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Tag: Cartoons

Why nostalgia isn’t good for movies

Ice-T in his "Pool" Role.

Sigh, yet another top ten list on Digg.  Every day another list.  Crappy Top Ten lists (except for cracked who seem to have a good handle on such things) are thick on the ground these days and getting thicker.  Why bother with a substantive article about 80s nostalgia and the vagaries of movie production when one can just list their favorite tv shows and say “wouldn’t it be cool if Ice-T played Snarf?”

If you missed it; Ice-T played a mutant kangaroo in “Tank Girl”, it’s not a stretch to put him in a Snarf suit.

Face it;  no cartoon you enjoyed as a child will ever be a great movie.

Some movie adaptions of cartoons can be “acceptable” (I’m looking at you GiJoe and Masters of the Universe) but they can easily slide into awful (you too GiJoe, Masters of the Universe and Transformers, Flintstones, Spiderman 3, Batman Forever, Catwoman, etc).

I imagine the reason for this is the same reason we can’t enjoy the same music universally because our individual tastes and cultural lenses are so unique.  When someone tries to interpret why a given concept was so good, their own biases and interpretations will inevitably change the subject to meet their own vision, ruining it for everyone else who “loves it” as much as they do.

Take for example the “Addams Family” excepting the cultural touchstones that were added to the modern movie interpretations, the spirit of the original subject matter remains the same.  The characters are fairly tight copies of the originals, the house is a bigger budget version of the original and while more fleshed out than the original material, there were no significant characterization changes made.

Compare this to “The Transformers”  the stoic warriors from Cybertron who crashed to earth during the cretaceous period and spent millions of years in metal hibernation only to resume their fight in the modern era are replaced with pod robots who are clumsy led by a robot from Cybertron who says “My Bad” and another robot who pees on people.

This is a quality remake?  No this is inevitable.  Michael Bay looked at the Transformers and saw an opportunity to make his Robot Buddy movie.  A metal Bad Boys.

Except Transformers isn’t about cops or drugs or LA cultural commentary; it’s about an ancient war for scarce resources on an alien planet fought by refugees. This is where any adaption for movies would fall apart except in the most skillful of hands, because if you catch my drift from before, my interpretation is probably inaccurate for the general public too.

In 10 years, someone will remake Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

If someone was to remake Harry Potter as a homosexual love triangle between Snape, Draco and Harry it would still sell tickets, regardless of its fidelity to the source material.  This is the state of media and storytelling.  There is almost always an audience, but it takes a deft touch to reach a plurality of that audience.  Even when that audience is made up of fans of the subject matter.

The Harry Potter movies may even be a great example of why Cartoon Movie Remakes are doomed to failure.  Harry Potter is (for the most part) the consistent vision of a single creator telling a continuous story.  Cartoons are (with few exceptions) the product of multiple creators over many years often facing competing visions and cultural pressures.  Even the venerable South Park has uneven storytelling and writing, with wildly vacillating moral mores.  If a cartoon that has creators and producers who are so committed can be so wildly uneven, how can a toy-driven cartoon like “Thundercats” ever hope to be captured as a widely accepted and even acclaimed live-action product?

Fans who came to a product later in life would have a much different view of it if the cultural norms that bore it were no longer remembered or relevant.  GiJoe may have been about an advanced fighting force against a faceless and aggressive terrorist force, but there was a none-to-subtle “USA” vs “Russia” element that hung around it.   The GiJoe comics gave Cobra a more American origin (making Cobra a domestic Terrorist organization led by a former salesman no less – how Postman).  This proved to be somewhat more challenging to put on film, the producers and writers opting for “The Cobra Origin Story” instead of any concrete discussion of the Joes and their purpose (hint, in the 80s the Joes were formed to combat Cobra, or not, depending on who was at the reigns that day)

Which brings me back to my initial point, while reading this you’ve been thinking that here and there I’ve misinterpreted something about one of the cartoons or TV shows I’ve been talking about.  Or more egregiously praised or condemned something that you feel was worthy of neither or both.  Which is the crux of my previous piece on music and this as well.  Appreciation of art or creative works is so subjective, one cannot hope to please a plurality of people without first rendering the subject so inoffensive or so bland so as to remove all unique qualities from it, unless of course the work itself IS unqiue.  Remakes, by their very nature cannot be unique and instead must be reduced to their base elements in order to (if you will excuse the term) hit all the targets at once.  Thus Transformers was “Names, Object labels and Basic story” and Gi-Joe is “The Origin of Cobra” and Masters of the Universe was “Set AFTER the cartoon when Skeletor has won” because faithful remakes are impossible and are avoided by the very people who make them.

