Hey everyone! So starting this month I'll be doing something new. Serialised creative stories, a chapter a month (hopefully more once I switch to part time for my paying job). Once the story is then finished I'll be bringing them together into a novel. So be ready for the first Chapter of Bed of Thorns; a sci-fi re-telling of Sleeping Beauty. But speaking of fairy tales, lets look at Cinderella.
Anyone who knows me knows that I am a fan of the Disney Princess genre, there are very few films in that genre that I will skip, even the ones that are Disney knock offs rather than actual Disney. So I went into the new live action Cinderella with decently high expectations, I wasn't expecting anything ground breaking but I also wasn't expecting to leave disappointed.
Rather than just going through the movie we are actually going to do a compare and contrast, with the animated Disney Cinderella and the live action Ever After staring Drew Barrymore with the new Cinderella film. Which is a straight remake of the animated one and yet tries to ape the strides that Ever After took and falls woefully short.
Let's look at the environment first; Cinderella of all of them most looks like it takes place in a fairy tale world. It's bright colours and flawless costumes, it has a world that looks remarkably clean. The Animated movie in contrast is very contained, there aren't any scenes of the outside world from her house until she goes to the ball; and Ever After is a fair dirtier movie. Pledging itself to some degree of historical accuracy... some.
The environments: set up clearly the tone each one is going for, the animated movie which focuses more on how Cinderella is contained to help contrast how special it is when she goes to the ball; the live action which is more interested in setting up a world where magic is possible and characters that are archetypes rather than characters. Ever After however is far more focused on character and making the fairy tale more like a possible event than a parable.
Speaking of characters lets really look into the meat of the issues here, the characters.
The Prince: I'm a little torn if I like the Prince in Ever After or the live action Cinderella more; Ever After's prince was a tad more flawed. Vulnerable to pride and making the mistakes that come with it, so his relationship feels more deserved, the both have flaws they need to get over. The live action prince is torn between love and duty but we don't see much more of him beyond that; however Rob Stark (Richard Madden) does play a whole hearted charming prince who any Game of Thrones fan will be happy to see finally wind up happily ever after.
The animated price is the least developed prince of all the Disney princes; and that is saying something.
The Step-Mother: This is one of the closest races there is; each of the portrayals have their own strengths. The animated step-mother is straight up evil, it's an incredibly menacing performance there is no effort made to try and humanise her. The animated step-mother gets points for simply being the most memorably evil. Ever After and the live action both try to show the step-mother as being evil from hurt caused by their new husbands never giving them love and instead showing Cinderella as his only family. However nether really does anything with it and Cate Blanchett turns evil far too quickly for there to really be any chance of understanding. Anjelica Huston on the otherhand, has over a decade to turn Cinderella into a slave and displays occasional moments where it's suggesting her own pain is causing her to inflict this pain on Cinderella.
They try a similar thing with Cate Blanchett, however Blanchett is playing it as evilly as the animated movie and every attempt at humanising her comes off as shallow. There is a moment when things really could have been tied together; Blanchett's character says that she married to give a chance to advance her daughters and there is this implication that she resents Cinderella for being this idea women who could marry a prince while her daughters are too inadequate to get advantageous marriages. But no, they don't tie it in with this sub-text of how society places restrictions on women, she destroys any chance of having her character ever be redeemable by saying she is cruel to Cinderella as Cinderella is good an innocent... And that's it. That is her motivation. Blanchett really is far too good for this role.
The animated movie, like most Disney animated movies of the past, is not interested in humanising the step-mother. She is cruel and evil because some people are just cruel and evil. While this villain could have slipped by, they did such a fantastic job animating her; really the animated movie really is just incredibly powerful in it's small moments. Especially with Cinderella, however we'll get to more in a moment.
A poorly humanised villain is simply more frustrating than painting a villain with the broad brush of saying evil because evil. So even though I do love Anjelica Huston and Cate Blanchett it simply has to go to the animated step mother. Brilliantly drawn, classically cruel and controlled giving a fantastic subdued but constantly threatening performance, Eleanor Audley is the best evil step-mother.
The supporting cast: Wow, I spent a lot of time on the step-mother, let's speed through some of the supporting cast. The step sisters are usually just comic relief, although occasionally effort is made to humanise Anastasia/Jacqueline, although usually it is just done by making her more of a push over by her mother and step-sister. It doesn't excuse what she does, just makes the audience feel bad for her as well. We'll give this to Ever After for having the two sisters actually act differently and not being unbearably annoying.
The fairy god mother, it's surprising that this character is usually the least interesting character, they really are only there as living deus ex fairy. A plot device to get Cinderella to the ball. Da Vinichi from Ever After is our stand in fairy god mother and is the most developed... but that isn't saying much. Have to go with the animated one for some bibbidi-boboidi-boo action.
The animals; no one wins on this one. The animals are either way to prominent in the movies, just there to reference the animated movie or not there are all.
