schreiber and Hargitay’s amazing work together?  It could be either of those things, but it could also be because fans liked seeing Olivia Benson in peril, fighting for her dignity and for her life.  The question “Will Lewis rape Benson?” loomed over all of their interactions, especially Benson’s captivity.  Fans cringed at the idea, but had to know how or if Benson would survive William Lewis.  Could she carry on as a detective (and later sergeant) if she were to have been raped by Lewis?  Could this man undo one of TV’s most powerful women?

In some odd way, Benson in peril made for compelling television – and the “will she or won’t she” be raped intrigue caused people to tune in. Despite the dynamics, the fact that Lewis’ sexual obsessions and crimes warranted a season-long arc is noteworthy.  His lust blended with violence, and his appetite for rape and death was unnerving, but the character “William Lewis” was a perfect fit for the media’s bizarre new obsession.

UPDATE: On June 6, Hayley Krischer with the Huffington Post wrote an article about the “rape” of Maleficent and how rape culture has permeated Disney movies

Dorian Gray

Dorian Gray (Penny Dreadful)

More recently, on Showtime’s freshman horror series Penny Dreadful (2014-) we find the character Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney).  While the series is just beginning, and its unknown to viewers where Gray is headed sexually or otherwise, we’ve already learned a bit about his twisted infatuations.  Through staging, we become aware that Gray is at least bisexual, he’s infatuated with beauty, that he has an affinity for lust and orgies, and that he isn’t phased by people coughing up blood during intercourse (that seemed to excite him further).  We’ve also been introduced to his tactics to achieve his desires – notably the scene where he seduces Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) by using a special elixir that inspires a homosexual transgression in Victorian-era London.

Dorian Gray and Ethan Chandler (Penny Dreadful)

Dorian Gray and Ethan Chandler (Penny Dreadful)

It is interesting to note that in 2014, while America is still absurdly sensitive to sex, we find such bizarre instances of sex in so many period pieces like Penny Dreadful (and Spartacus, 300: Rise of an Empire, The Americans).  What is it about these times that inspires creators or writers to visualize these societies as sexually explorative and free?  Are these interpretations simply fanaticized – or is there merit to the ideas – were those times more provocative than our own?  What’s the comment being made toward current society – if these were the sexual attitudes in ancient Greece, Victorian London, or the 1980s?

Perhaps the 2013 movie Her could shed some light on our current state of affairs.  Her offers the comment that our society is less-socialized and less interactive, despite being more “social” in a cyber fashion.  In our digital age, online dating is popularized, sexting is a norm, and sexual necessities are more easily fulfilled alone (by phone, internet, magazine, erotica novel, etc.).  While Her is a gorgeous cinematic achievement, it perhaps offers one of the more bizarre love stories of all – about a man, Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), who falls in love and has a pseudo-sexual relationship with an operating system named Samantha (Scarlett Johansson).  Is this contemporary love?  Can this instant companionship replace physical desire or touch?  What is the capability for fulfillment and happiness?

If there’s one positive to Her‘s bizarre sexuality, it’s that the element of violence is removed, but at what cost?  Theodore is physically lonely – he’s withdrawn and suffers from depression.  Is an operating system a suitable replacement for a human? Or is the comment being made by Spike Jones’ feature that we need people to be totally fulfilled – and to feel love?  This question, I believe, is posed in Her and I think the overall message affirms that we do need people to love.  We do need touch and intimacy.

As I’ve illustrated, the current media climate is welcoming, and the censors seem to be softening, with respect to sex and eroticism in cinema and television.  However, the cost for increased instances of sex is that they’re often accompanied by violence (rough sex, demeaning sex, rape) or are so bizarre in nature they’d be considered disturbing (necrophilia, incest, bestiality) to a majority of viewers.  Despite featuring more sex (of all types, heterosexual and homosexual), the media seems to be lacking healthy, passionate, loving, or sensual instances of sex.  We’re trading those intimate and deep-rooted desires for harsh images and sometimes cruel seduction and saying “That’s what I want.”

Mark Ruffalo and Matt Bomer (The Normal Heart)

Mark Ruffalo and Matt Bomer (The Normal Heart)

What’s worse is that each instance of homosexuality I’ve mentioned has been accompanied by a deviant behavior (deception in Penny Dreadful, and suggestive undertones of incest and necrophilia in The Following).  It’s been nearly a decade since Brokeback Mountain revolutionized American cinema and television – and the passionate, loving, and sensual scenes are still fleeting.  Take the powerful HBO movie The Normal Heart (2014), the scene filled with passion between Ned (Mark Ruffalo) and Felix (Matt Bomer) is as fleeting as the flashback depicting their first “hookup.” Why is love still unequal?  What is so fearful about two men or two women being depicted in a moment of true love or passion?

