Movie Review: Beauty and the Beast (2017)

‘Rated PG for some action violence, peril and frightening images

Of all the animated features that were released during my youth, Beauty and the Beast is one of those that is at the top, when it comes to animated features that made me consider pursuing a career in animation.

I was enthralled by Glen Keane’s designs for the Beast, the wonderful songs and lyrics of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, and a story that delivered on a satisfyingly emotional level, that I hadn’t yet encountered in animated films at that time.

Of course, when it comes to turning animated features into live-action movies, I approached the studio’s recent take on Beauty and the Beast with some trepidation. I had been intrigued by what Kenneth Branagh brought to Cinderella in 2015, but felt little need to see Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book adaptation last year.

Of course, being the glutton for punishment that I am, I bought the ticket, and decided to ride the ride, to see what a live-action version of this “tale as old as time” had in store for audiences.

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In the small provincial town of Villeneuve, resides Belle (Emma Watson), and her artistically-inclined father, Maurice (Kevin Kline). Of those living in the village, Belle is seen as an anomaly amongst the townspeople, though entrances a former army captain named Gaston (Luke Evans), who wishes to make her his wife.

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The Beast (Dan Stevens)

One day on a trip, Maurice stumbles upon a snow-shrouded castle, and plucks a rose for his daughter, enraging the castle’s Beastly owner (Dan Stevens). Belle willingly trades her life for her father’s, and soon meets the castle’s enchanted servants (played by Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellan, Emma Thompson, and many more), who hope she can break the spell they are under.

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From the early word and trailer imagery, Disney made few attempts to hide that they were attempting to translate the 1991 film (and some of it’s successful Broadway stage adaptation) to the big-screen.

The live-action film doesn’t stray far from it’s roots, and like any adaptation these days, attempts to fill in the blanks, and embellish the story we know so well.

Did you ever wonder just where Belle and Maurice came from? How about what led the Beast to be such a pompous jerk in the first place? We get those answers here, as well as some vague motivations surrounding the Enchantress who cursed the Beast and his servants.

Composer Alan Menken returns to the world he helped create, but has brought on Tim Rice (whom he worked with on Aladdin), to make a few alterations to the film’s music. Some lines are changed from previous works, and a few songs add in bits from the original demo tracks of the animated feature (which were co-written by Menken’s former collaborator, the late Howard Ashman). The Beast even get his own solo (much like in the Broadway production), but none of the newer musical pieces seemed to enthrall me. We even get Celine Dion back, singing a song at the end, that feels more like an afterthought.

When it comes to behind-the-scenes names, Director Bill Condon should be familiar to many when it comes to musicals-on-film. He wrote the adapted screenplay for Chicago, and directed the film adaptation of Dreamgirls back in 2006.

One would assume his pedigree with adapted musicals would be a slam-dunk for this production. Unfortunately, BatB seems to suffer from some ‘speed issues’ when it comes to holding it all together.

I haven’t seen enough of Condon’s filmography to pass proper judgement, but with this film, he really seems to step on the gas-pedal, when the film has to shift into it’s musical numbers, or require a lot of visual effects. Some of the numbers fly by so fast, I was struggling to figure out where my eye was supposed to be focused on (this was most problematic during the Be Our Guest number, which felt like he was trying to ape Baz Luhrmann’s manic Moulin Rouge numbers).

It isn’t until the halfway mark, that the film seems to finally catch it’s breath. In those moments, Condon shows that when he slows down, he can really get to work on making us focus on the characters and their development.

Deep down, I feel that if the film had been more like 2015’s Cinderella, and been less of an adaptation of the animated feature, it would have been more palatable, and stronger in it’s emotional resonance.

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Belle (Emma Watson)

The ‘palette’ of the film, seems to derive itself from 19th century French landscapes. I will admit during the early bits in the village, as we see the landscape surrounding it, I found myself making note of the soft color palette of the backgrounds, almost as if the filmmakers were attempting to make it look like the characters had stepped into a painting.

The film also attempts to pay some small homages to it’s roots. The village is named after the original author of the tale, and, Maurice attempts to bring Belle a rose from the Beast’s garden, which was part of the original story.

However, much  like the story here, the characters can be rather give-and-take as well.

Sadly, Emma Watson did not enthrall me with her singing voice, but she can deliver in certain moments when it comes to emotions. There is an added character point, that Belle is a forward-thinking young woman in the eyes of her rather mundane village, but it just feels like an afterthought as the story goes on.

Dan Stevens as the Beast, has the task of working through motion-capture, that works ‘most’ of the time. The live-action Beast is a bit like the early concept of a ‘man with a beast head,’ rather than the more animalistic creation of master animator Glen Keane. The concept works some of the time, but mostly in the quieter moments.

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Gaston (Luke Evans), and LeFou (Josh Gad)

Luke Evans’ take on Gaston is different from the muscle-bound lothario we all know. A war veteran who seems to satiate his lust for war by hunting, this take on the character is a bit less hunky, and more mental in several of his decisions…though not by much.

One of the highlights of the film regarding comedy, is Josh Gad as LeFou. Every other word out of his mouth just made me and the audience chuckle, and unlike his animated counterpart, he’s given a bit of character growth. I have a feeling many will find Gad just as entertaining here, as he was as Olaf in Frozen.

When it comes to the enchanted objects of the castle, I was hoping they would enthrall me as much as their animated counterparts did, but that was not the case here.

There are no cartoonish features, or large white eyes to draw one’s attention. Instead, the designers try to take an object’s parts and decoration, and make them into faces (or in the case of Lumiere, just make a miniature man holding candles, with another atop his head!). This may look good in close-ups or when a character is being still, but once they start moving around, I found it maddening, trying to keep track of where an eye or a nose is!

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Lumiere (Ewan McGregor), Cogsworth (Ian McKellan), and Maestro Cadenza (Stanley Tucci)

A prime example, is Maestro Cadenza, who has been turned into a harpsichord (and played by Stanley Tucci). His keys and music stand are meant to stand in for his mouth and facial features, but I found myself struggling to figure out where his eyes were, let alone his nose and moustache when the camera focused on him ‘talking.’