Cinderella: Now Cinderella often gets a lot of flack for being a problematic character; she's one of the most passive Disney Princess's. Tying with Sleeping Beauty as the most passive in fact. So a lot of modern interpretations seek to address that; they give her character and chances to prove himself. Ever After is perhaps the clearest example of this, making Cinderella well learned, and keen to escape the situation she's in but without any means to; she suffers through the movie but when she is given a chance to rescue herself she does. Animated Cinderella is a kind and caring person, still totally good hearted despite the abuse she has suffered.
The new Cinderella attempts to marry these two concepts and ends up being the weakest part of the movie and why the movie ends up failing as a whole. The motto of the live action movie is have courage and be kind. This motto is repeated endlessly and is why the prince falls in love with Cinderella before the ball and why she is able to talk to animals and why the fairy god mother shows up for her. Cinderella is never courageous however, she is a doormat. Cinderella is well learned in the new movie, she has skills and intelligence that would allow her to find a life outside of her step mothers control and became a servant when she was old enough to escape, and is shown to have friends who could assist her living outside of the house. In fact she does try to escape, but decides it is cowardly to run away from the abusive situation she is in.
It was cowardly for her to run, because she says no doubt many people have it worse than she does.
... ... ... oh movie... no.
Contrast this with the animated movie, again in this Cinderella never escapes, however we are given no evidence to suggest that she could. Cinderella has lived like this since she was a child, we don't know that she has ever been outside the house. She also doesn't take the abuse in the same way; again I have to praise the animators who managed to give a lot of quiet dignity. Cinderella carries her head high at all times, its a small little sign that she isn't broken; it isn't until her dress is ripped that she finally breaks down. The dress tearing scene is chaotic and emotional; I've heard some refer to it the closest Disney has ever gotten to depicting a rape scene. And it was, until Maleficent and the scene where she wakes to find her wings removed. In contrast the live action scene has a sleeve ripped, that's it. Just one small rip; the scenes just can't compare in emotional weight. Movies have a simple language, which is 'show don't tell'. The animated movie never needs someone to exclaim the moral as 'have courage and be kind', Cinderella shows it through her actions alone and is rewarded for it.
It is really just hollow in the live action Cinderella movie; Cinderella claims to be endlessly kind and the film ends with her forgiving her family for the abuse. Yep; she forgives her abusers. Not gains some understanding about their motives, or any appreciation for the difficulties the Step Mother might face as a single mother in this time period. Nope, forgiven without question... they still get banished from the kingdom along with the duke who dared to stop the King marrying a peasant girl to protect the Kingdom. So, justice is served?
The live action movie really doesn't bring anything new to the table, although some great character work is done with the Prince and the King, it just adds nothing to the 'canon' of Cinderella. It is inferior to the animated movie it tries to improve upon. Meanwhile I love the hell out of Ever After and the animated Cinderella film; both are different however and each do succeed in what they are attempting.
I'll be updating again on the 20th as I turn the other passive fairy tale princess Sleeping Beauty into a sci-fi heroine.
Hey everyone, welcome to a new section. Just a thought posts will be my own personal opinion about trends and idea's rather than my critiques and opinions about particular works. I encourage everyone to challenge me on these thoughts and if you have any suggestions for academic research on them, please comment. I'd love to read it.
Hero's weakness and gender, what exactly do I mean?
While working on some of my own novels and reading a few others I noticed a number of trends about what weakness audiences will and won't accept from their hero's, and that these fell along gender lines. Male hero's are allowed to have certain weakness, and female's their own, often regardless of the character of those individuals regardless of gender.
Males are allowed to be sexually tempted by the villains, give into anger, and pride. Females are allowed to be afraid, be too weak to handle things on their own, and to be hampered by love.
When they are laid out like that... it's more than a little troubling the implied gender expectations that are suggested by this. Males are allowed no emotions but anger and controlled by their penis. While women are weak timid bound by their emotions.
It is so ingrained in the population that when a gender defies the typical weaknesses or characteristics they are called 'coded' in the opposite gender.
In the Hunger Games, Katniss is often talked about as being 'coded' male, exhibiting male traits while Peets is 'coded' feminine.
Coding refers to how to audience interprets the traits, it's usually more clear when referring to sexuality as homosexuality for a long time wasn't allowed to be displayed at all and therefore a number of tricks and troops were created to bring across the idea of homosexuality.
So if you were to have a male who exhibited the feminine 'weakness' of fear, what would you expect? One of 2 things happen, either they are a physically imposing man who shouldn't be scared and pretends not to be till the perfect comedic moment. Or they are physically weak and the fear is genuine and always there for them to overcome. So they are either physically more feminine or the fact that they aren't fitting into their 'male' role is played for laughs.
How deep this coding runs is problematic to discuss as there doesn't appear to be a clear solution, and it can easily be argued that the discussion in itself is causing the problems.
If Katniss having male traits is a problem because it says that females have to adopt male traits in order to be taken seriously as an action lead, than couldn't it be said it is unfair to judge her as a representation and not just as a character. After all there are people who biologically are female but whose personality is "male". However Katniss isn't a person, she is a character and thus the way she is presented to the audience is reflective of society.