At the same time, what is so threatening about a woman being sexy – and in control of a heterosexual scene?  Why is there still preference to the missionary position – and why can’t there just be stories about love?  Why does everything either have to be categorized as bizarre or follow the romantic comedy formula that presents what I call “soap opera sex?”  American media’s journey into the sexual realm is beginning to intensify.  I just hope sooner, rather than later, we can start displaying love as it should be – not as something that still brings shame, embarrassment, or that disturbs us.  Some stories will warrant the types of bizarre sex prevalent in media – but some stories should just be about passionate freedom.  Don’t you agree?

Is there a show, a movie, or a scene from either that you’d consider “bizarre sex?”  What about something you consider to be about “passionate freedom,” and love? Let me know in the comments section below.  Let’s explore this idea together.  Thanks for reading.

Angelina Jolie is wickedly enchanting as “Maleficent”

MaleficentBeing a fan of Disney and Angelina Jolie, I was predisposed to like this big-budget summer venture titled Maleficent.  A reimagining of the 1959 animated classic Sleeping Beauty, Maleficent is told from the point of view of the title character by a mysterious narrator.  A pleasant, but predictable third-act twist continues Disney’s notable feminist fairytale trend (recall last year’s hit Frozen?), leaving audiences with fond memories of Jolie’s performance and of this tale as a stunning and imaginative summer-worthy effort.

Maleficent 2Visually, Maleficent is wondrous – I love the look of the mystical kingdom (The Moors), all of the creatures (this movie boast one of the best dragons I’ve seen to date!) and magic.  Despite the MPAA citing “frightening images” as the reason for a PG rating, I welcomed the intense fantasy battle sequences and creatures that continuously made me feel like I was watching a Guillermo Del Toro fairytale (ex. Pan’s Labyrinth) – leaving me extremely happy.  I found myself particularly fond of the wispy special effects used to accompany Maleficent’s various enchantments (anything wicked – like the curse on Aurora – is lit in vibrant hues of green, whereas anything bright or gentle flows in a combination of shimmering gold and glowing yellow), and the special effects like this served this production very well.

What’s more is that Jolie’s makeup and costume design (by Anna B. Sheppard) only add to the allure of the fantasy and aura surrounding this classical villain – and there’s of course, Jolie’s performance.  Boosted by Sheppard’s striking costume and a host of prosthetic makeup, Jolie has a commanding screen presence.  She’s enchanting and embodies the villainess perfectly by displaying unparalleled physical, emotional, and vocal skill.  She thrives most in subtle moments where eye contact and facial expressions are essential.  There’s a way she operates in this role that seems natural, yet calculating and ultimately beautiful.  There is a motive behind every move – and then of course, there’s the evil laughter  (I love the moment during Aurora’s christening when her straight face is overcome by a devious smile and her dark laugh!), and she nails it.

Jolie’s level of performance stands out – and perhaps this is where an “off” feeling may become evident to some viewers.  Stefan (Sharlto Copley), Maleficent’s adversary, is miscast throughout the entire movie.  None of the actors playing Stefan during any stage (childhood, adolescence, adulthood) feel right opposite the actresses playing Maleficent, there just seems to be an overall lack of chemistry. This made me thankful for the limited Maleficent-Stefan interactions, but made me wonder if the roles were simply type-cast.  There are far more interesting interactions to be had, partially between Maleficent and Aurora (Elle Fanning), but mostly between Maleficent and Diaval (Sam Riley).

Maleficent and Diaval

Sam Riley, “Diaval,” will be an underrated part of this movie – only because he may become lost in the shuffle amidst the three nutty fairies and host of kings, guards and princes wandering about.  Riley makes an intriguing accomplice, and is the only cast member that truly feels right when paired with Jolie.  Then again, his character is the second most developed.  We are provided with clear motives for his actions and learn just enough about his character and his compassion to care.  At least that’s how it’s written – and therein lies Maleficent‘s greatest downfall.

Maleficent is the most solid character of all, then again, this is her story, so she should be, but why should I care about anyone else involved (I should!)?  The rest of the characters, save for Diaval, fail to be anything other than accessories splattered into the story for the sake of Maleficent having someone to interact with.  This is a problem plaguing most of Disney’s recent live-action adaptations including that womanizing mess known as Oz, the Great and Powerful (2013) and the mediocre Alice in Wonderland (2010), which were both vehicles for James Franco and Johnny Depp, respectively (despite having other capable cast members).  Maleficent’s problems aren’t nearly as bad – in fact, you could probably overlook them if the casting was right, but even proper casting couldn’t make up for a middling story.