There is a sliver of an attempt to give the enchanted objects a bit more characterization, but many of the group scenes feel rather poorly staged, and some that involve dozens of other CG-created objects moving about, feel too busy with motion, for us to figure on where to focus our attention.

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Almost 25 years ago, at a swap meet in San Diego, CA, I picked up a book that would change my life forever: The Art of Animation: From Mickey Mouse to Beauty and the Beast.

The book has been a part of my life since then, and has been in the hands of (and signed by!) several persons associated with the animated Beauty and the Beast.

At the end of the book, the final pages tell how the next generation of Disney animators (in 1991), screened the film for their predecessors (several of whom had worked with Walt Disney himself). After the screening, instead of high praise, word was the new generation was met with: “Eh, it’s kind of like what we did.”

That line was in my head tonight. As the film went on, a number of names I had memorized from that making-of book, popped into my head. Looking at some scenes, I was thinking things like, “Glen Keane did that better,” or “Nik Ranieri made that characterization read so much clearer!”

The film definitely doesn’t skimp on the effort, but it sadly feels like another adapted production, that could have been much more solid, had it not been tied so closely to it’s animated counterpart.

The film seems to try and fly by moreso with it’s visuals and putting Emma Watson front-and-center, when what it needed more of in my opinion, was a story that could be just as emotionally involving today, as the animated feature was to me and millions of others, once upon a time.

Final Grade: B-

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Book Review: Star and Marco’s Guide to Mastering Every Dimension

When I was younger,the way in which books were connected to visual media, was definitely different.

Some shows like The Care BearsTransformers, and even Sesame Street, would often have books released, that would feature original story ideas, or stories taken from a television series, and condensed down into book form.

However, in this day-and-age, many companies in the entertainment business, have advanced well beyond this simplicity, and we’ve seen print media tie-ins, take on a whole new life of their own.

Want to know more about the story behind the latest Transformers movie? There’s probably a prequel comic mini-series, to explain where some of the new characters came from.

Just how did The First Order and The Resistance come to be the new Empire and Rebellion of Star Wars: The Force Awakens? There’s several hardcover novels to fill in those blanks.

Of course, there are also other methods of reaching out to the viewers of a series, via the printed page.

DisneyXD’s series Gravity Falls, is one such example. The last couple years have seen book tie-ins for Falls, including a ‘choose your own adventure’ storybook, and a real-world representation of the show’s third journal, that Dipper Pines carried around with him through both seasons of the show!

When it comes to the DisneyXD series Star vs the Forces of Evil, we’ve had some of the episodes collected into Cinestory comic books, and seen the expansion of the show, through the currently-running, 8-part original comic series, by Joe Books.

Though in regards to a tie-in that aims to have some fun with it’s fans, that seems to be what has been created, with Star and Marco’s Guide to Mastering Every Dimension.

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The book is structured in a scrapbook-style format, with Star Butterfly being the main commentator, along with some additional  information from her best friends Marco Diaz, and Flying Princess Pony Head.

The concept is that one day, out of sheer boredom, the three decide to put together the book, to chronicle a number of things in regards to the show’s multiverse, as well as what Star has learned while living on Earth.

Each character uses their own pen for writing, with their own specific ink color (though how Pony Head can write so well without hands, is left to our imagination!).

I will admit that in some later chapters of the book, I got a little confused, when Star Butterfly would take over writing but use rainbow-colored inks, which made me wonder if maybe Marco was contributing to the items. Maybe this was the writers trying to make the book as wacky and wild as the show, but I can’t say for certain.

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Example of Star Butterfly, Marco Diaz, and Princess Pony Head’s writing within the book.

For those who are fans of the show, you’ll find plenty of additional information about certain dimensions, and…the last names and distinctions of several characters. This to me, is where most of the fun in the book lies, as a few doors are thrown open with this additional information.

We also get our trio of writers, interviewing their friends (and friend-enemies?), to get their advice on a few things, as well as some commentary on how they feel about some people they know.

Like the title says, we also get to learn more about  various dimensions, including just where Star’s ex-boyfriend Tom, and Pony Head reside. Personally, I had hoped maybe we’d get some more dimensions than most of what we’ve seen, but at least we get an identification for a few dimensions that had no names in the television series.

Also of note, is additional information on Pony Head’s family tree (she is one of 13 sisters!), as well as more information about The Grandma Room, glimpsed briefly in the Season 2 segment, Into the Wand. There’s definitely some revelations to be had, but probably not enough to totally blow the doors off our curiosity (minor spoiler: we’re still no closer to knowing more about Queen Eclipsa!).

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One of several tapestries shown in the guide, that gives information on past Queens of Mewni.

One section I was really eager to get through, was one that delved into some pages of Star’s magic instruction book, with notes by Glossaryck of Terms.

Unfortunately, my hopes to finally understand the ancient language we’ve seen in the book, failed to yield anything concrete.

However, we get a small understanding regarding spells, how some can be altered, and how Star comes up with several of the ones she recites in the series.

I will admit that when it comes to the writing, I found the style of characterization for Pony Head, to be a bit too contrasted from her Season 2 role.

Sure, she’s been somewhat abrasive in Season 2, but it feels like the writers of the show toned her down (we’ve even seen that Marco after awhile, is better able to put up with her!). The writers try to create some back-and-forth banter with Pony Head claiming she is Star’s ‘bestie,’ but it just feel a little ‘flat’ to me.

There are also some activity pages, including a cut-out diagram to design your own pair of dimensional scissors, and a page to draw what dimension the reader wold like to visit.

A tri-fold poster is also included in the back of the book. One side of it has the opening character shot from the second season’s intro, AND, if you flip it over, you get a map of the Kingdom of Mewni!

And, for those with wicked culinary skills, there is a recipe for how to make “Marco’s Super Awesome Nachos!” I’m not much good in the kitchen, but I have considered trying to follow Marco’s recipe and see if I can pull this off.

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A portion of the map of the Kingdom of Mewni, that is contained in the book!

This book was originally set to be released in early January, but was pushed back by two months.

Going over it’s contents, I could see why it happened. Several chapters actually acknowledge some episodes and storylines, that hadn’t been released yet (maybe the ‘Starbomb’ of episodes in February, was a way to get them all out before the book release?). Plus, I believe the writers have included a few small tidbits, about what happened after the conclusion of Season 2 (sorry folks, no spoilers!).

