Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Legend of Korra

I recently ranted about how much I hated the portrayal of Cheetara in the new Thundercats. I then reviewed Thundercats and called it the best action/adventure cartoon in some time. One of the big differences between it at Avatar, which I thought was technically better in most respects, was that there was very little sense of danger in Avatar, since Nickelodeon's ridiculous requirements mandated no violence. Thus, no one ever died. The show even made fun of itself after a character kinda'-sorta' dies, but they never address it. That was the creators giving a somewhat playful middle finger to Nickelodeon.

Nickelodeon has since reformed and is desperately trying to attract boys, a demographic that they essentially abandoned to Cartoon Network, by proving that they too have characters that punch each other.

This creative freedom appears to be in the new Avatar, where even the trailer to the show is more violent that the entirety of the original Avatar. I hope that this translates into a greater sense of danger and drama than the limp-dicked elements of the first series.

But while the original Avatar paled in comparison to the drama of the new Thundercats, it positively mopped the floor with it when it comes to representing female characters.

In Thundercats, Cheetara, who is one of two major female character thus far, is a strong, powerful character who does much to save the day. She is also constructed like a post-Photoshop Playboy model and dresses accordingly. Thundercats imported one of the worst elements of comic book-dom: females are valued as much for what they say and do as for how they look.

Compare this to Avatar: The Last Airbender, where fully half the cast were dynamic, visually distinct females. They are never portrayed in a vulgar, sexualized way. They are portrayed just as the males are portrayed.

The Legend of Korra appears to be putting an even more powerful female front and center. Her body is still attractive, incredibly fit, and feminine, but it is also realistic and not blatantly exploitative. It's excellent.

All that said, I'm not against sexual exploitation. I've never had problems with Playboy, or porn, or general sexual portrayals of both men and women. We are sexual and it's entirely reasonable to celebrate that sexuality in imagery.

My problem is with cultural norms that sexualize women to the detriment of other attributes. There is a persistent theme of women not being valuable unless they are attractive, regardless of what else they might be able to do. In comics, and in Thundercats, this is taken to an extreme with wildly overt, exaggerated, near-comical sexualization.

If we're just selling sex to men, as with porn, that's fine. But with cartoons like this, we're selling a collection of values to highly impressionable kids. We should be selling them aspirational ideals. Ideals of being physically healthy, honorable, strong: these are great things! But continuing to pump our boys and girls full of overt, sex-based valuations for women does us all harm.

Moreover, I think that it is bad business! How many girls are watching the new Thundercats? If Warner Corp's stated demographics are to be believed, it's not many. Compare this to Avatar, which has a gargantuan female following. Opening night, The Last Airbender (**shudder**) at my location was 50/50, with more women dressed up in costumes than men. Of the two other showings that I have knowledge, both had about as many women and men. An inaccurate sampling, to be sure, but it must have some truth.

I'm unable to find the actual demographics, which I suspect skewed slightly male. But what Avatar showed is that if creators legitimately try to attract females, the profits are significant. The Last Airbender was an awful film, and the reviews showed that, yet it still made money. I seriously doubt that those profits would have happened if not for the large female turn-out.

So kudos to the creators of Avatar for being both business savvy and not so blinded by their erections as to create a thoughtful, realistic female form.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Favorite Movie Poster

Great movie posters are a rare breed. Usually, they're thrown up for no other purpose than to simply say 'THIS MOVIE EXISTS!' Today, movie posters are a damned desert of art, aesthetic, and inventiveness.

With the advent of Photoshop, posters have somehow gotten worse, with most of them simply following the "line of faces" design. These say "LOOK! LOOK! A MOVIE WITH THESE PEOPLE IN IT! What's it about? THAT DOESN'T MATTER! LOOK!"

For me, though, the biggest failure is that today's posters so rarely provide a sense of wonder. They don't provide a promise of adventure, or romance, or terror. There was a time when movie posters were painted by skilled artists. Some of the posters were so amazing, they've become iconic images, like Star Wars original poster. The images on the poster look nothing like the movie! But, it doesn't matter. The poster sold itself. Now they're simply cobbled together by a Photomonkey, earning 30k, from stock photos.

This is one of my favorite posters. It's for the movie Camelot from 1967, if you couldn't guess from the huge CAMELOT on top.

