Archive | Uncategorized RSS for this section

An Animated Dissection: Freddie as F.R.O.7. – the ‘Best Worst Movie’ of animation?

In this day and age, we have access to a number of films. Some are great, others good…and a lot of them that are just plain bad!

Over the years, small ‘cults’ of fandom have grown around such titles as Manos: The Hands of Fate, Troll 2, and The Room. They’re poorly-made films, with horrendous acting and absurd stories, and yet many cannot turn away from the pull of their abysmal production values.

In recent years, there’s been a few animated films that have gained prominence due to their ‘bad-ness’ as well. These range from films like the $60 million animated production Foodfight, to the Rob Schneider-voiced  Norm of the North. However, I submit for your consideration, an animated film that premiered 25 years ago, in the United Kingdom: Freddie as F.R.O.7.

__________

Freddie started out his life as the young Prince, of an unnamed Kingdom in France. Unlike an ordinary family, his was imbued with magical powers. However, Freddie’s Father ended up being killed by his shape-shifting Aunt, Messina. Once she had taken over the kingdom, she then turned him into a frog, and attempted to kill him!

FRO7-17

Original US Release Poster

However, Freddie escaped, with some help from Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster. After fleeing the kingdom, Freddie ended up hiding out with a group of frogs, far away from his home. He soon grew to human-size, and went off into the world, eventually becoming a secret-agent for the French government.

After an indeterminate number of years working for them as a spy (though how/why they decided to hire a man-sized frog, we’ll never know!), he is called to England. At the request of a man known as Brigadier G, Freddie is tasked with finding out what is causing a number of the country’s famous monuments, to disappear. For the mission, Freddie is teamed up with a martial arts expert named Daffers, and a Scottish weapons-expert, named Scotty.

It soon turns out the monuments are being stolen by a bombastic figure named El Supremo, and, he’s in cahoots with Messina as well (who largely stays in her snake form during their time together).

__________

-What kind of story is this!?-

Ok, that was a pretty ‘basic’ summary of this film..and reading over what I just typed, even I have to wonder just how this film got made!

It would be enough if maybe this had been a new take on The Frog Prince (like what Disney did in 2009), but this story decides to create a veritable train-wreck of ideas, as if it was an Italian rip-off film, or a Golan-Globus production.

FRO7-13Over the years, many of us have seen stories that can take a bunch of strange items, and actually make you accept them. Both the Star Wars and Lord of the Rings series are prime examples of this done right. They ground you with enough information in their worlds, to feel acclimated to them.

With FRO7, the storytelling bounces around so much, that you’d swear you’ve gotten whiplash!

The fault for this may actually lie, with writer/producer/director, Jon Acevski. Word was Acevski’s son had a toy frog as a child, and Jon would avail him with numerous tales about it.

Once you think about that, the plot for FRO7 seems as obvious as a through-line bedtime story. Freddie’s tale dips and dodges around, like an adult trying to keep their child entertained. Stuff just feels like it was added in, as if to enthrall a young kid to keep interest in a tale, that should have ended several bedtimes ago.

FRO7-3Even the reasoning behind El Supremo stealing the monuments is rather ‘boring.’ Basically, he has a machine that can shrink them down, and using a special crystal, plans to drain the essence of the country’s history from them, putting it’s people to sleep, allowing for him to invade the country (once again, I am not making that up).

Thinking about all of these strange twists and turns, reminded me of The Nostalgia Critic’s words about another train-wreck of a film, 1988’s Felix the Cat: The Movie. The Critic claimed that Felix felt like a film that had “way-too-much story,” and that’s what it feels like we have here with FRO7.

In looking up more information on Acevski for this blog post, I found relatively nothing (even his IMDB bio only lists credits for FRO7). Word was this had been a dream-project that he’d wanted to have made since the 70’s, though the story as to just how he got production capital and created a studio to make the film, seems to have been lost to time.

__________

-Explain, Movie! Explain!!-

Going over the film’s story several times, I can only assume that FRO7 was either put together by a committee who had no idea how to tell a good story, or they were simply given Jon Acevski’s rough outline, and told to just work straight off of it!

So much of the film feels like a patchwork quilt of ideas/scenarios/etc, that makes very little sense if you start questioning it’s logic.

Here are “a few” logic gaps that I’ve catalogued while watching the film:

  • Freddie grows into a human-sized frog, yet seems to have totally thrown away the thought of taking care of his evil Aunt, or maybe helping out the Kingdom that he is entitled to inherit the throne to! He also makes no allusions to ever having been human, to any of his cohorts.
  • FRO7-6When a number of large monuments are stolen from Britain, NOONE sees where these things go…and there are even people standing in front of them, AND snapping pictures! Also, once it is found out that this is not an isolated incident of just one monument being stolen, it is never considered to send troops/planes/tanks/etc to guard the other remaining monuments after the first few go missing!? Plus, even though the buildings are taken from high-traffic areas, noone notices them being taken (not even with the giant shadow looming in the pic above, when the Tower of London is taken!!).
  • Freddie lies to Daffers and Scotty at one point, and pretty much gets them all captured by El Supremo, during a stake-out (he also takes the batteries out of their walkie-talkies so they can’t contact the Brigadier!). At first they are angry with him, but a few scenes later, they’re casually talking to Freddie, as if they’ve forgotten what he just did!
  • Why is almost anything with two X chromosomes attracted to Freddie!? (seriously, aside from Messina, it seems every female character/creature makes ‘goo-goo eyes’ at him!).
  • FRO7-4Freddie drives around in an anthropomorphic green car (see right), that has a face, makes croaking sounds, and spouts little hearts from it’s exhaust pipe. We never know just where Freddie got it from, or how it came to life (and it also seems to have a crush on him too!). Maybe she’s the girl-frog he was impressing in an earlier scene, and he just magically turned her into a car?
  • Freddie claims he uses his ‘mind powers’ to combat evil, but we only ever see him use these for a few seconds near the end, while the other times, he engages in hand-to-hand combat.
  • In one scene, our ‘heroes’ are face-to-face with some enemy soldiers with guns. The soldiers fire off the guns from a distance, but when our ‘heroes’ are right in their face, they forget how to use them!
  • Though the Brigadier is surprised to find Freddie is actually a frog, noone else freaks out upon encountering a 6-foot-tall, walking-and-talking frog!
  • In the modern-day(?), Messina has teamed up with El Supremo, but we’re never told exactly when they formed their alliance, or even if Supremo knows that his partner-in-crime/possible-love-interest(?!?), is even human (note: she sings in English around him, but the rest of the time, just makes hissing/squeaking sounds).
  • FRO7-7Though we see Freddie can talk to other humans (I assume this is because he was originally human), we are never made to be aware if a number of non-magical creatures we see (such as these punk-crows(?!?) on the right), are even able to be understood (even though we can hear them babbling in English).

I had to stop myself there, lest I just rattle off an Everything that’s Wrong with FRO7 list that could stretch on further (maybe one of these days, I’ll make a video of it!).

__________

-A Glimmer of Hope, that quickly dies out-

Sometimes, I curse my ability to find little pockets of ‘good’ in things (one reason why I can never fully hate the Star Wars prequels). Going over the story, it feels like there could have been a decent story buried in this train-wreck of a film.

FRO7-2

The opening scenes where Freddie is turned into a frog and Messina attempts to kill him, are pretty intense. The music and visuals are rather dark, and the wailing chorus we hear, makes it seem as if we’re watching something out of a Don Bluth film. However, that scene is about the most intense thing the filmmakers could put together, when it came to this film.

It feels like they also could have just had Freddie escape into the nearby countryside after the encounter, and team up with other witches and wizards to take back his kingdom. He could also encounter some other animal friends along the way, but I’m thinking in a far simpler way than the writer/producer/director could have envisioned.

__________

-Flimsier than Cardboard Characterization-

One would assume that there might be some decent characters to like here, but overall, they all feel like stock characters, put on an assembly line, and spat out onto celluloid.