What I’ve really enjoyed about some of the expanded universe material for Star vs the Forces of Evil, is that almost all original,  ancillary story materials, has had involvement by people who have also worked on the show! I really like that kind of dynamic, and it makes me pretty sure that those working on these materials, have a good idea of the show’s continuity, as well as how certain things are to be portrayed.

It should also be noted, that a few of the listed persons who worked on this book, also had illustration duties on the Svtfoe comic series that is currently out!

Overall, Star and Marco’s Guide to Mastering Every Dimension, is a fun book that has been made by the show’s crew, for the fans, as well as any who are weird or crazy enough to pick it up, and want to find out more a bout this show! Definitely recommended reading material for all fans of the series.

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An Animated Dissection: Is Glossaryck of Terms the ‘Dr Manhattan’ of “Star vs the Forces of Evil,” and other observations about the little blue man

Oh good! You survived that freaky image of Glossaryck of Terms’ diamond-shaped eyes, staring into your soul.

Now that the second season of the animated series Star vs the Forces of Evil has come to an end, it’s time to let loose with some thoughts of my own, regarding what I’ve observed.

I often find my animation-addled brain, teeming with thoughts and anecdotes, that most of the time, tend to fly over the heads of most of the show’s fans (who, if social media is any indication, are addicted to ranting and raving over which of their fanships will win out in the end).

I rather enjoy being one of the more mature viewers in the fandom: watching the series, and searching for story/plot/character threads, that most of the young’uns, may not quite comprehend.

I got a whole mess of stuff to discuss about what the last 22 episodes have wrought, but first, I thought I’d compare one little blue man from the show, and how he reminded me of a (rather) big blue man, from a graphic novel I once read.

*Note: This article is written with the knowledge that the reader, is familiar with the first two seasons of the show, “Star vs the Forces of Evil.” If you do not wish to be spoiled, please turn back now.*

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In the first few episodes of season 1 of Star vs the Forces of Evil, viewers were treated to the image of a strange, floating little blue man, who appeared without acknowledgement.

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It wasn’t until the 6th episode’s segment, titled Mewberty, that we were formally introduced to Glossaryck of Terms (voiced by Jeffrey Tambor), whom Marco Diaz attempted to seek advice from, as Star Butterfly began to go through…mewberty!

Glossaryck revealed that he was a fixture of Star’s magic instruction book, which contained spells that she could use with her family’s wand. At first refusing to help, Glossaryck changed his tune, when Marco fulfilled his request to get him some pudding.

This led to Marco feeding the little man, who seemed to just give out riddles about how to help Star, with no concrete answers…or so it seemed.

Many things that Glossaryck has done over the course of the last two seasons, seem incredibly ridiculous, and oftentimes, make no sense whatsoever.

Most of the time, despite the way he acts, Glossaryck seems to know what to do, but the big question is…how?

And then, in remembering a scene from the graphic novel Watchmen, I came upon my theory: What if Glossaryck is like Jon Osterman, aka Dr Manhattan, in Watchmen?

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In the Alan Moore-written graphic novel, Osterman is a scientist, who is seemingly disintegrated, when he ends up locked in a test chamber, and has his “intrinsic field” removed.

However, Jon is far from dead.

Glossaryck6A number of strange things are seen around the labs over the next few months as Jon’s consciousness attempts to re-form him., One day, Jon is successful, and materializes before a stunned crowd of his peers. However, his appearance is different from his original form.

Though taking on a humanoid form, Osterman’s skin is blue, and more attuned to that of a perfect male physique.

As time goes on, Jon becomes less and less human, and soon takes up the moniker of Dr Manhattan. He is able to manipulate matter, and seems to be able to see through time and space.

This ability to see and know all however, leaves him incredibly disconnected from humanity, frustrating several persons he attempted to have relationships with. His pupil-less eyes, often seem encased in a face, whose expressions seem placidly calm most of the time.

One could almost see the same in regards to Glossaryck at times.

Of course, there’s been no proof that Glossaryck of Terms was once a normal ‘Mewman’ who became a magically-enhanced little blue man, but several of the things I recalled from the Watchmen graphic novel, popped into my head when thinking of him.

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Much like Dr Manhattan, Glossaryck at times, can be frustratingly vague, as if he knows something is going to happen, but never tells just what will happen.

A prime example is in the segment titled By the Book, wherein he refuses to come out of a box of donuts, and is almost crushed by a garbage truck! However, in the end, he does several things that end up saving the day, and getting Star to perform a specific spell.

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The first time I saw this story, and ran what Glossaryck said through my brain a few times, it made zero sense. However, as Season 2 carried onward, I revisited By the Book, and was surprised how it seemed a little less ridiculous!

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Another notable comparison from Watchmen, is how Dr Manhattan would wear a rather placid, almost expressionless look on his face, even when something should strike a person as emotional, or shocking. Because of his ability to see the universe as it is (pre-determined, with little chance of alteration), Manhattan often appeared apathetic.

We see Glossaryck wear such an expression, in the story, Raid the Cave.

Using the all-seeing eye spell (from Queen Eclipsa’s forbidden chapter about Dark Magic!), Star is able to find Glossaryck and the book of spells, but strangely enough, he is not at all downtrodden over being captured, nor gives her clear remarks on just where he is (“I’m in a cave. On the ground!”)

He does make a few allusions to the spying spell she’s using, and is only slightly surprised, when Star somehow, manages to alter it, and is able to reach through it! The spell is only meant to allow one to see things, but somehow, with her own magic, Star manages to break through, and reach out to Glossaryck…who shows no propensity to do the same! He even claims that he and the book, are now Ludo’s property!

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“Glossaryck, don’t you want to come with me?” pleads Star. “I thought we were, friends.”

“…friends?” he quizzically asks. “Now that’s such a simple concept.”

This admission seems to ‘hurt’ Star emotionally, and the connection begins to collapse!

Star tries a few more times to get Glossaryck to come with her, but he refuses to budge.

“But, I need you!” she cries.

“Maybe, ‘this’ is what you need,” he says, as the portal closes!

