Tag Archive | Disney

An Animated Dissection: The Reluctant Villainess Sadira, from Disney’s “Aladdin”

When it came to films released in the early 1990’s from Walt Disney Pictures, the studio really seemed to look at their 1992 feature film Aladdin as a major cash-cow.

Following it’s release in the winter of 1992, the film became the first animated feature to gross over $200 million at the domestic box-office (largely buoyed on by Robin Williams’ supporting role as the Genie of the lamp).

The studio had had some success expanding on The Little Mermaid in television form (albeit set before the events of the film), and seemed to think they could have similar luck with Aladdin. And so, in the fall of 1994, the film’s characters found themselves appearing in the company’s new television series!

New locales were introduced, as well as a host of new characters. In terms of villains for the series, most seemed pretty set in their ways, except one: a young woman named Sadira.

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Much like Aladdin’s introduction in the 1992 film, the character of Sadira is first seen evading Razoul and the Palace Guards in her introductory episode, Strike up the Sand.

Sadira-1Seeing her leaping and jumping to evade the guards, Aladdin sees a kindred spirit in the girl, and steps forward to cover for her. Unluckily for Al, his kindness and good looks instantly cause Sadira to develop a crush on him. However, she is soon saddened to hear that she has just been saved by Princess Jasmine’s future husband.

Sometime later, Sadira accidentally stumbles onto a hidden chamber under the city. The abandoned locale turns out to be the inner sanctum, of the long-forgotten Witches of the Sand. After going through a number of magic scrolls in the sanctum, Sadira soon gets to work learning the ancient magic, and thinks it can get her what she desires most.

Sadira-2Using a magical amulet, she conjures up a sand creature and commands it to bring Jasmine to her. it is notable that the sand creature tells Sadira that he could easily ‘smash’ Jasmine (destroying things brings him much joy!), but Sadira refuses to allow this, showing she is not as vengeful as her creation.

We soon see Sadira hasn’t fully thought through her magical actions. Once she has Jasmine kidnapped, Aladdin and the others show up, and the sand creature wants to smash them as well. Sadira isn’t sure what to do, leading to the creature getting angry at her indecisiveness, and taking the amulet away from her. Without Sadira’s control, it sets out to finish them all off.

Needless to say, Sadira feels remorse for getting everyone caught up in this mess, but Aladdin helps them formulate a plan to get back the amulet. Once it is destroyed and the sand creature disintegrates, Sadira apologizes for her actions.Sadira-3

Aladdin claims that while he likes her, his real love is for Jasmine. Jasmine even shows a willingness to forgive Sadira, and invites her to come to the Palace. However, the young woman declines, claiming she wants some time to be alone.

After they leave, she looks through some more sand-magic scrolls, and finds one about ‘shifting the sands of time,’ proving that she still harbors thoughts to try and snare Aladdin.

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Shortly after her introductory episode, Sadira attempted to get Aladdin again…this time, with a more intriguing sand spell.

Sadira-5In the episode Sandswitch, she uses a special “memory sand,” allowing her to switch places with Jasmine, making everyone believe Sadira to be the Princess of Agrabah, and Jasmine a lowly ‘street rat.’ However, the spell only works on Genie and the humans of the city, leaving Iago, Abu, and Rajah as the only ones who realize what’s happened.

It is notable that even though she is again trying to fulfill her own wants and desires, Sadira continues to not be totally vindictive towards others. When she realizes Rajah did not fall under the sand spell, she decides to use some magic on him, but apologizes for what she is trying to do. Fortunately for Jasmine’s pet tiger, Abu and Iago help him to escape.

Sadira-6There’s even a little ‘continuity payback’ Sadira gets, when it comes to the head of the Royal Guards, named Razoul.  In Strike up the Sand, Razoul was leading the guards in trying to capture her. Here, he is made to bow and give in to her demands. They also make a joke about his name, as Sadira keeps confusing it with other things that sound familiar to it.

In the end, Aladdin and Jasmine’s love is strong enough to break Sadira’s spell. However, even though she’d been thwarted a second time, she wasn’t ready to give up just yet.

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Sadira next appeared in the episode, Dune Quixote.

Running into Aladdin in the marketplace again, she invites him back to her place for some pomegranate juice. Aladdin tries to politely decline, but when Sadira claims that Jasmine “has him on a short leash,” Aladdin won’t let this slap against his masculinity stand!

Sadira-7Once at her place, Sadira quickly puts Aladdin under a sand-spell, wherein she makes him believe he is a Dragon Slayer, who must ride forth to vanquish a dragon, rescue his beloved Princess, and give her a kiss.

However, before Sadira can finish her spell (with her as the beautiful princess in the story), Jasmine and the others show up to stop her. Despite Genie’s protests, Jasmine has him use his ‘genie-magic’ to stop Sadira’s ‘sand-magic.’ This altercation messes up the spell, leaving Abu trapped as a monkey-type horse, and Aladdin still believing he has to slay a dragon.