Having been a young Prince traumatized by his evil Aunt, one would assume maybe Freddie would have an interesting character arc. Instead, he seems to have been hit with the amnesia ray, let alone the ‘blase bazooka.’ He never makes mention to his cohorts about his royal heritage, let alone mention that he is related to Messina, when they are face-to-face with her the first time (and when he calls her his ‘dear Aunt’ later on, neither of his cohorts question how a snake could be related to a frog!).

FRO7-8Freddie approaches almost every situation with a smug smile on his froggy face, as if he knows he’s bulletproof in surviving his own story. For being one of France’s top agents (and why would they publicize that, by the way!?), Freddie seems pretty incompetent. My guess is that he simply got all his more competent partners killed in the field, and smilingly took the credit for their exploits, elevating him to a position of  prominence, simply by being the ‘last frog standing.’ It’s possible they may have also been trying to make him a bit like Inspector Clouseau from the Pink Panther series (given how he seems to solve or get out of most situations by sheer dumb luck!).

Ben Kingsley voices the adult Freddie, who spends most of his time sounding like he’s trying to do his best impression of Mel Blanc’s Pepe le Pew. This is definitely not one of Kingsley’s better voice roles, with some areas sounding like he’s rambling, just to put words in pre-animated scenes (btw, if you want to hear him at his best, check out his role as Archibald Snatcher in the Laika production, The Boxtrolls!).

FRO7-5Daffers as the ‘female spy/love interest,’ is just as bland. She’s basically there just to take one look at Freddie, and fall in love…as well as provide one of the most shocking ‘non-kid’ joke-shots in the film (“Well, I don’t have any concealed weapons,” she tells Freddie, leading to this scene on the right…and yes, that is in the actual UK release!)

The third member of their group, Scotty, is pretty much the third-wheel ‘gadget-master’ of the group, and that’s about all I have to say about him.

The modern-day villain of the piece is El Supremo, voiced by Brian Blessed. His character just hisses, bellows, and yells throughout his entire role, supposedly making the kids in the audience know that he wants to TAKE OVER THE WORLD (or Britain, at least)!! There are even some points where Supremo could very well kill Freddie, but he instead just stands around, monologuing and laughing in front of Freddie, to the point where I was yelling, “he’s right in front of you, just kill him already!!”

FRO7-14

And then there’s Messina, Freddie’s evil Aunt. While she does get the story going, she serves little purpose going forward, but to be threatening only a few times, and the rest of the time, just be as incompetent as Supremo.

However, as much as she claims she needs to get rid of Freddie to be all-powerful, it seems she has enough powers to actually get the job done (plus, it doesn’t seem like he’s devoted any of his time to trying to track her down or stop her up to this point!). The filmmakers show that she has a poisonous bite, can strangle others, hypnotize them, change people into things, let alone conjure up gale-force winds that can destroy a wooden ship!…and yet she’s as competent as Skynet in a non-James-Cameron directed Terminator film.

There are so many scenes, just like the ones with Supremo, where she could easily take out Freddie, and yet shows total incompetency to do so. While she can turn herself into other dangerous creatures, it seems the only one that does her any good (if ever), is her ‘default’ snake form.

FRO7-15Freddie even lets her get away in the end, and when the Brigadier in the film sees the Aunt, flying away as a strange bird, Freddie claims it was “noone of importance.”

…really, Freddie? You have an evil, shape-changing, poison-fanged, hypnotizing, world-domination-planning Aunt you just let get away…AND THAT WAS ‘NOONE OF IMPORTANCE!!?’

(btw, Daffers and Scotty just laugh at this, so if people did end up getting killed by Messina, I hold those two just as responsible for not telling anyone, as Freddie!!)

The film’s Brigadier who hires Freddie and is in charge of keeping Britain safe, is portrayed as worried-yet-bumbling old man. The filmmaker even try to make him our ‘comic relief,’ by making him so befuddled about the loss of Britain’s landmarks, that he ends up being constantly tangled in phone cords. However, the timing just never works to make us laugh at his predicaments.

In truth, the Brigadier actually gets in probably the only funny line in the entire film.

FRO7-9

It comes when he makes mention that a number of his best agents have been lost in the field, leaving him noone to call upon from Britain, to investigate the disappearing monuments.

“003 in China,” he moans, looking at a globe. “005 in Russia, 007 in Hollywood.”

There’s even a very small subplot about a spy for El Supremo, within the Brigadier’s group of assistants, but the film doesn’t give us enough evidence to really even suspect him (well, there’s one split-second shot, but, it makes little sense when you see it). Sure, they give the spy shifty eyes, a placid face and a snide voice, but he looks just as strange as the other men assisting the Brigadier.

They even try to throw the spy (voiced by Jonathan Pryce) into some scenes just chuckling and smiling to himself, but I felt his actions, were just him laughing at how much of a wreck the Brigadier was, or maybe this man in question, was hoping the Queen of England would eventually replace the Brigadier with him instead.

__________

-A Soundtrack of Silliness-

I don’t know what it is, but it seems that when it comes to animated films, studios like to entice singers or musicians, to showcase their talents in a ‘kids film.’ I’ve seen that with films in the past, suck as Rock and Rule, Jetsons the Movie, and a number of others. My guess is before every studio decided to spend that money on hiring big-name actors to voice everything, they just felt that movie soundtracks were how they’d keep the extra royalty money rolling in.

Of course, the musical choices for much of this film, make one wonder what they were thinking.

FRO7-12

The opening song (sounding like a leftover tune from the 80′), is called Keep Your Dreams Alive. Sung by George Benton and Patti Austin, this almost sounds like it would be the love ballad to play over the end credits, but maybe the filmmakers felt that it would somehow make the audience believe that Freddie was a competent hero…though the song plays over a rather strange opening scene.

Some may be wondering why a human-sized frog is driving around Paris in an anthropomorphic car, but there also is the strangeness, that he’s doing so, in a deserted major city (most likely, there wasn’t enough time or money to animate crowds for these scenes?).

Over the years, I think some would agree that the most memorable song, is the one sung by Messina (with singer Grace Jones providing these vocals). She gets a villain’s song titled Evilmania, though strangely enough, even though we’ve seen her take human form, she performs the entire song in her snake-form…and for much of this piece, she’s slinking around, swaying her ‘snake-hips'(!!?) to the piece.

FRO7-10Messina sings about all the ways she can control or kill a person, yet one has to wonder if it’s all just for show. What she does to several people during this song, could have come in handy at the end of the film, when she dawdles and is just plain incompetent in taking down her nephew and his friends.

The song is also memorable for a number of ‘evil figures’ that are bopping along to the song…including a few that would be considered ‘questionable’ in this day and age!

Sometimes, the worst thing a film can do, is just stop, and have a song moment for no real reason.

That happens when Freddie encounters Nessie again after all these years(!?!), and with the fate of the world hanging in the balance…she takes him underwater to meet her family, and sing a song ‘in his honor’!!? And what does Freddie do? Remind Nessie that the fate of Britain and his comrades are at stake? Nope, he just goes along with it (and changes outfits at least 2 times during the song!!).

FRO7-11Nessie gets a song to sing called Shy Girl, with vocals by Barbara Dickson. When watching the scene, it feels like the film’s blatant attempts to rip off Under the Sea from Disney’s The Little Mermaid. However, THAT song actually had a purpose to it’s story.

There are even songs contributed by Boy George, and Asia, though they’re little more than clips used in the film.

There’s even a dance-mix style end-track about Freddie, sung by Holly Johnson (aka the lead singer for Frankie Goes to Hollywood). The song reminds me of some hero songs, that make the lead character sound even cooler than he actually is. I will admit, it is strange that after all these years, this song hasn’t found it’s way into any club remixes.

Though the film is rather obscure, I am surprised that even Lucasfilm never came down on the production. Why? Well in a few scenes, the film actually uses John Williams’ music from Star Wars: Episode IV!! I kid you not, as soon as I heard that music I had heard probably a thousand times before, I could not believe George Lucas had not sued the production company!

__________

-Big Plans Die Hard-

Believe it or not, the studio making Freddie, actually thought they had a viable franchise on their hands!