Overall, Jolie’s performance and the gorgeous special effects make Maleficent a worthwhile endeavor – it’s just a little frustrating when a performance like Jolie’s is surrounded by mediocrity.  The movie could have done without the first and last ten minutes and it would have improved.  The idea and basic foundation is right, it’s just a shame the overall execution of the story and its characters couldn’t be totally the same.

Grade:  B+

Note [may contain spoilers]:

I’m curious to know, based on the last two Disney fairytales (Frozen and now Maleficent) if Disney’s feminist themes and twists are preparing us for a lesbian princess. It’s an interesting thought – one I’d be interested to explore in the comments section below! What do you think about Disney re-defining how they present “true love?”

 

The Lone Ranger (movie review)

The Lone RangerOK – I finally got to see The Lone Ranger!

Having done so, I’m confused – why is there all this negative buzz flying around?  Why have the pompous mainstream critics broken out their thesauri to shred it? I don’t get it.  Then again, some critics didn’t use a thesaurus at all, yes, I’m looking at you Joe Williams from the St. Louis Post Dispatch – and my eyes are buggin’ like a Minion’s:

“Except for the dynamic finale, The Lone Ranger feels like a long, slow ride to the dump, to the dump, to the dump, dump, dump.” – Joe Williams (score:  50/100)

Trust me when I say this, I had to warm up to the idea of even going to see the movie.  Johnny Depp as Tonto? I couldn’t wrap my head around that one for the longest time.  I thought he was going to be Jack Sparrow’s Native American (Comanche) cousin – which, to a certain extent, he was.  Then I saw a television spot about three weeks ago and decided I was hooked – and had been dying to see this movie ever since – guess what – I’d go see it again!

Read Joe Williams’ review of “The Lone Ranger”

It’s a summer blockbuster – it’s purpose was to breathe new life into a classic character and to entertain the masses.  That goal was easily achieved.  I don’t think Disney’s intention was to create a cinematic masterpiece, or something able to compete with the art-house films that make the critics coo like babies.  That said, I really enjoyed this movie and its storytelling model.

I love a story that fluctuates between old-time America (ca. 1930s) and older-time America (ca. mid-1800s).  It provides a sense of nostalgia that you can only duplicate with movies.  The flashback model is a proven success, but The Lone Ranger could have used less fluctuation and just stuck with the story in flashback for longer intervals (like Titanic or Water for Elephants).  I didn’t find Tonto, the old storyteller as captivating as young Tonto (until the very end), and therefore could have done with fewer scenes of old-man Depp.

THE LONE RANGERLike always, when it comes to these odd-ball characters, Johnny Depp actually turned in a good performance.  Sure, sometimes he acts like Captain Jack with different clothes and face paint, but overall, he was entertaining and had some of the most comedic lines.  Typical of him in these types of roles, but as the adage, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” – he was fine.  Tonto was fun.

Arguably, Tonto may have been less fun if he weren’t paired with Armie Hammer as The Lone Ranger (kudos to the casting director – Denise Chamian).  Hammer is charismatic, there’s no question – but something about him in this role just clicked perfectly.  I think it was his voice, combined with his stature.  He looks and sounds like a classic Western movie star – and his character is built up perfectly as the underdog – Armie Hammer in the title role simply works (too bad The Lone Ranger is under-performing at the box office, I wouldn’t mind seeing a sequel).

Track the financial success of “The Lone Ranger” on Box Office Mojo

Aside from the few technical goofs (Golden Gate Bridge – incomplete/complete in the 1930s?), there are some train sequences that really get your heart racing and simply provide really nice action, particularly the finale.  And then there’s the music that just really sucks you into the moments and the pace.

William Fichtner - Lone RangerMaybe the thesauri-pods (ahem, dinosaurs) and I watched a different movie, but from where I was sitting (directly in the middle of the theater) this movie was a win – a fun story and adventure, and it’s one I won’t mind hearing or taking again.  I say job well done.

Oh, did I mention,  I really liked Helena Bonham Carter (as Red Harrington), Ruth Wilson (as Rebecca Reid), and William Fichtner (as Butch Cavendish)?  Of course I didn’t – but now you know I did.  I think Fichtner did a great job in his villainous role – he was pretty despicable.