A Controversy to Blow you Away

M. Night Shyamalan has decided to cast white actors in the main roles of the upcoming motion picture based on the TV show Avatar: The Last Airbender. The problem: Avatar featured an Asian world with Asian characters, including Aang, the titular character, and his friends Sokka and Katara.

Some people are pissed, pointing to other instances of whitewashing. There’s a letter writing campaign and a Facebook group.

Bingo anyone?

So now what?  I’m tired of reading the LJ drama aroudn all of this; but here’s what I was going to post about this somewhere else:

I dig on the Airbender;  it’s clever and funny.  It’s not as smart as Phineas and Firb but what is on Saturday mornings?  All that said, I don’t get this outrage at all.

Not a bit.

I’m not from North America, I come from a culture that is as old as any other, but I don’t “get” when people (who are predominantly not a member of my cultural group) both co-opt and defend my group.  It’s my culture guys, if I want to defend it, let me handle the heavy lifting.

I can’t speak for the billions of Asians, no way, but I can speak for me and let me simply state what the outraged seem to fail to grasp, there is a vital and vibrant Asian film production market, Asians get to churn out all shades of asian movies all the time.  If an Asian film maker wants to make a movie that resembles the Airbender story (let’s face it, it’s REALLY generic) with an all Thai cast (for example) then so be it.

In this case a Malay person is at the reigns (for the most part) and has cast some box office candy in the roles.  This outrage really smacks of Otaku-Fanism, as if sharing your toy with the unwashed masses will somehow dilute the experience.  I’m not grasping how this is Racist at all, it might be a bit desperate or money grubbing, but Racist?  Please.

Me, I don’t know if I will pay to see a movie adaption of Avatar, why bother, right?  The cartoons are out there for me to watch with the kids if I want.  Why waste cash on what is bound to dilute the experience by virtue of not being the source material.

The last movie I saw that really expanded upon and made the source material pop was Trainspotting, so I don’t think any adaption cum money grab is going to shake any trees.

If you are REALLY outraged, vote with your feet and just avoid the damn thing.

I (for one) will be disappointed if they do recast the roles that have already been set; I’d hate to lose a job over my ethnicity,  wouldn’t you?  That kind of sums it up right there, in some way there are people out there so obsessed with their own ethnicity that it allows them to attempt to victimize others (en-masse) to somehow promote and protect that ethnicity.  Imagine if there had already been a full cast of Asians in place and the reverse was now true?  A bunch of European fans get together and form groups around demands for Caucasian actors in the roles of the title character and the blind girl (along with most of the people in the snow kingdom)  then what?

In the end; the source material stands and the movie will be the movie.  If you feel that strongly about the movie’s cast, by all means, feel strongly about it, but why impose your beliefs upon the general public?  Avatar isn’t some cultural phenomenon like “Kung-Fu” it’s a somewhat well known Nick cartoon, the general public isn’t down with it, so it doesn’t have a cultural cache to pull from, it’s got a studio, some creative types and a need to make money.  If we (as the general public) could have our dreams casts in our favourite movies Pierce Brosnan would have been bond right after Roger Moore and the Next Doctor might have been Joanna Lumley (or Rowan Atkinson)  but we don’t get our dreams. Do we?

Fight on you crazy stars, it’s your right to complain about casting choices, but damn if I wish that the racism card wouldn’t be tossed around so quickly, and this is coming from a guy who actually profiles racists on his blog.  I know that the last qualifier reads like “I can’t possibly be racist” which is the furthest from the truth, I totally can be racist and catch myself being so.  It’s one of those human failings that we should recognise in ourselves.