FRO7-16At the end of the film, it’s hinted at that the Americans need Freddie’s help with something, and the Brigadier seems eager to send him across the pond (however, if that heart-shaped closing image is any indication, Freddie and Daffers are gonna partake in a little…what do you call it…beastiality?).

My guess is there’d be plenty of expendable FBI agents for Freddie to use as cannon-fodder, but the already-titled Freddie Goes to Washington never got off the lily pad, as FRO7 floundered at the box-office in Britain, and fared even worse when released in the US, 2 weeks later (courtesy of Miramax Pictures).

FRO7-18

With the death of the sequel, so too went Hollywood Road Film Productions Studios (dang that’s a mouthful!)  as well as any word on just what the sequel would have been about. However, given that Freddie nonchalantly let his power-hungry Aunt get away(!!!), it is most likely she would be behind the troubles across the pond.

A few years after it’s dismal theatrical release, FRO7 was released on video in the US (see cover on the left), this time as just Freddie the Frog. Unlike it’s theatrical release, this one would be a little different. James Earl Jones was now voicing several narrative bits, and the film had been edited down in some places (such as the Evilmania song routine, that was now nowhere to be found!).

Since then, there hasn’t been an official release on DVD or Blu-Ray for Freddie (in regards to it’s original release), and most viewers have had to make due with versions floating around in cyberspace, or on Youtube. However, if you are feeling curious, seek out the original British release, but be warned…I recommended it to a friend, and this film ‘broke him!’ And no, I am not making that up.

__________

Overall, FRO7 is a mess of an animated film. It doesn’t quite know what it wants to be, and I can’t help but wonder how it got all the way through it’s production, with noone actually questioning how all-over-the-place the plot is. Then again, maybe the studio producing it, felt that the kids would just be so enthralled, and drag their parents back to it multiple times (like with those Minions movies).

Personally, I’d love to see the film skewered by the guys at Mystery Science Theater 3000. With the show having come back on Netflix, they’ve shown in their most recent season, that there’s still plenty of bad movies out there to roast, and this would make a fine introduction to the world of animated features, if they so wished!

However, for now, Freddie will just exist out here in cyberspace, where adults will think of it fondly, and others of us, will just shake our fist at the smug frog, mocking us as we strive to make sense out of the illogical mess that is his ‘perfect little world.’

Oh, one more thing. Ever wonder why Freddie is called F.R.O.7.? Well, apparently the letter ‘G,’ is also, the 7th letter in the alphabet, so…it kinda makes sense?…

Episode Review: Star vs the Forces of Evil (Season 3, Episode 4) – Toffee

And here we are: the fourth episode, the final part to Season 3’s Battle for Mewni storyline.

Given the title and imagery you’ve seen so far, it’s a good bet that a certain lizard-creature, is going to come into play in this story. So, let’s get on with it!

__________

StarEp34-1

– Toffee –

On her own, Star manages to infiltrate her family’s castle, but reveals to Ludo what he doesn’t know…that Toffee, whom he thought was long-gone, is inside his ‘wand-hand,’ and is controlling him!

Needless to say, this doesn’t sit well with Ludo, and he wants this problem taken care of. Star believes she may have a solution…but it soon leads to revelations and much more, than she and her friends could possibly have conceived of!

__________

Watching the whole Battle for Mewni storyline, I couldn’t help but wonder what it would have been like, if these four episodes had finished off Season 2 (instead of the cliffhanger we received). With this episode, it truly feels like a rollercoaster ride of a 22-minute story…and this is just the fourth episode of the new season!

Going over this story, I couldn’t help but feel that while it had some little ‘filler’ bits here and there, it’s one of the few stories that seems to quickly put aside nonsense, and throws us into the fray. This is one of those episodes where a number of revelations are revealed to us…and it feels like a lot of things that we have been wondering about for awhile, have finally been given some attention!

Since he disappeared at the end of the first season, many of us in the Star fandom have had numerous theories regarding Toffee and his ‘end-game.’ We’ve seen he can be an enigmatic puppet master, but it feels that with this episode, he has (so far) cemented himself as one of the series’ top baddies (sorry, Ludo).

Michael C Hall returns with his calm, enigmatic voice, that just gives Toffee that air of menace that makes him so scarily enjoyable to watch! Most notable is one scene, where he gives the equivalent of ‘three mic drops,’ in under 2 minutes!

StarEp34-4

Though Toffee figures into the story, it’s main character is Star, as she braves a number of dangers, and gets in over-her-head, in ways that I’m sure had many fans gasping at the events that unfolded before us!

Star last mentioned that she is not one to come up with plans, and we somewhat see that work both for, and against her in this story. She makes choices one would almost consider foolish, AND does things that show maturity, showing how far we’ve come from that first image, of a girl who conjured up a flaming rainbow in the first episode.

Aside from Toffee and Star, the rest of the cast are there largely as supporting players.

Ludo has a smaller role in this piece, but will probably get one of the episode’s most memorable moments.

Marco Diaz, Queen Moon, and Buff Frog show up for this episode as well, but seem to largely be here for ‘moral support.’ Even so, they play their parts well, with Moon getting probably one of the more emotional moments of the episode.

StarEp34-5

It was nice to also see how the previous episode Puddle Defender, brought Moon and Buff Frog together as allies, and makes me hope we’ll get more of this going forward.

This was the first episode I can recall, that while there are mysteries still unfolding, it felt complete (and emotional) enough, to jump to the top of the list of my favorite 22-minute episodes for the series (so far). I remember watching Gravity Falls, and being surprised that Disney was allowing some shocking-yet-amazing storytelling and graphics. It appears that taking of chances, has also been allowed with this series as well.

While there are some moments that seem to slow down for a comedic joke or three, there is more drama and emotion that overrides them, to deliver one of the best episodes the series has to offer!

Final Grade: A

StarEp34-2

Best line from episode (said by Toffee): “Poor little butterfly…you’ve lost your wings.”

__________

StarEp34-3

Best honorable mention line from episode (said by Ludo): “It turns out you’re dead!”

__________

Toffee proves to still contain secrets and questions within the world of Star vs the Forces of Evil, but it brings forth enough drama, emotion, and revelations, that it ends up becoming one of the best episodes the series has produced!

Even with some minor comedy moments that seem like ‘speed bumps’ in the overall story, there’s plenty of great stuff going on, to make one forget most of it’s underwhelming moments.

__________

And with that, The Battle for Mewni is now over…but what other adventures await Star Butterfly, Marco Diaz, and their family and friends in the next episodes of this season? Questions still abound related to some items in the series. Plus…(former) Queen Eclipsa, is still alive!

Sadly, we’ll have to wait until November to find out! Yep, another hiatus, and then we’ll see what happens next. My guess is, given the new opening and closing segments that show more dimensions, let alone Star being back in the Kingdom of Mewni, this season may take place over Star and Marco’s “summer vacation” time.

Starit’s called summer,” Marco told Star in the Season 2 episode, Starcrushed. “And it’s gonna be great.”

It may sound great, but we’ll have to wait a few more months to see just what the rest of this season has to offer.

Until then, expect a few little Animated Dissection posts regarding the series (and the possibility that I may be reviewing the new Ducktales series!).

Episode Review: Star vs the Forces of Evil (Season 3, Episode 3) – Puddle Defender / King Ludo

Halfway through Star vs the Forces of Evil’s Battle for Mewni storyline, things are looking rather bleak for the Mewmans in their dimension. Not only is the magic power that Star Butterfly and her Mother use failing them, but Ludo has taken control of the Kingdom of Mewni!

The third episode of Season 3, shifts us into more adventures for our main characters, revolving around unlikely alliances, both for Mewmans, and Monsters.

__________

StarEp33-1

– Puddle Defender –

After circumstances force them out of their hiding place, Star takes her Mom to Buff Frog’s place. However, while Star seems to be right at home with the monster, Queen Moon seems a bit uncomfortable with their surroundings.

One of the more intriguing character developments to come out of Season 2, was regarding the monster Yvgeny Bulgolyubov, aka Buff Frog. Upon being given some tadpoles by Ludo, Buff Frog gave up (most of) his evil ways, and strove to become a caring and devoted father to his children.

