Thursday, January 27, 2011

Watch This: The Mysterious Cities of Gold

There are few cartoons that can lay claim to embedding themselves into my young psyche like The Mysterious Cities of Gold. The adventure, the exotic locales, the mercenaries, the lost civilization, everything about this show was designed to hook the six-year-old me.

No surprise, it's not American. Like most cartoons in the early to mid eighties, the best ones weren't being made in the US. While our studios were busy with He-Man and Turbo Teen, French and Japanese studios were producing this, The Engulfed Worlds, and Robotech. There's certainly something to be said for our cartoons, especially ones that were so aggressively, and proudly, bad as Turbo Teen. But there's also something to be said for actual quality. And besides, the US would make up for it in the late eighties, and especially into the nineties, when they arguably made the best television animation ever.

But back to TMCOG. I can't stress how much this show affected my creative mind. Epic adventure, lost civilizations, morally ambiguous characters, and an emphasis on entertainment all are basic tenets of my fantasy world. When I dream up stories to entertain myself, these are the stories that I create. If I was to ever write a book, these are the stories that I would write. The only way I can describe my emotions regarding this show are to liken it to Lord of the Rings, discovered for the first time by a young child, who is so bowled over by what they read that they have to simply read it again and again to understand not only the semantic nature of the book, but the understand their own emotions in the face of such creation. Whether the show is worthy of such high company and praise is your decision, because for me, the show isn't just a show, it is a doorway to six-years-old, when every day left me dumbstruck.

Friday, January 14, 2011

In Anticipation of Brave

As many of you know, I lament the number of good female characters in cartoons. Unless the cartoon or children's show is specifically aimed at girls, the main character is always a male, and the female characters, while rarely without quality, are usually relegated to the "sassy" class, or the "quirky" class. As an example of this, I recall my double-review of How to Train Your Dragon and Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. Both casts had male and female characters portrayed positively, but in Cloudy, she's quirky, and in Dragon, she's sassy. ALL of the depth is associated with why they're quirky and sassy. There's nothing else there.

It's also very interesting how the major production houses are seemingly the ones who stick most closely to these biases. Look at Hoodwinked, which was produced for about seven dollars and a pizza, and compare that to Disney's "irreverent" fairy tale take, Tangled. Notice anything... sassy, about Disney's character? This stands in comparison to a truly original rethink of the Red Riding Hood story. Disney's formulation is bland and stale in comparison, even if it's actually a better film overall.

Pixar has been the most glaring in modern animation. I'm sure that this is because Pixar produces, time and time again, fantastic films of startling imagination, depth, and quality. So the few shortcomings that they do have become all the more apparent. Pixar has one shining star in this regard, and it's no surprise that it's my favorite of their films: The Incredibles. But while this is a great film, it was a true ensemble cast. That was the point. Look at the other Pixar films and you'll notice a distinct shortage of X-chromosomes. And of the females that are there, they're usually drawn thinly (If not thinly, then they fulfill the "sassy/quirky" requirement, like Eve from Wall-E or Dory from Finding Nemo). Truly, the Bonnie Hunt voiced Porsche in Cars was so cliched that it actually pissed me off.

Again, Pixar makes excellent films of timeless quality. I have total confidence that, much like Disney's earliest work, Pixar's films will be loved and enjoyed a century from now. And also, all of the guys who started Pixar were just that, guys. So perhaps it's too much to ask them to step outside of their own gender.

No, I have to. One of the great quests of an artist is to step outside of themself and produce something that is a unique take on reality. Especially with stories, men and women aren't very different. A human story is precisely that, human.

So it's with almost fanatic anticipation that I'm looking forward to Brave. It was to be the first Pixar film to be directed by a woman AND the first one to be written by a woman. Two birds with one stone, I guess. But unfortunately Brenda Chapman is no longer directing. I have complete confidence that sexism had no part in the decision, so there must have been something going on. Perhaps they want to move her to a later project.

Precious little is known about Brave, right now. We know the voices and we know some rough character designs, the latter of which look disappointingly standard. It involves Celtic themes and styling and is apparently inspired by Hans Christian Andersen and The Brothers Grimm, which is great. I love both. Braveheart was fantastic, and Andersen and Grimm wrote... some... really disturbing stories, so I'm sure it will all work out fine.

So in conclusion, 2012 can't come quickly enough. This summer, Cars 2 is assuredly going to be entertaining, but the year separating it from Brave will just as assuredly feel like an eternity.

Friday, January 7, 2011


Ok, there's some "product" out there to give women more energy and sexual desire and, for some unknown reason, Betty Boop is the mascot. They have a pretty thin explanation, somehow linking Betty's "confident, sassy, and carefree" life with this pill. In a sense, I guess it's no more ridiculous than many other pills and the angle their ads take, but this just seems especially stupid. It would be like Bugs Bunny shilling Viagra because he sometimes dresses as a woman and arouses Elmer Fudd.