The results of what happened, finally allows Star to do something she has feared to do: tell her parents that she lost the book, and Glossaryck! Thinking they are going to yell at her for messing up, Star is surprised when instead, they tell her how they will keep her secret safe, and to “sit tight.”

However, in the wake of this, Star actually does something proactive. Taking a notebook, she begins to make her own spellbook, cataloging the magic spells that she’s made up on her own.

This is a reaction that seems a bit ‘deeper’ than what we experienced in the story, By the Book. When one looks at the end result of Glossaryck not coming back with Star, it feels that he has set things in motion, that may not be comprehensible to Star and her parents at this time.

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Unlike some shows that will just give a character a backstory via memory-dump, it seems the Star vs the Forces of Evil writers are wont to make information about Glossaryck so readily available. Instead, it becomes a scavenger hunt, and if one were to go back over Season 2, you can find all sorts of little story hints, sometimes buried deep within a story.

Notable is in the segment Page Turner, where Glossaryck is forcibly pulled away from Star, who is examining a forbidden chapter, on Queen Eclipsa.

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“Eclipsa Queen of Mewni, to a Mewmen King was wed, but took a Monster for her love, and away from Mewni fled.”

This ordeal seems to be one of the few times that we really see Glossaryck being annoyed in a rather primadonna fashion. At first, it’s in regards to the ridiculous security measures he has to go through to reach the Magic High Commission, but then his irritation transfers to Star’s mother, who has called the meeting, to request Glossaryck speed up Star’s magical training.

He then explains that this seems to be common in almost every single Queen he’s trained: sooner or later, they can’t just leave him alone, and make demands on how he should train future successors to the throne.

Of all the Princesses and Queens he’s trained, Glossaryck claims that Queen Eclipsa, was the only one who just left him alone. Of course, this just builds on more questions as to what Eclipsa’s reign on Mewni was like. It seems she is the black sheep of the royal line, and there may be something associated with her past, that could come to light next season.

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Of course, some beings in the show’s multiverse, are pretty irked at the little blue man. While we have had Star’s father River give his opinion (“Little guy always creeped me out!”), one who has shown some malice towards Glossaryck, is a member of the Magic High Commission, named Rhombulus.

This was followed up in discussion he had with Star Butterfly, in the segment, Crystal Clear.

Rhombulus explained that some of his frustrations, came from being unable to win an argument with Glossaryck, along with him seeming to be “an all-knowing jerk.”

Someone did point out a rather intriguing thing, in the episode, Bon Bon the Birthday Clown, which might back this up.

Glossaryck ends up going along with Star and Janna to Bon Bon’s seance. During the course of the evening, we see a number of rats scurrying about the cemetery.

As the evening gets colder, Glossaryck nonchalantly asks Star if she intends to use a spell in the book, that has a “little drawing of a rat.”

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Star doesn’t care about the page, and in a rather surprising move, Glossaryck sets it aflame, and warms himself!

It is possible, that Glossaryck was anticipating Ludo taking him and the book that evening, and knowing of Ludo’s rat minions, probably felt the spell on that page, might be dangerous later on (it’s never made clear just what the spell would do).

Of course, this is largely speculation, but given the amount of rats we see, it could be possible.

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One of the last segments in Season 2, to feature Glossaryck as part of a main storyline, is titled The Hard Way.

Ludo has instructed his bird and spider minions to try and break Glossaryck’s spirit, but in a surprising move, Glossaryck claims he is willing to help Ludo reach his “full potential.”

Unlike Star who possesses an imagination (the “Narwhal Blast” she uses, is a spell of her own invention),  Ludo seems devoid of any creativity. This leads to Glossaryck showing him a simple levitation spell from the book, and through positive reinforcement, Ludo seemed excited that he had learned how to gain some control over his wand.

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After a positive first day of learning, Glossaryck (much to his annoyance), puts Ludo to bed, but is later awakened when Ludo claims ‘his wand’ mentioned that Glossaryck had shown a certain spell to Star.

At the little bird-creature’s insistence, Glossaryck opens the forbidden chapter, and Ludo is blasted into the air, suspended in the center of a swirling vortex!

Suddenly, Ludo’s eyes go green, and from his mouth, issues forth the voice of Toffee, a lizard-creature, that was supposed to have been destroyed at the end of Season 1!

“Give it up, old man,” says Toffee. “You’ll never get him (aka Ludo) on your side.”

“But I don’t have, a side,” counters Glossaryck.

“You don’t, do you?” asks Toffee, before smiling fiendishly. “…perfect.”

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That conversation, was the last we’ve seen of Glossaryck of Terms this season.

When Moon Butterfly and the Magic High Commission infiltrated Ludo’s castle and confronted him, he mentioned that Glossaryck was gone, and he had no idea where he was.

The MHC’s High Chancellor named Lekmet, also thought he had found the spellbook, only to find it was blank, leading the council to believe that what they found, was a fake.

So, that beg’s the question…where are Glossaryck and the book of spells?

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My opinion is…they’re now inside the wand that Ludo/Toffee wields!

An earlier Season 2 segment titled Into the Wand, had Glossaryck explaining to Star, that things could be stored within the wand, which is an extension of the wielder’s memories.

Much like Toffee’s finger that was found hidden inside Star’s wand, I am of the persuasion, that Glossaryck and the book, have suffered the same fate, under Ludo/Toffee’s wielding of the wand, and are trapped for the time being!

Of course, there also is the question, of what happens to Ludo when Toffee takes over.

By the end of Season 2, it looks like Toffee may be in total control of Ludo’s body, leading me to assume that Ludo’s soul, is also trapped within the wand.

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If that is the case, and Ludo and Glossaryck are stuck in the wand, I could see their story arcs for Season 3, maybe showing the two working through some personal issues Ludo has.

We’ve seen this season, that Ludo is actually little more than a child, the ‘runt’ son of Lord and Lady Avarius (as seen in the episode, Face the Music). The family was extra-hard on Ludo, hoping to toughen him up…which led to him taking over the family castle with a gang of monsters, and changing the locks (which explains Ludo’s castle and minions, that we saw in Season 1!).

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As annoying and childish as Ludo can be, I can see Glossaryck trying to help turn him ‘good,’ or clear up his anger issues with his family. It may be a key element to Ludo regaining control of his body from Toffee, let alone possibly destroying the disembodied lizard-creature, who seems to somehow be linked to the magical energy in the universe!