I didn't like the movie all that much. I've never really liked overly dramatic portrayals of Arthur and Camelot, especially the ones that focus on romance. And the fact that the Arthur legend is absolute and total hogwash, with the real Arthur likely being a total prick, well, I just can't swallow the pill.

But the poster! The poster is great. It's got a bit of a Mucha-ish flare to it and absolutely promises wonder and fantasy. It has texture, and color, and drama. The poster makes you want to be near it, to look at it, and think about the experience that it portends.

I think that a positively minuscule group of directors today understand how important the poster is. It's like the album art for music, even though most people don't even own the LP or CD anymore. The trailer and poster are things with which the director absolutely must be involved because they are part of the gestalt. A film is not simply a series of images, projected on a screen. A film is the sound, the smell, the food, the temperature in the air, the case of the DVD, the commercials on TV.

A poster is the movie, just as much as the frames on the film, and the actors on screen.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Thundercats Review


I posted a swear-filled rant about sexism in Thundercats about a week ago. And after a lot of comments, I decided that I should review the actual cartoon.

My criticisms of Cheetara remain unchanged. Her presence in the cartoon is the most extreme manifestation of comic book females that I have yet seen in a cartoon and this is a bad thing. The cartoon is being aimed at kids and we have study after study showing why exaggerated imagery like this has negative effects on a child's psychology. While the weight of responsibility for rearing a child falls upon the parent, we should not be introducing previously non-existent sexist tropes into children's media.

That said, after watching the new Thundercats, how do I think it holds up? I'm not going to say "read on!", I'm just going to tell you. It was very good. It was a breath of fresh air for a variety of reasons.

While it kinda' pissed me off every time Cheetara's ridiculous double-D prow was on screen, the rest of the cartoon delivered everything that you could want from an action-adventure cartoon, and this is why it's such a great show.

Action and adventure cartoons have seen a real dry spell for A LONG TIME. We had Avatar: The Last Airbender... and that was it. I mean, seriously, when was the last decent adventure cartoon? What do we have today? Ben 10, which is awful, and Teen Titans, which is serviceable.

Nickelodeon and Disney have their boy-oriented properties in the form of Nicktoons and Disney XD, and they are both trying desperately to build audiences. Disney has loaded up their network with Asian-produced Marvel properties which are all pretty bad. And Nickelodeon paid a bucket of money to acquire the rights to Dragonball Z Kai to convince boys that people now punch each other on Nick.

But it is Cartoon Network that has almost completely owned the boy market since the introduction of their Toonami/Rising Sun anime lineup in the late 90's. Cartoon Network has carried the banner of adventure cartoons and, perhaps because of the monster success of imported anime, original productions have languished.

We've had a few here and there. A He-Man update, which wasn't very good. A few permutations of Transformers, also not very good. This new Thundercats is the first one that felt like, one: it actually had a budget; and two: it actually had writers.

The new Thundercats, if the show holds up, is the best adventure cartoon since Avatar. Neither show is as good as the gold standard, Batman: The Animated Series, but then again, nothing is. The character design is a bit bland, and the animation is pretty stiff at times, but it's much better than most actual anime. The dialogue is also more than a bit stilted at a couple of points, but I consider these minor issues.

While I think that Avatar was better, in both design and writing, it was hampered by Nickelodeon's hilariously-conservative regulations. No deaths on screen. No mention of the word "kill" in a positive sense. No punching or any violent physical contact. It really sapped a lot of sense of threat from the cartoon. If it hadn't been for the skill of the creators, Avatar would have sucked. Thundercats has a real sense of danger and drama. The action scenes seem real and more mature. There's more energy to the fights.

If you're looking for nostalgia, go somewhere else. This is a complete and total reimagining of the show. I at least now understand why Lion-O sounds prepubescent, but they still should have given his voice more weight. You get the impression that he and Tygra are both well into their twenties, but only Tygra sounds like it. I've never liked the snot-nosed kid rising to power story. Well, Sword In The Stone was alright.

So in conclusion, the new Thundercats is a good cartoon. I think that it has a lot of cool images and action sequences and it stands a good shot at being the kind of cartoon that sticks in boys' minds. I say boys specifically because girls don't statistically watch many cartoons, and Cheetara certainly won't make them want to with this cartoon.

Oh, and they kept in Snarf. I actually kind of like him, now. He doesn't say anything.