Getting to see Star and Buff catching up like old friends was a treat, and the way the writers threw Queen Moon into the mix, proved to be quite entertaining. It’s also notable in showing how Star differs in thinking from her Mother. Whereas Moon is more confident with a plan in place, Star is more willing to improvise on the fly.

Much like the segment Mewnipendence Day did for Star’s character, it feels like this story works as a ‘growing’ experience for Moon. Some stories like to throw a character out of familiar surroundings to see how they’ll act, which is often a great way to learn more about who they are.

We’ve seen Moon interact with ‘monster royalty’ (such as with Ludo’s parents), but it seems a given that she’s avoided the more ‘common monsters,’ scattered throughout the kingdom. Of course, as we saw in Moon the Undaunted, she may have decided to avoid most monsters altogether, given how they affected her life.

A notable part of the story, is Moon trying to play a boardgame with Buff Frog. The scene is a highlight for me, given it ends up being humorous, but also gets rather serious when we learn a bit more about Mewman/Monster relationships, and each culture’s perceptions of the other on Mewni.

This was an overall entertaining story, and getting to see Star, Moon, Buff Frog and his children interacting together, proved to be a highlight! There was a decent balance of comedy and storytelling, that has made this one of my favorite segments so far this season!

Final Grade: A-

StarEp33-2

Best line from episode (said by Star Butterfly): “She needs to make ‘boom-boom.'”

__________

StarEp33-3

– King Ludo –


Now that he has taken over the Kingdom of Mewni, Ludo attempts to get it’s inhabitants to like him, but finds resistance from everyone. Meanwhile, Marco and King River are locked in the dungeon, with Marco attempting to get them out, and restore River to the throne.

Most of the entertainment value of the story, stems from Marco meeting up with three members of the royal court: the songstrel Ruberiot (whom we know from last season), court jester Foolduke, and a Mime.

I didn’t expect to find myself entertained by them, but their banter and Marco trying to wrangle them together, proved to be very memorable (notably the rather quiet visual reactions of the Mime!).

Even Ludo manages to have some funny moments. His personality can waver between funny and annoying, and here, many of the beats for his childish thoughts on being the Kingdom’s ruler, proved to keep me smiling throughout. I did have to wonder how many of his lines, were improvised by his voice-actor, Alan Tudyk.

Compared to the last Ludo-based segment we saw (episode 2’s Book Be Gone), this one feels a bit more entertaining when it comes to the comedy regarding Ludo. While there was a bit more ‘rinse-and-repeat’ regarding him being abused by the book in the last story, this one lets us see just how unfit he is to rule.

Of all the main characters, it is King River who is mostly sidelined in this story. He has a few more serious moments here than in the Marco and the King storyline, though I felt they could have pulled back on some of his incompetency, in the face of what is going on.

Even with my minor gripes, this story proved to be a surprise, and I’ve found myself watching it a number of times since it came out!

Final Grade: B

Starep33-4

Best line from episode (said by Ludo): “Stop! You’re all hacks…except for the Mime! She’s a genius!”

__________

StarEp33-5

Best honorable mention line from episode (said by King River, in King Ludo): “It’s a dungeon, not a torture chamber!”

So far this season, this episode has offered a very entertaining 1-2 punch of stories, making it a pretty enjoyable viewing experience.

Puddle Defender helped shed a little more light on Mewni’s ‘monster relations,’ showing how Star Butterfly and her Mother interact with Buff Frog and his children. Almost like a nice breath of comedic air to calm us down, it also proves well-written and insightful, in giving some character development to Moon, and challenging her perceptions of monsters.

King Ludo feels a little like Puddle Defender in it’s storytelling, but doesn’t delve into the dramatics regarding character development. This story is largely Marco’s, as we see him interacting with a few members of Mewni’s royal court, attempting to save King River. The inane bantering of Ruberiot and Foolduke may wear thin on some, but there is a method to the madness (and some fun, silent comedy moments with the Mime in their group). King River gets a small chance to shine, but it feels like once again, he serves as little more than comic relief.

__________

Next episode, the Battle for Mewni comes to an end, with the eerily named, Toffee. Star has headed off to her Kingdom to confront Ludo and Toffee, and circumstances are pushing Marco to step up his game. How did I feel about where this epic 4-parter went? Come back soon to find out!

Episode Review: Star vs the Forces of Evil (Season 3, Episode 2) – Book be Gone/Marco and the King

With the first episode of Season 3 introducing us to a dangerous (and uncertain) new Mewni, along with Queen Moon’s past, I was eager to know what stories lay ahead in the second episode of the Battle for Mewni storyline.

This time, Star and her Mom take a backseat, as we focus on Ludo, Glossaryck of Terms, King River, and…Marco Diaz!?

__________

StarEp32-1

Book be Gone

Following events at the end of Season 2, we have Ludo waking up, wondering what destroyed his lair, and why his wand is suddenly a part of his right hand! We also find that Glossaryck of Terms and the wand’s Magic Instruction Book, are still with him.

After being informed by Glossaryck that he took down the Magic High Commission, Ludo eagerly wants to write about this in the book (nevermind that he doesn’t know just how he defeated the commission!), but finds that the tome is somewhat uncooperative, and…it might not ‘belong’ to him anymore…

In this story, Glossaryck is his usual, enigmatic self, though like some other appearances of his, there may be a ‘method’ to his ‘madness.’ Also notable, is that one theory I had regarding how he operates, may have been partially confirmed (regarding his place in space and time).

Much of the story’s focus is on Ludo, and like Wile E Coyote trying to catch the Roadrunner, the humor from the segment comes from Ludo trying to get the book to cooperate with his demands. There is the typical humor of using Ludo’s incompetence and childish nature for comedy, but also within the story, is a chance to show us once again that he can be vulnerable, and naive.

The structure of Book reminded me of a few other episodes, where the story tends to be off-the-wall for the majority of the run-time, but in the last few minutes, they suddenly shift from comedy-to-drama. They tried to use this with the segment titled Starstruck last season, but it failed to redeem that story. A better version of this method, was used in a segment titled Collateral Damage, though it’s ending wasn’t quite as ‘heavy’ as what we have here.

With By the Book, that dramatic turn near the end actually worked, as we’ve seen that Ludo has wrestled with his emotions, and sometimes, his snap-decisions and desperation to be taken seriously, can lead to bitter regret.

Rewatching some of the Season 2 episodes recently, I was surprised to see the story had even included some continuity with Bird and Spider, from the end of last season! Those little ‘easter eggs’ are always fun to find.

Final Grade: B

Starep32-2

Best line from segment (said by Ludo): Star was always your favorite, wasn’t she? The cute little sparkles on the cheeks. I’m just a sad little dingus in a chip bag!”

 __________

StarEp32-3

Marco and the King

With Queen Moon gone from the Kingdom of Mewni, King River tries to keep morale up with constant partying. However, when Marco arrives from Earth hoping to find Star at the castle, River may have to face some harsh realities.

I found this segment surprising, especially in seeing how Marco was sad about Star going away in the first episode of season 3, but finding out here, that he still retained his pair of dimensional scissors from last season (I thought maybe Star had them with her)! Given how he can easily travel to Mewni, that show of emotional depression seems rather out-of-place now (to me, at least).

King River Johansen is our main focus here, much the way Moon the Undaunted focused on the Queen. However, while Moon’s story was intriguing, King River’s modern-day tale just doesn’t feel as wholly entertaining.

Personally, I was hoping we’d get a little more introspection into River’s background, much like what we had with Queen Moon. We have seen in the past that River can seem competent, but it feels like the further we’ve gone on into the series, the more he’s been used largely for comic relief. It’s starting to make me wonder just why Moon married him in the first place (maybe she didn’t marry him for love, but because he was a loyal and caring friend?).

For this story, Marco serves as a ‘cheerleader’ for the troubled King, oftentimes trying to put things into perspective. We’ve seen Star can take after her Father when it comes to uncontrolled recklessness, and much like Marco oftentimes talking sense to her, he does the same to River here. Of course, it isn’t so hard to see Marco doing this, given that his own parents seem a bit ‘childish’ at times as well.