Of course, if the inside of Star’s wand creates a world based around the mind of it’s user…one wonders what horrors are inside Ludo/Toffee’s wand.  The big question is, will we see inside it next Season?

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This was one of those blog articles, that just struck like lightning!

Oftentimes, it can be the more enigmatic characters in a show or film, that cause the wheels in my head to turn.

A prime example, is my analysis of the character No Face (aka Kaonashi), from Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. That analysis, is one of my most-viewed dissections, and is still going strong after almost 5 years!

I will confess that I have been sitting on a dissection of the character Toffee since the end of Season 1, but given how much more enigmatic Glossaryck of Terms has been this season, my brain seemed to just expel all of these thoughts in a matter of hours!

As we close out this little Animated Dissection, I thought I’d make one more reference to Watchmen.

The following quotes happen, after Laurie Juspeczyk is told by Dr Manhattan, that even though he knows what will happen, he still gives the expected responses, as they are meant to be played out. I can’t help but feel that it could very well speak to how Glossaryck fits, into the world of Star vs the Forces of Evil:

Laurie Juspeczyk: “The most powerful thing in the universe, and you’re just a puppet following a script?”

Dr Manhattan: “We’re all puppets, Laurie. I’m  just the puppet who can see the strings.”

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Episode Review: Star vs the Forces of Evil (Season 2, Episode 22) – Starcrushed

And here it is. The big one. The final episode, of a season that changed the rules of the game, for the series known as Star vs the Forces of Evil.

Well, enough with the cute quips. Onto the review!

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-Starcrushed-

After the events at the end of Face the Music, in which Mewnian songstrel Ruberiot publicly declared that Star Butterfly likes Marco Diaz, things have been a little odd between the two friends.

It also doesn’t help that Marco’s parents are throwing an end-of-school-year party, and Jackie Lynn Thomas is cozying up to Marco, every chance she gets.

Star’s girl friends decide to take her out, as a way to get her mind off her problems. At another end-of-the-school-year party across town, Star bumps into Oskar Greason (whom she claimed to have a crush on), and the two quickly strike up a conversation.

Meanwhile, Moon Butterfly, and the rest of the Magic High Commission (composed of Hekapoo, Omnitraxus Prime, Rhombulus, and Lekmet), break into Ludo’s castle and confront him…only to have a familiar presence, materialize before their very eyes!

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When it comes to final episodes in a season, I think many of us have certain expectations.

In the case of Starcrushed however, much like most of the storytelling this season, the writers of the show weren’t willing to just bow down, and spill all their secrets.

In a perfect world, this episode would have tied up a number of loose ends that we’ve seen so far this season (and carried over from Season 1). As it is, much like Storm the Castle last season, Starcrushed leaves even more loose threads open for us to wonder about!

This could be both a good and a bad thing. On one hand, you have those people that are frothing at the mouth for closure, while there are those, in our current ‘mystery box’ era of visual storytelling, who welcome the chance to keep speculating as we go forward.

Star’s storyline here, is a bit stronger than in Face the Music. Storylines about her emotional state have been a part of several stories this season (including one of my favorites, Mr Candle Cares), but here, it meanders a bit too often, as we try to bring to light her uneasiness, being around Marco and Jackie, as well as trying to socialize at the other party across town.

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Returning for probably his biggest role since the story Star on Wheels, Oskar Greason (voiced once again by Napoleon Dynamite’s John Heder), acts as a counterpoint to Marco, in Star’s portion of the story.

While the writers do try to give him a bigger presence, his appearance feels more forced than natural. While Marco pursued Jackie Lynn Thomas over the course of these two seasons, Star’s liking of Oskar seemed a bit more of a visual infatuation (I guess it has to do with his eyes?). Of course, Oskar did figure into Star’s Mewberty storyline back in Season 1, but it was never made clear just ‘how.’

We also get a number of cameos from several of Star’s inter-dimensional girl friends, and it was neat to see how she has friends across multiple dimensions, who are there for her when she needs them.

Marco Diaz also has a slightly more significant role in Star’s story as well. Also reeling a bit from what happened last episode, he is also feeling a little uneasy, ping-ponging throughout the episode between Star and Jackie, whom we see several times, trying to get him to unwind.

I can imagine some people wondering why the characters are reacting as they do, but I think these reactions were written by those on the writing team, who may have had real-world experience. I have heard of some people feeling a bit uneasy, when they find out someone they called a friend, may want to be more than that…and as illustrated in Starcrushed, it can be a situation that is not easily remedied.

Much like the structure of Face the Music, this episode focuses on parallel storylines, and just like in that episode, Moon Butterfly’s storyline proved to be the more intriguing of the two.

Most notable, is the chance to see the Magic High Commission in action, though it doesn’t last nearly as long as I wish it could have (plus, Hekapoo’s use of dimensional scissors here, is probably going to earn her even more fan-followers online!).

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To me, the highlight of the episode comes when Moon and the High Commission find themselves in a fierce battle, that is probably one of the most intense so far in this series!

Let’s just say that stuff happens, that had me wide-eyed for a number of minutes…and wondering what the ramifications will be, going beyond this episode.

We also get some additional character development for Ludo in this piece. It feels very brief, but the information we’ve gleaned from this episode and the previous one about him, feels like it could lead to something important later on.

Much like the previous episode, this one has a rather somber/serious tone throughout. Even when the show staff attempt to inject comedy into Starcrushed, I rarely found myself laughing. There’s a lot being thrown at us emotionally, and I found myself really trying to process the more serious stuff, rather than the funny stuff.

As the episode comes to an end, it’s final moments seem to pass by in a blur, as events force a number of things to happen in seconds, leading to an even bigger cliffhanger than the previous Season!

Let’s just say, I wasn’t quite prepared for what happened, and found myself rewatching the final scenes, multiple times.

Given where it ends, Starcrushed feels like we’re now caught in the middle of a much larger story. That fast-paced, 8-bit sounding intro that originally brought many of us into the series, feels like a far cry from where we are now. Have we truly moved beyond simply talking about rainbows, and puppies?