The whole discussion of “I don’t see people like me on the screen” argument blows me away.  Seriously.  Outside of imported TV, I don’t see anyone like me on TV either, and when I do see someone like me on North American TV or Movies, they are buffoons (without fail).  So What? Should I bitch about it and keep a blog of how offensive it is?  OR have I learned one of the big lessons about life that some folks still need to learn, the prevailing culture of North America is a melange of cultures that end up in a stew or milieu that doesn’t actually reflect society instead it distorts society for it’s own entertainment, which the majority seems to like.  Case Closed.

As for “I can’t Be Ang if Ang isn’t Asian on screen” what?  How did you kill that kid’s imagination?  Is it drugs?  Seriously, that kid is having trouble seperating themselves from cartoons as fantasy.

5 Toys you would have killed for in the 80's

5.  The Sword of Omens

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“Thunder, Thunder, Thundercats Hoooooooo!”  I actually found one of these just laying in some bushes one day.  It was the day of a party at my Grandmother’s house and my friend Stuart and I found this along with some other awesome toys just sort of stashed in some bushes.  We spent an hour or so clashing with the sword and guns and pretending we were the Thundercats, sight beyond sight and all that.  I was Panthro, by the way.  My little sister, Mumm-Ra of course.

It wasn’t long before we were beset upon by the Mutant kids who had stashed these toys in the bushes in some form of extra Chromosome safekeeping.  After some stone throwing and G-Rated cursing, we were forced to give back “MOST” of the toys.  As far as I know, Stuart can still summon the Thundercats when he needs them.  “Sight Beyond Sight” indeed.

The Thundercats were a cultural watershed for the Under 12 Furry set, anthropomorphic Cats and supernatural monsters are always a great draw.  Especially if they have both Tanks and Swords.  Not to mention hoverboards, nunchucks and a cat/rat thing that has an easily imitatable vocal tic, snarf.

The Sword of Omens toy itself was not anything special, certainly no better construction than any other toy sword, but it had the Added Bonus feature of the Eye of Thundara, something your “Flash Sword” or “Pirate Sabre” simply did not have.  It could break  just as easily, but you could look through the hilt and claim to see the approach of your enemies for as far as 3 blocks away, if you were on an open field or a long straight street.

4. Optimus Prime

Generation One Optimus Prime ReIssue
Generation One Optimus Prime ReIssue

Leader of the AutoBots, Easy to transform, comes with a trailer that contains a “repair droid” and a car with human sized seats for some reason.  You fold the head and fists into the chest, there is no “Prime Matrix” in there in the G1 version.  Optimus Prime was also the only one of the first wave that really looked great in both his “Robot” and “Vehicle” forms. He was heavy and made with a bunch of die-cast metal, so parents could feel like they had value for their money when it came out of the box.

I had read the initial issues of Transformers as a British comic (Large format, newsprint styled comics) and it contained a bit more about the Transformers and some statistical information about the ‘Bots and what they could do,  I don’t think there was a toy that I wanted more the year that Optimus Came out.   I may have promised the soul of my little sister to Satan that year, who knew that stuff worked?

The big day came, I put the stickers on incorrectly and Optimus Prime spent the next few years fighting Gi-Joes and At-Ats.  When I sold him, it was kind of bittersweet, I’ve even purchased the reissue and sold that too.

How’s that servitude to Satan working out Kerry?

3.  The AT AT Imperial Walker

The AT AT Imperial Walker
The AT AT Imperial Walker

When you saw these walking Tank/Troop carriers stalking towards the Rebels in “Empire” you probably wet yourself with glee, I mean, there was already a “Death Star” toy, why not an AT AT. It’s a lethal Robot Dog with (on the original toy) moving light-up lasers and a head you could control like a puppet. Never mind the fact that it could hold so many figures.

I had one of these, no murder required.  I think I got it for my Birthday the same year I got Optimus Prime.  I remember that it came in one of those semi-generic white boxes from Sears.  I eventually traded it for Dolza and 12 dollars cash.