We do get some more information about the lower-levels of the kingdom, and some of it’s denizens. At times, the low morale and ‘everyone in a state chaotic quandary,’ reminded me of when Echo Creek Academy went haywire in the Collateral Damage storyline last season.

Overall, it feels like the show’s crew tried to give us a little humor before the story ends on a cliffhanger, but I still feel like they missed a golden opportunity to explore more regarding River.

Final Grade: B-

StarEp32-4

Best line from segment (said by Foolduke): “WHERE’S MY MONKEY!?”

 __________

StarEp32-5

Best honorable mention line from episode (said by Ludo, in Book be Gone): “Book, I demand that you let me write in you this instant, or I’ll turn this car around so fast, it’ll make your head spin!”

Compared to the first episode’s segments , the second episode’s feel a bit less exciting. There is information to be gleaned here, but it’s buried within stories that feel like a small gag, stretched thin.

Book be Gone brings us back into the story of Ludo and Glossaryck, and seems to act as a form of ‘comic relief’ from the rather heavy storytelling of the last episode. While there is humor derived from Ludo trying to make the book obey him, it’s final moments get rather dramatic, in ways that I don’t think anyone expected.

Marco and the King brings Marco back to Mewni, as we see him observe the King in action. The story has it’s moments, but it feels like King River has sadly begun devolving moreso into ‘royal comic relief’ for the show, making me wish the storyline could have given us more information about his past.

__________

Whew! Well, we’re halfway through The Battle for Mewni.

Next time, we’ll review Puddle Defender, where Star and her Mom seek help for their predicament, from an unlikely source. Plus, in King Ludo, we’ll see Mewni Castle under new management, and Marco trying to find a way to help King River, with some very unlikely Mewmans. See you back here in a few days!

2017’s D23 Expo – The Place to be for Disney Cosplay

Back when I attended my first D23 Expo in 2013, I was surprised by the amount of Disney-related cosplays that I saw. While there were the familiar mainstays like Snow White or Aladdin, I was very surprised to see cosplays of characters I probably would never see in other, non-Disney venues!

This year, I decided to do another blog post like I did in 2013, and chronicle over 30 different cosplays I took pictures of, during the three-day event. Like last time, I ended up taking a lot of pictures, so I had to whittle my choices down to the ones below.

And trust me, there were plenty of great ones to choose from!

__________

D23Cosplay2017-23

One character I don’t often see much of, is Giselle from the live-action/animated feature, Enchanted. This cosplayer did a nice rendition of the dress she made from Robert Philip’s curtains.

__________

D23Cosplay2017-1

Sometimes, people dress up as representations of things related to Disney, and that’s what this couple did! Taking their cues from Pixar Animation Studios, the girl’s dress is a representation of the famous Pixar ballwhile her partner is an interpretation of it’s famous hopping lamp, Luxo, Jr.

__________

D23Cosplay2017-2

This year marked the 15th anniversary of the release of Lilo & Stitch. While I did see a lot of girls and women wearing Lilo’s red dress with white leaf imprints, I was very surprised to come across Mertle Edmonds. Mertle was the bossy little redhead in Lilo’s hula class, and like in the film, she had to flaunt some attitude when I took her picture.

__________

D23Cosplay2017-3

“Abigail! Amelia! My two favorite gooses!”
I hadn’t seen The Aristocats in years, but upon seeing these two girls, Uncle Waldo’s declaration rang through my head, as I saw some nearby expo-goers, trying to figure out just who they were! It was fun to see that to simulate their webbed feet, they were wearing orange shoes!

__________

D23Cosplay2017-4

“Name’s Hades, Lord of the Dead, hi how’ya doin?”
Some cosplays will make me just rush over to snap a picture, and seeing this guy from the back, was one of those times! He REALLY put a lot of effort into this, as that is actually a facial prosthetic he’s wearing! He’s also got spiked dentures, contact lenses covering his eyeballs, and he was even in ‘lifts’ to give him some extra height! He even wore gloves to give his fingers the spindly, ‘Scarfe’ look of the character!

__________

D23Cosplay2017-5

One of the reasons I went to the expo this year, was to attend the events related to a recent DisneyXD series I watch: Star vs the Forces of Evil. While there were plenty of ‘ordinary’ cosplays of title characters Star Butterfly and Marco Diaz, this couple to me, beat them all! They were not only wearing the disguises Marco and Star wore to infiltrate St Olga’s Reform School for Wayward Princesses, but the girl portraying Star here, also hand-crafted the Flying Princess Pony Head figure her boyfriend was holding!

__________

D23Cosplay2017-6

Many of us know Merlin from The Sword in the Stone wearing his blue robes, but how often do you see him in his 20th century vacation duds, that he wore while in Bermuda?

__________

D23Cosplay2017-7

I saw a few people dressed up as Indiana Jones on the expo floor, but this was the first time I had seen an Indy, with Marion Ravenwood! It wasn’t enough that she made a version of Marion’s outfit from Cairo, but she was also wearing her medallion, AND carrying around that two-timing little monkey spy!

__________

D23Cosplay2017-9

“Can you turn yourself into a fly?” I asked this guy, in my best Mickey Mouse voice.
“Are you sure you don’t want a, pink bunny?” he asked, smiling that I recognized him.
This fellow is dressed as Willie the Giant, from the Mickey and the Beanstalk short. And just like Willie in the short, he had a little Mickey in his hand, to pose with.

__________

D23Cosplay2017-8

I’m always on the lookout for cosplays of my favorite modern-day Disney shorts, Paperman! This couple was one of several walking around the expo. Word was, the other had painted themselves grey to more closely resemble their animated counterparts.

__________

D23Cosplay2017-10

I saw quite a few Edna Modes from The Incredibles, but this little woman captured her larger-than-life attitude perfectly!

__________

D23Cosplay2017-11

Tron: Legacy has somewhat faded from most people’s minds, but it was neat to see Quorra and two of the Sirens from the film, off-the-grid.

__________

D23Cosplay2017-27

I definitely didn’t expect to encounter Percival McLeach from The Rescuers Down Under, but it was an even bigger surprise to see his monitor lizard Joanna, trying to purloin a few of his eggs (again).

__________

D23Cosplay2017-28

This Centaurette from Fantasia’s Pastoral Symphony, was part of a mother/daughter duo, that I saw outside the convention center. There was also a blue Centaurette who entered into the Mousequerade contest.

__________

D23Cosplay2017-14

I saw a few Maui’s on the floor, but this one had the physique and facial features, to really sell that demigod look (plus, his hook lit up!). It was also humorous, that everyone who thanked him for a picture, was greeted with a “you’re welcome” from him!

__________

D23Cosplay2017-13

Like an older woman I saw dressed as Mulan from the 2013 expo, these two are examples that you’re never too old to cosplay! It’s not often I see Anna, AND a snow-caked Christof from Frozen.

__________

D23Cosplay2017-15

While I’ve seen plenty of Ariel’s roaming the floor, this was the first time I had seen her daughter Melody, from Little Mermaid 2. Her ‘tail’ is actually a skirt that she could raise and lower.

__________

D23Cosplay2017-16

There were quite a number of ‘mash-ups’ regarding various properties and characters (I saw a Spider-Ariel at one point), but this was rather unique: a number of leading ladies, crossed over with the villains of their respective films!

__________

D23Cosplay2017-17

I saw a few people cosplaying characters from 1995’s A Goofy Movie, but there was only one Powerline, who was walking the floor with a boombox, blasting the film’s soundtrack. He was accompanied by a girl dressed as Stacey, the character Roxanne’s best friend from the film.

__________

D23Cosplay2017-18

The opening day of the Expo, had the most cosplayers there, due to the Mousequerade costume contest. When it was all said-and-done, these two girls, dressed as Te Fiti and Te Ka from Moana, were the big winners! Word is Te Ka’s volcano form was made from sculpted foam, and actual smoke emitted from it!

__________

D23Cosplay2017-19

With the announcement of a new Kingdom Hearts game, there were plenty of Sora’s around, though this guy really captured the character (especially with his huge shoes, and spiked hair!).