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Best line from episode (said by Mr Diaz): “What could be weird? Two teenagers, sharing a home. One boy, one girl. Oh…oh no…”

Final Grade: B+

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Best honorable mention line from episode (said by Princess Pony Head): “So, yeah, those are basically all of the reasons why I would be the most reliable, non-flaky girlfriend ever-I gotta go, sorry.”

Starcrushed ends a 22-episode season, that took Star vs the Forces of Evil, down a much different path than it’s 1st season offered us. It played with story structure, secrets, and challenging our perceptions when it came to characters and their personalities. While it wasn’t perfect, the experimentation that went on following the exploits of Star Butterfly and Marco Diaz, still kept me intrigued over the past 7 months.

While reading this review, you may have seen my constant references to the previous episode, Face the Music. It feels like both that episode and Starcrushed, are linked in a way, where one cannot function without the other.

This episode also has a theme running underneath the main action. It seems to be how some of us wish for things to go back to what they once were…but sometimes, we find that life can’t be so simple.

The attempts to deal with Star’s emotions, let alone the growing threat to the universe, has built the show’s story arc up in a big way. This does make me wonder if going into Season 3 (when it finally does come out), if it can appease or satisfy many of us, who surely know that serious ramifications and consequences, may be on the horizon for Star, her parents, and the Kingdom of Mewni.

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And, that’s it!…for now, anyways.

It was recently announced that Star vs the Force of Evil has been renewed for a fourth season, and that Season 3 will start up sometime this year (either in the summer, or fall).

In the meantime, I hope to do some more Animated Dissection articles on Season 2, some of the show’s characters, and much more. There’s plenty to discuss regarding this season, plus, I’ve been sitting on an analysis piece for the character Toffee, for over a year now.

Speaking of much more, the Star vs the Forces of Evil comic book series is still in production, and I intend to review issues 5-8, once they are released.

Plus, next week sees the release of Star and Marco’s Guide to Mastering Every Dimension. At over 160 pages long, I am already making plans to pick it up, and let you fine readers out there know what it has to say.

I just hope the book can shed a little more light on the world of Mewni, as well as some dimensions, we’ve only had a fleeting glance of.

Farewell for now, for we shall meet again soon.

Episode Review: Star vs the Forces of Evil (Season 2, Episode 21) – Face the Music

The dual-segment episodes are over…now, nothing ahead (for the rest of the season), except full-length episodes!

With Season 2 of Star vs the Forces of Evil winding down, many of us are eager to see if a number of loose ends that we’ve been privy to, will be neatly tied up by the end of episode 22.

But, that episode’s review is for another day. For now, let’s dive into episode 21, the second-to-last Season 2 episode!

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-Face The Music-

At the behest of her Mother, Moon Butterfly, Star allows Mewni’s official songstrel to compose a song about her, for the upcoming Song Day celebration on Mewni. However, upon meeting him, Star has a few opinions about this royal tradition.

Meanwhile, Moon undertakes a small quest of her own, to find and retrieve the Butterfly Family’s spellbook, and Glossaryck of Terms. Her journey leads her to Lord and Lady Avarius (aka Ludo’s parents!), and some additional information about Ludo himself.

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The structure of both Star and Moon’s stories, almost feels like they could have been two separate story segments. However, within the episode, director Giancarlo Volpe chooses to intercut between the stories of Mother and Daughter, while giving them time together at the beginning, and the end of the episode.

For Star’s portion of the story, we find her trying to get out of her Song Day obligations, by giving the run-around to a new songstrel, named Ruberiot (voiced by Patrick Stump).

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Like most things that hint at her destiny as the future Queen of Mewni, Star tries to buck her obligations to work with Ruberiot on the song. Fortunately, the shirking of her duties, manages to not overstay it’s welcome in the overall structure of the story.

Ruberiot, for the small amount of screentime he has, manages to not be as much of a throwaway character as I had originally thought. Though he seems to be another in a long line of songstrels from Mewni, he soon shows that his views are of a newer generation, yearning to do things a little differently…leading to some interesting choices later on in the episode.

Marco does figure into the story, but unfortunately, he seems like set-dressing for most of it. I had hoped there would be a bit more for him to do, but I guess the writers may have been constrained by time.

To me, the highlight of the episode, is Moon’s journey into The Forest of Certain Death on Mewni, where she meets with Lord and Lady Avarius. We’ve seen evidence that Moon has been less-than-regal in her past, and to see her throw off her regal accoutrements and let her hair down (literally), is something that I and many others have longed to see for awhile now.

There were a few scenes in Season 1, that had me wondering about Ludo’s real age. He often seemed like a petulant child, given how he would whine and yell out loud, in his mad quest to get the royal magic wand.

Of course, given what transpired at the end of the first season, my first question is why Moon and River didn’t try to assist the Avariuses previously. However, in considering the affairs of Mewnians and Monsters, my guess is there is still a social divide between their factions, and Mewmans don’t meddle in the affairs of Monsters on Mewni.

The makeup of the Avarius family, reminded me a bit of the Gaunt household, in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Though luckily, Lord Bludo seemed less likely to lay a wing on most who come to call at his door (though as some have pointed out, there may be an abuse issue that Lady Avarius may be trying to ignore, as seen by her right eye in the picture below).

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One of the more intriguing characters we are introduced to, is Ludo’s younger brother, Dennis. Of all the siblings that Lady Avarius names, Dennis feels like an important figure, that I am hoping to see more of once Season 3 comes around.

The overall theme of Face the Music, seems to be about telling the truth, and getting past the sugar-coating of certain elements.

The writing of the Princess Song, is a minor item in the story, that follows this train of thought. The songs for Mewni’s Princesses, are not meant to be anything more but ‘happy fluff,’ filling people’s heads with good vibes, but tiptoeing around more important things that the people of Mewni should know about their ruler.

Composer Brian H Kim, fresh off his music work on the segment Just Friends, brings forth a musical piece that attempts to be traditional, yet energizing for the younger citizens of the kingdom. However, given some of the content that Ruberiot sings about, I think I found myself cringing just as much as some of the characters in the show. This is not a knock on Kim’s music skills, but moreso the content of what is contained within Star’s Princess Song.