Grade:  B+ 

 

 

ENTERTAINMENT news: The Magical World of Disney

Disney LogoDisney has been the talk of Tinseltown this past week – from the strong weekend opening of Oz, The Great and Powerful ($79 million) to the announcement that Disney is shutting down their 2-D, hand-drawn animation division.  This week, Disney is adding more fuel to their blazing wildfire: they’re “re-imagining” Beauty and the Beast.  The newest feature in re-imagination-land is being titled The Beast and will utilize Belle’s beau as the central figure in a darker, live-action story.

Did you say “what?” Exactly.

Poor, or less than expected, box-office returns for The Princess and the Frog (2009) and Winnie the Pooh (2011) are being cited for the closure of the 2-D animation department.  Disney’s first black princess earned $267 million worldwide, while Pooh-bear only mustered $33 million in golden honey.  Unfortunately, both are being compared to Tangled (2010), the Rapunzel movie that embraced cutting-edge 3-D animation technology and tallied $590 million in worldwide earnings (nevermind the “new-animation” attempt that was Mars Needs Moms, remember that movie that cost $150 million and made $39 million worldwide?).

Disney’s decision is also largely based on the success of Pixar Animations like the Toy Story franchise, which to date has grossed just under $2 billion worldwide in original and re-release time periods. But will the elimination of the 2-D division allow Disney to carry “the magic” forward in their animated features?

It’s been suggested that Tangled had “it,” but there is a certain sense of nostalgia that will be sacrificed by solely embracing new animation technologies.  The problem won’t be the stories or the characters, they’ll endure the test of time, but the “cutting-edge” technology won’t, unless it’s executed perfectly.  For an example of this, you don’t need to look any further than Mickey Mouse then (ca. 1950) and Mickey Mouse now (ca. 2006).


Sure Mickey looks like the same mouse, but don’t you think he’s lost a little bit of “it?”   Hand-drawn animation, like the works of the classical painters and artists of yesterday, withstands the test of time, whereas the newer animation will cheapen and “discolor” in the wake of new styles and technologies.  It’s too early to tell which animated princess’ story will hold up better, Tiana’s or Rapunzel’s – or is it?  I would suggest that twenty, or even thirty-fifty years from now, people will more fondly remember The Princess and the Frog when compared to Tangled.  When compared side-by-side, The Princess and the Frog has soul and heart – it’s got the Disney-classic musical numbers and the crisp, timeless animated appeal.  Tangled, conversely, is a product of the times – from the dialogue and animation style to the clothing and hair choices.  Sure, it boasts some really fun and memorable characters, like Flynn Rider and Rapunzel herself, and it has that magnificent floating lantern scene/song, but in the long run, it’ll wind up in the Shrek category and look to the future like 1964’s Rudolph looks to us now.

It’s sad to think that even Disney is selling-out to become a profit-minded juggernaut, rather than a place for magic and memories.  It’s trading in its classic appeal for big box-office returns in a watered-down social culture and re-imagining some of its greatest, most enduring stories – which brings me to The Beast.

Beauty and the Beast is arguably one of Disney’s most beloved tales ever told.  “Re-imagining” the story, in live-action, accomplishes what besides allowing Disney to contribute to Hollywood’s re-make/re-boot era? Nothing. In fact, Disney has had only moderate success in this category, judging by 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman, which didn’t outperform the original animated classic, or recoup it’s budget.  The Huntsman grossed $155 million (on a $170 million budget) in the United States, compared to the 1937 animated version, which boasts a domestic lifetime total of $184 million (on a $1.5 million budget).

MaleficentNext year, Angelina Jolie lends her star power to the Sleeping Beauty spin-off Maleficent and after that, The Beast will make his way into theaters across America.  Will these live-action fantasies live up to the hype and be able to topple their classic predecessors? It’s monetarily possible, but if Disney’s going to commit to a new direction, one of “re-imagination” and new animation, then they’ll need to work a lot harder to keep the wonder, heart, timelessness, and magic of their movies intact.  Anybody can produce for-profit-garbage – Disney should be above that, they have the ability to produce and inspire imagination and that’s a trait that may be lost if profit continues determining direction.

Look at the current number one movie, for example, Oz, the Great and Powerful – it’s been a critical failure for lacking heart and soul, and for being bland, despite its visual appeal.  An appeal that carried a $215 million production budget.  And even that too, is a re-imagination of a classic from 1939.  Maybe it’s time Disney takes a deep breath and returns to doing what Disney does, sooner rather than later.