__________

D23Cosplay2017-20

Given that Gravity Falls creator Alex Hirsch was at the Expo on Friday, there were a number of GF cosplays to be seen that day. Before the day was up, I managed to snap this pick of Mabel, and “Grunkle” Stan Pines.

__________

D23Cosplay2017-21

“DARLA!!!” Yes, the Australian dentist’s niece from Finding Nemo finally made an appearance at the Expo!  Poor Chuckles, though.

__________

D23Cosplay2017-22

It often amazes me how beloved Tangled is by a number of fans, and I was surprised to see several of the thugs from The Snuggly Duckling. Here, we have Hook Hand, and Atilla (with his cupcakes)!

__________

The evil Madam Medusa from The Rescuers, was seen on the floor taking Nero for a walk, with the Devil’s Eye Diamond in his mouth. “Brutus is at home,” she informed me, of her other pet crocodile.

__________

D23Cosplay2017-24

This costume mash-up I almost passed by. This girl is playing a combination of Lilo and Rey (from The Force Awakens). What caught my eye, was her BB-8, that is actually made up as Lilo’s doll, Scrump!

__________

D23Cosplay2017-12

“So, what’s the sitch?”
Hard to believe Kim Possible debuted on The Disney Channel 15 years ago! I also saw Shego walking around, but really…where’s Ron Stoppable!?

__________

D23Cosplay2017-26

There were a number of people needing wheelchairs or scooters to get around, and this guy took his scooter, and decided to become Captain Jack Sparrow, steering his own Black Pearl around the expo floor!

__________

D23Cosplay2017-30

No, it isn’t “Showgirl Gadget,” it’s Miss Kitty, who performed “Let Me Be Good To You” at the Rat Trap Pub, in The Great Mouse Detective.  Sadly, she was the only Great Mouse cosplay I saw, walking the expo floor.

__________

D23Cosplay2017-29

Like the 2013 Expo, I saved my favorite cosplay for last, and this year, it was this woman, dressed up as Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, from the Disney Parks! What was even more impressive, is that the train on her dress worked, and could complete a full trip all the way around her! Sadly, she didn’t win the Mousequerade contest’s big prize, but she did win for the “Inspired by Disney” sub-category! 

__________

And those were 30 of the many cosplays I saw at this year’s D23 Expo!  There were plenty of other amazing ones, such as a male version of Aurora from Sleeping Beauty, with a pink/blue splattered dress suit, Tinkerbell as a Rebel pilot from Star Wars, and even Vanellope Von Schweetz in her candy kart (that had to be specially taken through the security area!). There was even a woman dressed up as the pub thug Shorty from Tangledin his “cupid” getup.

If any of you readers are the cosplayers I snapped pics of, please leave a comment! Any tidbits about making your costumes, or stories about their creation, are always welcome!

Episode Review: Star vs the Forces of Evil (Season 3, Episode 1) – Return to Mewni/Moon the Undaunted

Wow…has it really been almost 5 months already!?

When last we left our inter-dimensional cohorts in Star vs the Forces of Evil, Toffee had officially returned, and was in possession of Ludo’s body. The Magic High Commission of Mewni had been taken out, and Queen Moon found herself facing off against one of the most powerful foes she had ever encountered!

Things were also in a precarious place for her daughter, Star Butterfly, who was forced to leave Earth, but not before confessing to her friend Marco Diaz, that she had a crush on him.

There was so much left open (even some threads from the first season!), that we pondered just what the world of the show would look like, when it returned to us. However, I don’t think any of us could have fathomed the Battle for Mewni event that was announced on the DisneyXD channel.

This event combined the first four episodes of the season into a ‘movie,’ that was released on July 15th, 2017. While I originally considered reviewing the episodes as if they were a movie, I felt it best to focus on each of them by episode, just as I’ve done with in previous reviews.

And so, let’s see what the first episode of Star vs the Forces of Evil’s third season, had to offer.

 __________

Starep31-1

Return to Mewni

After the events at the end of last season, Queen Moon is faced with several daunting tasks. These include reviving several members of the Magic High Commission and keeping her daughter Star safe. However, Star feels that they need to confront Toffee, and feels that her Mother is purposefully avoiding her duties.

Ever since seeing Star have some personal moments with her Mom in the Season 2 segment Game of Flags, I had been hoping for some more mother/daughter interaction, and that’s what we get here.

We see a bit of a personality clash between the two, notably in how Moon is struggling to do (what she thinks is) the right thing, and Star not quite seeming to fathom how dangerous things have become (possible shades of her Father).

There’s also a small scene with Marco and his parents, showing how they’re handling Star’s absence on Earth. It’s a nice little moment, before we are fully plunged into the more serious (and dangerous) world of Mewni.

While the story is integral to the Battle for Mewni storyline taking place, it felt a bit uneven, as we see Mother and Daughter struggle with their different viewpoints. We see Star falling back on wanting to use her wand multiple times, even though her Mom cautions her that the magic coursing through it is ‘tainted.’

A saving grace of the segment, comes near the end, when Moon begins to give more information regarding her past, causing Star to take pause. We’ve seen that some times she can respect her Mom, and there comes a rather touching moment between the two, as Star soon realizes some shocking information regarding her Mother, and Grandmother.

The segment is a nice lead-in to the following one, in that much like in her past, Moon is struggling with how to do the right thing…which I think almost any adult with a child can attest to.

Final Grade: B

Starep31-2

Best line from segment (said by Star Butterfly): Oh, looks like ol’ Hekapoo is gonna be an Auntie!”

__________

Starep31-3

Moon the Undaunted

“I did a lot of things you won’t be doing” – Moon Butterfly (Season 2, Episode 8)

This line always stuck out in my mind when I heard Moon say it, and it almost feels like it foreshadows this story, which is what (I assume) Moon tells Star, continuing the storyline from the previous segment.

After her mother is killed by a rogue monster general known as “The Lizard,” Princess Moon is thrust into the role of Mewni’s new Queen. However, as she grapples with the responsibilities and having to make grown-up decisions, she decides to try and seek help from an unlikely source: former Mewnian Queen, Eclipsa.

Like many, I’ve been somewhat fascinated by the unknown backstory regarding Star’s parents. A young River Johansen (aka Star’s future Dad) also figures into the story here, but in a very minimal fashion. However, it shows that even at this young of an age, it may have been a friendship between River and Moon, that led to their eventual marriage. We even get to see young River verbally showing support for Moon, as many of the ‘adults’ around them, doubt her competence.

What is also notable, is that part of the story’s plot actually answers a question I had, regarding issue 2 of the Deep Trouble comic series based around the series’ characters. However, given what is transpiring within this story, it’s safe to assume that comic issue’s story, takes place after the events we see here.

There are a number of other familiar faces that show up in this segment as well. I was very surprised to see Mina Loveberry in the story, though not as off-her-rocker as she was in the segment Starstruck last season. There’s also a new relation introduced named Count Mildrew, who seems to be rather ‘dramatic’ about certain things. We haven’t seen him depicted in the series yet, and one wonders if he may resurface further in the season.

Of course, one of the more exciting moments, comes when we finally get some time with Queen Eclipsa (voiced by Esme Bianco). Her appearance here feels like a subtle hint of things to come in this season. Eclipsa comes off as being a bit off-kilter, but somewhat serious. However, I can’t help but feel she is hiding something sinister (her cheekmarks are spades after all…which represent ‘death’ in fortune-telling).

With the story being an intriguing character study of a preteen Moon Butterfly, I will say the moments with her dealing with the monsters, feels like the weaker part of the story. Some may note that it doesn’t quite go the way we saw in the Grandma Room tapestry from the Into the Wand segment, but I feel this is the writers saying how history, often isn’t like how it is depicted by artists, after-the-fact.

It is also notable, seeing a number of little character moments the animators give young Moon. Notable is her curling up into a ball, or gripping the long strands of her hair in a nervous fashion, similar to some things that we’ve seen Star do on occasion when she is frustrated, or fearful.

By the end of the story, I couldn’t help but find myself feeling sorry for Moon. She had to grow up before she was ready, and assume an air of nobility and seriousness, that she seems to wear at times almost like a mask. It is also clear she may have made some mistakes during the events we see, leading to some scars that have affected her, well into her adult life.