Katniss isn't the problem though, we need Katnisss in films/books/games and all types of media. But we also need more than her. We need hero's who are taken seriously representing all kinds of people.
We are a long way away as a society from not thinking in terms of gender coding at both a conscious and subconscious level. Thus in the meantime...
We need more Buffys, more Shaggys, and more Frodos. Characters that mix and blend gender expectations within them.
We need our Arwens, our Peetas and our Mrs Brisby. Characters who coded female.
We also need our Batmen, our Wolverines and our Katnisss. Characters who are coded male with their strengths and weaknesses regardless of their biological gender.
As we slowly work to see more variation in our characters we need to keep the discussion going, we need to make sure that those who are coded female don't just play the role of support to those coded male. I see this as the real danger, that the display of any feminine traits means a character is automatically relegated to sidekick, comedic relief or love interest.
Considering the amount of time I've devoted to the titans of the comic industry Marvel and D.C. Although it's not as though I've made some painfully obvious favouritism towards one of the two, *cough* *cough* *DC* *cough*. But I thought I should give some attention to comics from the little, rather strange, brother of the comic heavy hitters Dark Horse. Known for comics such as Buffy, Star Wars and Angel. This is also on the heels of some of my feminist rants for Tarot Witch of the Black Rose, I can talk about a comic that uses female sexuality well. Empowered. It has the main female lead being tied and gaged as Tarot but does it in a way that doesn't make me want to hunt down the author and drop him in a room of blood thirsty feminists dressed in a shirt that reads 'If your here, whose cooking me dinner?' The reason for this is that the author Adam Warren has a distinctly tongue in cheek style of writing that only leaves me to wonder how many jokes he would have made about the phrase 'tounge in cheek'. The fact that the main character is continuously tied and gaged is a joke amongst her other superheros.
Elissa is the main character, and inspired by the death of her dad when she was a child she has become a super hero, through means unknown she has ascertained a super suit that allows her super strength as well as a few other powers. The skin tight suit however looses power if it is damaged in any way and while it can stand up to showers of bullets but can rip easily and often does. As such she is often rendered powerless and captured by, well, everybody. Unlike Tarot, please forgive me but this comparison will pop up a lot, she is not a self confident character, she is plagued by body images and insecurities. Elissa, nicknamed Empowered, or Emp for short, does not want to be wearing only the skin tight suit but cannot wear anything under or over it as that then negates the power of the suit or gives her visible pantie lines. Despite often being captured and humiliated, both by the villains, and her fellow superheros. Including the more goth looking Sistah Spooky, we find out this is because of her own past insecurities. Emp is always willing to stand up and fight again. She is someone who has a power that is very unreliable yet will still try to be the best hero she can be. Granted there is a point where you really must ask whether she is planning on changing career paths at some point. But she has had moment where it appears as though she may grow into the roll, as well as being seen actively training and trying to improve. This is another thing that sets her apart from Tarot who despite being continuously tied, gagged and milked (no, really) she never seems to learn anything new or even feel as though she has to do better. Emp is a student of the superhero. She has room to grow and the desire to do so.
Elissa has a strong support network, although not a first, her boyfriend and friend are introduced and play off each other like a real world relationship. Ignoring the super powers and super villains. When I look at the boyfriend I again feel myself wanting to make the Tarot comparison, John, the apparent gender swap of the Tarot books is weaker than Tarot and often finds himself in perilous situations. He however is rarely rescued by Tarot. Which is one of the entire points about the gender swap, if you are having a male in the traditional damsel in distress role than he needs to be saved by the female protagonist. But John is not, he is either saved by himself or random other characters, and more often than not is saving Tarot because Jim Balent, the author, has a fascination with trying to be the knight in shinning armour to big busted witches in bikinis' who keep shouting about how they can protect themselves but never can. Thugboy, Elissa's boyfriend, is shown to be able to protect himself. And when he gives emotional support to Elissa it is believable. The relationship between the two of them seems to be the right mix of respect for her skills and a manly desire to protect her.
The drawing is very reminiscent of Manga, not a problem for me as I was reading Manga long before I started reading comics. For fans of a more Western drawing style though shouldn't just dismiss it. A common criticism of Manga is that it over simplifies facial structures and uses a more, shall we say, cartoonish. Empowered is beautifully drawn, if you are not a fan of Manga you may have some difficulty getting into the art style but I would recommend that you do at lease give it a try.
All this may make you think Empowered is without its flaws and is some kind of feminist polemic. It is not. It is still an excuse to draw women in revealing clothes or nothing at all as well as playing to the bondage crowd. It is saved by the fact that it doesn't pretend to be anything other than this, as well as a healthy mix of humor. Some of the jokes can get a little repetitive, but that may be because I attempted to read more than one volume in a single sitting. I'm still on volume 2 and if my opinion changes I shall inform you but for the moment Empowered is an enjoyable mix of adult humour, beautiful art, a real self-awareness and just a lot of fun.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.