By the end of the episode, a lot has come tumbling out, and there is a tumult of emotions swirling around both Star, and Moon! It seems both Mother and Daughter, have dealt with secrets they felt they could handle, but unfortunately, the final minutes show turmoil engulfing both of the Butterfly women.

Final Grade: B+

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Best line from episode (said by Ruberiot): “Why did I drop out of lawstrel school? Goodbye, aspirations. Hello, flipping cornburgers.”

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Best honorable mention line from episode (said by Star Butterfly): “Hugs!…he’s uh, he’s staring at us, isn’t he?”

Face the Music is the first full-length episode we’ve had since Bon Bon the Birthday Clown.

Moon Butterfly’s quest into The Forest of Certain Death, along with additional information about Ludo’s family, proved to be the highlight of the episode. I hope we’ll be able to get more information about them in future episodes.

Star’s Song Day storyline, feels a bit trite when compared to the more important stuff Moon is doing. However, it does show that she is willing to compromise, if she can find common ground with some people.

By the end of the episode, don’t be surprised if you feel a little uneasy for both Star and Moon (as well as Marco).

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Even though episodes 21 and 22 appeared back-to-back recently, I felt, much like with Bon Bon the Birthday Clown, it would be better to give each full-length episode, it’s own review.

However, you won’t have long to wait for my review of episode 22, Starcrushed. See you in a few days, when I give my opinions, on the final episode that Season 2 of Star vs the Forces of Evil, went out on.

Episode Review: Star vs the Forces of Evil (Season 2, Episode 20) – Collateral Damage / Just Friends

Here it comes. Every day, it draws nearer. Pretty soon, it will be upon us, and then, everything will go black.

I speak of course, of the ending of the second season, of Star vs the Force of Evil. Sure, the crew headed by creator Daron Nefcy is hard at work on the show’s third season, but we still don’t know when that’ll start!

Well, we got a few more episodes left until ‘the dark times.’ So, let’s review episode 20!

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-Collateral Damage-

While cleaning up trash around the school, Star accidentally destroys Otis, the school’s possum statue/mascot. At first, she doesn’t see what the big deal is, but soon finds that the destruction of Otis, has sent the entire school into a depressive funk!

Watching this segment, I suddenly found myself thinking: “when was the last time we actually had a full-on story take place inside Echo Creek Academy?

For the die-hard fans of the show, there are some callbacks/shout-outs to some characters we haven’t seen in awhile (even the snarky Brittney Wong has a few lines!), and a few more background characters are given a little screen-time.

Interspersed through the story, are remembrances of Otis the possum, as well as some humorous, historical flashback bits, narrated by Marco with a southern drawl.

This style of ‘reminiscence humor,’ feels strangely like some instances I’ve seen in episodes of The Simpsons and South Park. Even the over-the-top reaction by the entire school, seems to resemble the dynamics from the citizen of both Springfield, and South Park.

In a turnabout way, just as Marco became a ‘voice of reason’ to the students at St Olga’s Reform School for Wayward Princesses, Star has her moments here, inside the walls of Echo Creek  Academy.

The overall theme of the story is about overcoming grief and loss, and we see Star has been trying to work through some of that as well (given her feelings about losing her family’s spellbook, as well as Glossaryck of Terms). However, just like in the story Brittney’s Party, we see how she is willing to set aside her own issues, and try and do what she does best: perk up those around her, who are having a not-so-good time.

The story feels almost like a reversal of the segment, The Banagic Incident, only instead of Star going off-the-wall, the entire school is, making her the only sane person left to talk some sense into everyone. That kind of storytelling can get pretty annoying, though unlike Banagic, this segment has enough momentum to keep it’s silly premise chugging along.

That pretty much becomes the story’s crutch: it’s a passably-okay segment that gives us a bit more history regarding Echo Creek Academy, but it feels a bit too off-the-wall at times.

Final Grade: B-

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Best line from segment (said by Star Butterfly): Ferguson! Alfonso! I haven’t talked to you guys all year, but you are always there in the background, doin’ your thing!”

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-Just Friends-

Star and Marco are eager to attend an upcoming concert, featuring their favorite band, Love Sentence! However, Star shocks Marco, when she tells him that she has invited Jackie Lynn Thomas to come along with them as well!

Even though Marco is getting along well with Jackie, he still feels nervous that he’ll find some way to mess up the evening. However, Star keeps trying to break him out of his funk, and make Jackie feel included in their activities.

It’s been awhile since we last encountered Jackie, and aside from a minor cameo in the story Mathmagic, this is her first full-on interaction with Star and Marco, since the Bon Bon the Birthday Clown episode.

The trip to get to the concert feels like it meanders, in trying to give us some decent entertainment value. The writers seem a bit too preoccupied in trying to make Marco uncomfortable, and throw all sorts of little things in his way.

A positive is that even after how we saw Star look at Marco and Jackie interacting in the Bon Bon episode, she still makes an effort to not alienate Jackie, and supports Marco’s attempts to be with her. I really love that aspect of the writers showing what an awesome friend Star can be. It was that same kind of characterization, that I felt made the segment Naysaya so good.

Though in essence, maybe the whole inviting Jackie to the concert, was Star’s way of seeing if she could handle seeing Jackie and Marco together? It should be noted that Star acts pretty excited about the whole thing, but maybe she’s trying to gauge her feelings about the two of them.

Of course, where most of the fans who watch the story will probably be most transfixed, is at the concert portion at the end.

Brian H Kim helps give us a new song by the group Love Sentence (with lead vocals by Nick Lachey, formerly part of the boy band, 98 Degrees), as well as a small reprise of one of their songs we’ve heard before.

Of course, it all leads to some moments that, if you’re an emotional person, may leave you unsure just how to feel.

Of the segments that have hit in the last few weeks, this was the one I was most interested in seeing. Sadly, it is punctuated with a fun opening, a meandering middle, and gut-punching ending. However, the beginning and ending bits, manage to override the middle, and pushed my final grade up a bit.

Final Grade: B

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Best line from segment (said by Star Butterfly): “Oh, don’t be silly! I just wanted to be down here by the stage so I could feel their sweat spraying on my face!”

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Best honorable mention line from episode (said by Marco Diaz, in Collateral Damage): “Others just stare and wonder, ‘what’s a possum?'”