Before I let it go to the crazy kid down the street, who promptly tossed it down a flight of stairs (which his mom, dad and brother told me about, then blamed me for giving it to him) it used to stalk around my bedroom, mopping up hordes of Cobra Troops and stomping on Go Bots.

2. Voltron

Voltron, Defender of the Universe
Voltron, Defender of the Universe

The 5 lions Voltron, as opposed to the Vehicles Voltron was a prized toy. It was 5 awesome robot lions that turned into an even more awesome sword wielding robot. It had it’s own cartoon and catchy music. The “small” toy even had friction wheels on the lions so that could “soar” across the linoleum in your kitchen.

I never knew a single person who had all five of the full-size Voltron Lions.  I had a bunch of the figures and Ro-Beasts, but only the “small” voltron robot.  It was die cast and pretty much the heaviest toy tobot I even owned, save the japanese ones I snagged here and there (and Unicron, of course).

1. Unicron

Toys @ Work

When the Transformers Movie came out, I think everyone thought that the Unicron Toy would be out “soon” it migt be some kind “Figure” instead of a robot, but surely it wouldn’t be 20 years until we saw it, right?

I think only Omega Supreme was larger than Unicron in the end.  Unicron is one of the Transformers that looked SO good in his robot form I NEVER transformed it back into a planet after the first time.  Why bother, Unicron stood on my desk and looked menacing, almost fully posable and with articulated fingers, Unicron was literally the greatest Tranformer ever.

It’s too bad the Unicron Toy came out 20 years way too late,  I might not have sold him when I moved back to Canada.

Honorable Mentions:

Centurions aka (More Toys than you can buy):  Centurions might have been the greatest toys ever if it wasn’t for their sheer number and cost.

Robotech/Macross Toys: Transforming Robot Jets, massive alien battle pods, miniature SDF1.  Silly stuff.

Laser Tag / Photon: I was a photon kid, they had a better fictional universe, was there ever a photon cartoon?

You and your Flying Purple Pony can get stuffed

Did Muslims react so strongly because they did not understand or believe in freedom of speech? Gallup’s data, which demonstrate Muslim admiration for Western liberty and freedom of speech, indicate otherwise. The core issues of this apparent clash, or “culture war,” are not democracy and freedom of expression, but faith, identity, respect (or lack of it), and public humiliation. As France’s Grand Rabbi Joseph Sitruk observed in The Associated Press in the midst of the cartoon controversy: “We gain nothing by lowering religions, humiliating them and making caricatures of them. It’s a lack of honesty and respect.” He further noted that freedom of expression “is not a right without limits.”

Islam and the West: Clash or Coexistence?

I’m focusing on this last quote; from Grand Rabbi Joseph Sitruk; it’s fairly naive to ask a religious authority about how people should talk about religion in the public square.  What do you imagine the Grand Rabbi will say about religion;  that satire is satire and we should accept the clowns with the accolades?  No.  Simply no.  Like the Pope or the GRand Vizier, the religious authority is going to fall on the side of the religious without fail.  Therefore there opinion; however florid, is moot and accepted as supporting religion without inquiry.

The “Cartoon Debacle”  highlighted something that I hold dear; the ability (and lack thereof) to laugh at oneself.  It’s a hard pill to swallow when someone makes fun of your hero; it’s even harder when that hero is your personal savior.  This I get; but when someone lampoons my heroes (even the ones that I adore) I don’t feel compelled to violence (any more).  If it is funny; I laugh.  If not, I fume and maybe even give back an indignant remark; but that’s about it.  It seems that people can get very huffy about their heroes, personalizing anything about said heroes as an individual slight.  Not only does this show a shocking lack of character, but it demonstrates a lack of  development on par with serious emotional developmental issues.

Notice that (any more) I dropped in there?  That’s because it USED to be that one could goad me into a tear-stained fury just by making fun of the music I liked.  I hadn’t developed the emotional coping mechanisms that would allow me to separate myself from my interests.  This is probably the kind of lack of development that leads to violent reactions to parody.  I don’t know; I’m not a psychiatrist.  I’m just a Blogger.

That being said; it sucks that people (as a group) can be so easily led to outrage. We all have to just lighten up and tackle real issues and outrages when they come up.  Right?