Episodes that give us introspection into characters usually press my buttons, and this one is definitely one I intend to keep coming back to.

Final Grade: A-

Starep31-4

Best line from segment (said by Moon Butterfly): Oh, ‘apology meat.’ What am I going to do?”

__________

StarEp31-5

Best honorable mention line from episode (said by Star Butterfly, in Return to Mewni): “It’s behind the dog food Marco, stop being so dramatic! Why do you have to be such a cute…idiot?'”

With the first episode of Star’s third season, we have a pretty good two-segment lineup.

Return to Mewni helps show a comparison/contrast between Star and her mother, Moon. Mewni has become a much more dangerous place, as we see Moon struggling to make Star realize that magic may not be able to save them. That struggle is integral to the storytelling, but at times, it feels like it doesn’t flow as smoothly as it should.

Moon the Undaunted finally gives us a look into Moon’s past, one that is informative, yet sad. We see how Moon as a pre-teen, is thrust into a world of responsibility she’s not yet ready for, and makes some mistakes along the way. I hope this opens up the possibility of more backstory for Moon and her husband River, telling about their lives before Star was born.

__________

With 4 episode released at once, the episode reviews are going to be flying by over the next week or two. In the second episode, we’ll catch up with Ludo, following the events of the end of Season 2, in the story segment, Book Be Gone. Then, we’ll check in with Marco, as he journeys to Mewni, and encounters King Butterfly, in Marco and the King. See you back here soon, to discuss the next episode!

An Animated Dissection: Thoughts on “Porco Rosso,” 25 years later

In my Animated Dissection columns, I often strive to remember or make note of several films, that I often feel are worth discussing. Some can be well-known films, and some are those that have fallen by the wayside in favor of more popular pieces of work. There will also be some animated films that I just can’t stand…but fortunately, this one isn’t one of them!

Director Hayao Miyazaki may be known for some of his more popular films like My Neighbor Totoro and Princess Mononoke, but I have found that one of his more ‘subdued’ films, is one I have often found myself thinking about on several occasions.

__________

In the years following World War I, pilot Marco Pagot shied away from humanity, and became an anthropomorphic pig, assuming the moniker of Porco Rosso (aka “The Crimson Pig”).

Since then, he has used his piloting skills to become a freelance bounty hunter, flying across the Adriatic Sea, often encountering a number of colorful air pirates.

Porco1

Porco Rosso (“The Crimson Pig”)

When not bounty hunting, Porco usually heads off to partake in fine wine and good women. Sometimes, he can also be found at the Hotel Adriano, owned by his childhood friend Gina, one of the last connections he has to ‘the old days.’

Things change for Porco, when his plane is badly shot-up by an American pilot named Donald Curtis. With the last of his funds, Porco heads to Milan, and makes contact with a mechanic he knows named Piccolo. For rebuilding the plane, Piccolo assigns his granddaughter Fio to the duties.

Porco is at first against this, but with all the men Piccolo employs away, he is out of options. Porco gives in, with the hopes that the young girl’s work can help him best Curtis, when they meet again.

__________

Hayao Adapts Himself

Sometimes, some of Studio Ghibli’s films directed by Miyazaki, tend to be ‘happy accidents.’ That was the case with Porco.

Originally meant to be a 45-minute feature that would run on Japanese Airlines flights, it was to be an adaptation of Miyazaki’s 15-page watercolor manga, titled The Age of the Flying Boat.

Porco3

Top to Bottom: Panel from “The Age of the Flying Boat;” the same scene, as depicted in “Porco Rosso

The story is pretty simple, and one can see why it’s 3-part structure, may have been considered an easy piece to become a short feature for an in-flight movie.

Flying Boat serves as the underlying skeleton of the film, though one can definitely see differences in the pieces.

Notable is in the opening fight Porco has against some air pirates. In the manga, they kidnap a young woman, whereas in the film, the pirates kidnap a group of young schoolgirls, leading to a crazy romp as the pirates try to battle Porco in the air, and keep the rambunctious toddlers under control.

There also is the absence of Porco having a storied past, and Donald Curtis is known as Donald Chuck.

The end dogfight between Porco and Donald, also had to adhere to the limits of the printed page. Regarding the big battle, Miyazaki wrote: “If this were animation, I might be able to convey the grandeur of this life-or-death battle. But this is a comic. I have no choice but to rely on the imagination of you, good readers.”

It is notable that when pitching the film to the airlines, they were worried the aerial dogfights might get their proposal denied, but were surprised when the company said had no problems saying ‘yes’ to the material!

Porco2

The multi-language opening of the film.

As production carried on, the animation and costs proved to be a bit more cumbersome than originally thought. That was when producer Toshio Suzuki, felt they should actually turn Porco into a theatrically released film.

Even though the deal for the film had been changed from it’s original intent, the airline still would be named as an investor in the film, and would still get to run Porco on their flights. Word is, the deal is the reason for the film’s unusual opening, where a number of little green pig-creatures (a design created by Hayao himself!), ‘type’ out a summary of the film, in several different languages.

Porco4

The real-life Marco Pagot.

One could also assume that Miyazaki made up Porco’s human identity, but the name Marco Pagot is actually an homage to a real person Hayao knows (see picture on right)!

The two crossed paths when working on the anime series, Sherlock Hound, of which Pagot (an Italian animator) wrote a number of the episode’s scripts, and Miyazaki directed several of the episodes. Word is that Marco’s wife Gi, may have also inspired the naming of Porco’s friend, Gina.

__________

A Different Kind of Anime

Compared to the other films Miyazaki has directed, Porco is the only film of his where it’s lead is not a young individual. Instead, Porco is a person who was once an optimist, until war and the world disillusioned him, turning him into the ‘creature’ we see.

Some could almost see the film as being in the same vein as Herge’s Tintin comics, or even Steven Spielberg and George Lucas’ Raiders of the Lost Ark, in how it intermingles action, drama, and at times, comedy.

Porco at times, sounds a bit like how George Lucas originally envisioned Indiana Jones, where the professor of archaeology would be a dashing playboy when he wasn’t off searching for lost relics. Though much like how we saw Indy portrayed in his series of films, we are never privy to Porco’s ‘flings,’ and simply follow him through his sea-based adventures.

Porco5Though Porco makes an okay living, it should be noted that a number of air pirates we see, are just as hard-up for funds as he is. When the Mamma Aiuto gang loses the tail on their plane due to a dogfight with Porco, their finances are only able to get them a replacement tail (see picture on right), but not enough money to even paint it, making it’s silvery form stick out like a sore thumb.

Porco himself is also one of the quieter leads that Miyazaki had written up to that point. Often observant and contemplative, he probably speaks the least of all the main characters the director has had. However, it is rather interesting to see how much expression Miyazaki’s animators get out of the minimal movements he has. Plus, for the majority of the film, his eyes are hidden behind the dark shades of his glasses.

Much like how real-world events shaped the work being done on Howl’s Moving Castle’  almost a decade later, events in the area during the 90’s, where the film was taking place, influenced it’s storyline.

When Yugoslavia broke up in the early 90’s, this added an extra tinge of ‘reality’ to the film. Whereas the rise of fascism across the Adriatic in Flying Boat was only hinted at in the adapted manga, we get a small taste of what’s going on in the film, when Porco comes ashore to Dubrovnik.

Paying off the loan on his plane, the bank employee tries to get him to purchase war bonds, but he simply responds that that is something the “humans” can do.

After this, he visits a small shop to pick up some more weaponry and ammunition. Word of a governmental change is on the mouths of several of the shop’s workers, but Porco claims he has no intention to fight in another war.

Porco13

Porco at the Ghibli Museum.

Also of great interest, is the ‘curse’ surrounding his transformation into a pig-headed man. After all these years, Miyazaki has never given an explanation for the ‘curse,’ often leaving the mystery to the audience, to unravel in their own minds.

Even the face of Porco with his dark glasses, is an image that Miyazaki likes to ‘doodle,’ just as much as his imagery of Totoro. Porco even shows up at the Ghibli Museum’s cafe in Mitaka, Japan. Known as the Straw Hat Cafe, Porco’s head appears over the cafe’s chalkboard menu, but instead of his aviation goggles, he wears a straw hat.