Well, that was a pretty okay episode.

Collateral Damage gave us a humorous take on school spirit, and working through grief. More kooky than dramatic, but somehow, it’s one of the few off-the-wall storylines that just clicked with me.

Just Friends looked to be laying on the drama regarding emotions surrounding Star, Marco, and Jackie. It elevated itself slightly above Collateral, but mainly on the strength of what happens in the third act.

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And with episode 20, we are officially out of 2-segment episodes for Season 2! Next week, we’ll get two 22-minute episodes back-to-back. There are still plenty of questions still unanswered so far this season, and we’ll have to wait and see if we get any answers.

The next episode I’ll be reviewing, is titled Face the Music, and it looks like Brian H Kim will be giving us some more of the good stuff, as Star will have a Princess Song made, and sung in her honor.

Of course, after the way Bon Bon the Birthday Clown was structured, I think we’re all expecting to find some surprises beyond just the song. See you all back here real soon!

Episode Review: Star vs the Forces of Evil (Season 2, Episode 19) – Heinous / All Belts Are Off

Well, after the last episode of Star vs the Forces of Evil diverted into realms of storytelling that seemed to greatly concern the fate of the universe, this latest episode appears to focus on returning us to the Earth dimension, where Star and Marco have plenty to deal with on their own terms.

So, let’s get this party started, and dive on into episode 19!

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-Heinous-

Marco and Star are surprised to come home, and find Ms Heinous and her servant Gemini, talking with Marco’s parents!

However, instead of blasting the former head of St Olga’s with narwhals, Star and Marco consent to Marco’s parents request, to find an amicable resolution to Ms Heinous’ woes.

After her very brief appearance in the season 2 segment, Gift of the Card, many of us hoped for more in regards to Ms Heinous’ grudge against “Princess Marco,” for causing an uprising that brought down St Olga’s Reform School for Wayward Princesses (in Season 1). Fortunately, this segment manages to give us plenty of Heinous to entertain us.

Most notable during the story, is the tag-team dynamic between Marco and Star. A number of recent episodes, have given us stories that focus on them in separate situations, but here, we see some great examples of how well they can play off each other in a tense situation!

There is also a minor subplot in regards to the character Rasticore Disastorvayne, whom we last saw in Gift of the Card. Not much is revealed regarding his fate, but it almost feels like the information we are provided about him, may just be a subtle hint at another character’s fate…?

How Marco gets out of the situation with Ms Heinous, is a rather intriguing bit of writing, and in some ways, seems to startlingly reflect on some current social and political issues.

The writers even attempt to include a smaller, ticking clock subplot to move the story along (regarding some of the Diaz’s neighbors), but it feels like it wasn’t really needed, with so much other stuff going on.

The entertainment value of the story, reminds me a bit of the mind-bending bits in Mathmagic, crossed with the pacing of The Hard Way. Even with the rather unneeded ticking clock subplot, the return of Ms Heinous made for a very enjoyable story.

However, like most characters this season, Heinous still has some additional information being hidden away, that I hope will be revealed (soon).

Final Grade: B+

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Best line from segment (said by Ms Heinous): “That’s right, Princess Marco, I recognize you. Even with your super-cute new haircut!”

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-All Belts Are Off-

The Grand Master of the How to Karate video series, is coming to Marco’s karate dojo, and Sensei is tasked with selecting a student to represent the dojo for his arrival. Surprisingly, Sensei ends up selecting Jeremy Birnbaum over Marco for the honor, causing Marco to try and find a way to show Sensei that he may have made a mistake.

So far this season, we’ve seen Sensei appear in several stories, and have learned a bit more about the master of the local strip mall dojo. Sensei isn’t the most interesting supporting character, but at times, he does provide some humorous insights.

Most of this segment, focuses on Marco observing the rather horrible things that Jeremy likes to do for kicks. The writers try to make his ego and sick jokes humorous, but I rarely found much to laugh at. It reminded me of how the writers attempted to make the character of Rhombulus in the segment Crystal Clear seem funny, given his hair-trigger responses to things. Even there, I just grew tired of the antics.

Star shows up for a quick cameo in this story, but she doesn’t provide much more than a very small observation about what Marco is doing.

While I did try to find ‘the good’ in this segment, it just ended up reminding me too much of the segment, Crystal Clear. Stuff happens, yet the overall structure of the storytelling, doesn’t make me feel compelled to come back and re-watch it anytime soon.

I won’t lie, in admitting that the situation Marco faces, is very similar to something I encountered some time ago, and I can’t help but wonder if the writers may have experienced the same kind of ‘gloss-over’ in their careers/lives.

If there is a saving grace, it’s in some character interaction between Marco and Sensei. Sadly, I wish there could have been more of that, to bump the grade of this episode up a bit.

Final Grade: C+

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Best line from segment (said by Sensei): “I gotta stop learning life lessons from children’s shows. I’m still ignorant, in the ways of friendship.”

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Best honorable mention line from episode (said by Mr Diaz, in Heinous): “I can’t believe our son led a revolution, and we didn’t even know!”

Much like the last episode, this one seems to have one very entertaining segment, and one that doesn’t hold together so well.

Heinous brings about the return of St Olga’s former headmistress, and involves us in a rather intriguing storyline, where a dispute is attempted to be resolved through diplomacy, rather than violence. There seem to be some hints of future character and story development here, and I do applaud the more mature direction the story goes in.

All Belts Are Off returns us to Marco’s local karate dojo, but seems to meander along it’s path, before coming to the message at the end. It shows Marco realizing how he can be mature without being in the spotlight, as well as his relationship with his Sensei. Unfortunately, much of the story is dragged down by the rather unfunny things that Jeremy Birnbaum does throughout it’s running time.

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And with episode 19 of Season 2 out of the way, that leaves us with one more two-story episode, before we have two half-hour episodes to end the Season on! The first segment titled Collateral Damage, deals with Star causing some more chaos around Echo Creek, and trying to fix the damage she’s done. Then, in Just Friends, we get Star, Marco, and Jackie Lynn Thomas, going to a concert for the band, Love Sentence! Just what will happen with Marco and the girls? I’m just as eager to know as most of you! See some of you back here in a few days for analysis!