__________

Women in Control

With his previous features, Miyazaki largely focused on female leads. From Nausicaa to Kiki, his girls and women often found their optimism tested in the face of adversity, or events that were oftentimes foreign to them.

Though Porco is our lead for this film, Miyazaki makes sure that the girls and women that we see around him, are often some of the more level-headed characters.

Of those we see, the characters of Gina and Fio act as a sort of yin-yang

Gina was a former childhood friend of Porco’s, and was married to one of their friends. However, when we see Gina, she is a widow, entertaining and running her hotel in the Adriatic Sea. She is self-sufficient, and though it seems she may pine for Porco at times, she is not one to just run off with any man.

Porco8

This is notable when Donald Curtis finds her in her garden, and in a rather extravagant, “American” way, proposes to her…which leads to Gina laughing heartily, as she hears him claim that he intends to become President one day!

While Gina is the older woman who has lived life and matured, Fio is the young girl, the optimist with unending energy, that often overpowers some of Porco’s own misgivings.

Notable is when Piccolo declares that she will be doing the new design work on Porco’s plane. Porco is at first against this, but she manages to convince him with her enthusiasm, as well as her ‘plussing’ Porco’s plane. Much like the disconnect between some generations, Porco doesn’t wholly understand a lot of what Fio is doing to his plane, but he trusts her enough to figure that the alterations she pushes him to approve, are going to help him out in the long run.

Porco10

Another notable scene comes later on, when Fio and Porco encounter the air pirates, who first intend to destroy Porco’s rebuilt plane, until Fio reminds them of the honor of being ‘flying boat pilots.’

Porco11

Women also become the only workforce available to Porco and Piccolo, as a number of men have left Milan because of the Great Depression, leaving Piccolo’s relations to carry on the rebuilding effort.

__________

Beautiful Imagery

Several of Miyazaki’s works reference Europe, and the locales of this film, play out in such a way, that a few of it’s panoramic landscapes may get stuck in your head.

Porco6

Most notable to me, is one where Porco decides to head off to Milan. as a Mandolin strums a melody, we see the red plane, but far away, as an enormous mass of clouds seems to dwarf it!

The film at times seems to act as an eye-opening travelogue to the Adriatic,  given all the scenery we visit. Even Porco’s island hideaway looks like the perfect place to get some peace and quiet.

One of the film’s more ethereal moments, comes when Porco tells of a near-death experience he had, near the end of the first World War.

Porco7

Seeing a streak of white high in the air, it soon turned out that it was a ‘stream’ of planes, (thousands of them!), and of which Porco soon saw his comrades who had perished in a recent aerial battle, rise to become a part of!

The scene is one of those that seems to ‘haunt’ my memories. It is a vision I have never seen committed to film before: the sight of numerous vintage aircraft, flying in a neverending stream. Are they going somewhere? Are they cursed to forever circle above us, never to be seen? We’ll never know.

__________

An Ode to older animation

While the Ghibli style is present in this film. it should be noted that it seems the animation stylings of the time, can be glimpsed in a few places.

Most noticeable is in a black-and-white cartoon Porco sees, under cover of talking with a former Italian Air Force comrade.

Porco12

The short seems to combine a number of different animation stylings, with it’s characters first seen flying in planes, which may be a reference to the first Mickey Mouse short, Plane Crazy. It’s lead characters seem to be a sort of loose-limbed rabbit character, and a large pig who attempts to abduct the heroine. This could also be some form of homage to Mickey Mouse, and his first nemesis, Peg-Leg Pete.

The heroine of the short, appears to be an amalgamation of Fleischer Studios’ depictions of Olive Oyl from their Popeye shorts, as well as with her ‘glamorous’ facial features, a mix of Betty Boop.

The leader of the Mamma Aiuto gang also may be influenced by Popeye, with his buff physique and spiky beard, he bears a passing resemblance to Popeye’s nemesis, Bluto.

Porco9.jpg

It could also be said that the final fight between Curtis and Porco, may also be a small homage to the rock-em/sock-em fights that took place between Popeye and Bluto.

__________

Music of a Bygone Era

When it comes to music, Jo Hisaishi’s score for Porco, is one of the more journey-filled pieces he’s done for his friend’s films.

For the Mamma Aiuto gang and some of the other air pirates, Hisaishi breaks out the brass instruments, making it sound like most of what they are doing, is little more than an ‘aerial circus.’

When the action ramps up, so do the strings, and even at times, the woodwinds. A notable piece is when Porco and Fio escape Milan, as the Italian authorities attempt to apprehend him. It’s a tense scene of escaping through the city’s waterways, with a Shostakovich-like piano melody that plays over the scene.

Throughout the film, a mixture of piano and strings often punctuates Porco’s quieter moments, a trace of wistful melancholy flowing through some scenes. A piece dealing with Porco and Gina sharing time at her hotel, also has the faintest hints of the song “As Time Goes By” to it, as if the composer tried to throw in a little homage to Casablanca.

Fio also gets a theme, with woodwinds being the major motif. Her piece is a bit more ‘playful,’ and often enhances a number of scenes where the focus shifts to her.

Notable to me, is the closing song for the film, titled Once in Awhile, Talk of the Old Days. The track has a wistful melody, starting and ending with piano, before eventually building to a plateau with a number of strings, sounding like wind skimming across the mists of time.

I recall going back to my hometown in Iowa 9 years ago for my high school reunion, and the song seemed to sum up my feelings, seeing people I last remembered as teenagers, back when the world seemed more optimistic. The track played in my ears, as the bus took me out of a place I could recall more wistfully from youth, but had changed over time.

That seems to largely be the theme of Hisaishi’s overall score: music that feels like you’re looking back on a time and place. The memories are there, but it’s all a bit hazy from the decades that have passed.

__________

When one compares Porco Rosso to some of Miyazaki’s more ‘popular’ works, it often seems to easily get lost in the shuffle. Personally, I often feel that I and a select few people, are the only ones who have some love for the film.

One of the things that is most notable, is that it is one of Miyazaki’s shortest films, but the pacing of the film is so good, that it often feels like it is over too soon! I can’t recall ever being bored once during the entire film.

In researching this blog post, I was looking for further information in regards to Miyazaki’s remembrances, or comments following the release of the film.

Unlike some directors who seem to have fond memories of previous films, Miyazaki rarely seems to gush or hold any of his past works in high praise. This is notable in watching the documentary, In the Kingdoms of Dreams and Madness. One of the women in the documentary makes references to Kiki’s Delivery Service, as well as Porco RossoPorco is brought up, given that the film that was being worked on at the time (titled, The Wind Rises), also deals with flying machines.

However, when he remembers his older work, Miyazaki merely calls it “a foolish film.”

An interview for Animerica Magazine in 1993, also had him feeling that the film flew in the face of his feelings, that (in his own words), “animation is for children.”

It should be noted that a few years ago, rumor surfaced of a possible sequel to the film. Studio Ghibli is not a studio known for sequelizing, so this news was met with some caution.

A rumored title was Porco Rosso: The Last Sortie, and would have featured Porco taking to the air once again, this time as an aged pilot, during the Spanish Civil War.

No concept art or anything more was ever shown of this, and with the current status of Studio Ghibli seemingly closed off from doing anything other than an upcoming film project with Miyazaki, it is possible that The Last Sortie may join the ranks of many other projects the famed animation director considered, but never worked on.

Personally, I found the end of Porco Rosso had a decent closure to it’s story. Some loose ends were tied up, but other mysteries remained, for one of Hayao Miyazaki’s pieces, that feels like a good memory, I often enjoy coming back to.

Pretty good work for a film that was originally meant to play to weary businessmen.

__________

Porco Rosso is a product of the early ’90s, of my world views being challenged by real-world events. It’s also the product of my resolve to overcome the challenge and build a stronger way of life, a stronger way of looking at things.” – Hayao Miyazaki, from an interview conducted by Takashi Oshiguchi in 1993, for Animerica Magazine)

__________