Sadira claims that because of the spell, the final parts of the story have to play out, which means Aladdin has to slay a dragon and kiss her. Jasmine doesn’t believe her, but thanks to his magical knowledge, Genie confirms that Sadira is correct.

Sadira-8As the story goes on, we see Sadira and Jasmine put aside their animosity towards each other, and try to get Aladdin and Abu back to normal. With Genie’s help, they manage to whip up a false dragon, and upon ‘defeating it,’ Aladdin kisses Sadira (much to Jasmine’s ire).

Once everything is fixed, Sadira apologizes to Jasmine for how she has acted, and it seems she is willing to give up on her obsession over Aladdin.

The episode ends with the two girls going off to peruse the marketplace, leaving Aladdin confused as to why he kissed Sadira (with Iago eager to spill the beans!).

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Now that it seemed that Sadira had given up her obsession with Aladdin, the show’s main cast (almost) seemed willing to hang out with her.

Sadira-9This is revealed in the episode, Witch Way Did She Go. However, while Jasmine seems to believe Sadira has changed, Iago and Aladdin still have some doubts about her. Things don’t get better when Sadira serves her friends some soup, and her sub-par cooking skills accidentally turn Iago into an hourglass.

The spell eventually wears off, but the group grows more suspicious when a large sand snake menaces Iago and Abu!

Sadira is immediately the prime suspect, but Jasmine rushes to her defense. Unfortunately, her attempts to explain why the others suspect Sadira, ends up sounding like she’s accusing Sadira.

Sadira-10Angered at being accused, Sadira storms out of the palace and returns to her sanctum, only to find three ancient sand witches there (the ones who conjured the snake). The trio (Shakata, Razili, and Farida) have returned to their former home from The Realm of Mists, and are intent on taking control of Agrabah, and the Seven Deserts!

They attempt to get her to help them, but Sadira rushes back to the palace, to warn the others. Unfortunately, she overhears them once again claiming she’s bad, and returns to the witches, seemingly willing to help them take over the kingdom.

The others return to Sadira’s place (intending to apologize), but find the witches at work! Surprisingly, Sadira stops them from attacking the trio. After a scuffle that almost stops the witches, Sadira recommends that Aladdin and his friends be banished to the Realm of Mists.

The three witches open a portal to the ancient realm, but Sadira attempts to double-cross them! Razili and Farida end up being shoved in easily, but Shakata grabs hold of Sadira, attempting to drag her down with them!

Sadira-11Aladdin and the others rush to her aid, but Sadira falls into the mists below, and the pit disappears!

Everyone feels remorse for ever doubting Sadira…but a few moments later, she manages to escape, sealing off the witches for good! The others quickly embrace her, and it seems all traces of doubt about her character are gone.

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After Witch Way Did She Go, Sadira never appeared again on the series. However, like many characters in the show, she was given a small ‘curtain call’ appearance in 1996’s direct-to-video film, Aladdin and the King of Thieves.

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During the scene where Aladdin and Jasmine walk past a number of guests, one can see Sadira dressed in pink (see screenshot above).

While her character was not as memorable as the show’s more villainous characters like Mozenrath or Mirage, Sadira was definitely noticeable for being a very “gray-area” character.

Most of the time, she did things out of selfish desire, but it was interesting to see that she still held some moral principles. A good example is that she could have had Jasmine offed in one episode, but she was never that vindictive.

My guess is that after four episodes, the showrunners felt there was little more they could do with her, story-wise. It did feel like three episodes was enough for them to play out the “magical stalker” characterization (I’ve seen some anime series that would gladly stretch that type of character arc out over multiple seasons).

sadira-13Over the years, I have questioned the scene where she falls into the Realm of Mists, wondering if they had originally meant for her to “disappear” from the series forever in this manner. It would have been a very dramatic end, given the others realizing how wrong they were to judge her as they did. Plus, in several episodes, the showrunners actually did have a few characters die!

Sadira’s storylines also expanded on the series’ ‘lore,’ by introducing ‘sand-magic.’ What Genie can do was soon classified as ‘genie-magic,’ and it was soon established that to mix the two magic-types, was very dangerous (as demonstrated in Dune Quixote).

sadira-14Unlike Linda Larkin’s more ‘regal’ vocal tones as Jasmine, Sadira’s voice had a more bubbly, all-American girl vibe, courtesy of actress Kellie Martin (see right).

Most probably know Martin’s voice work from A Goofy Movie, where she voiced Max’s crush, Roxanne. She brings a bit of that tone to Sadira, but she gets to play a wider range of emotions as Sadira.

Of course, Sadira wasn’t the first reluctant villain the studio created. There was also the character of Bushroot in the Darkwing Duck TV series. After being turned into a plant-duck hybrid, Bushroot would sometimes be involved in evil schemes, but most of the time, he just wanted a friend, or to be accepted.

By the end of Aladdin, it seemed being accepted was all Sadira wanted as well. It is a shame that they never found a way to bring her back and assist the group with her sand-magic on another adventure.

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Book Review: Star Vs. the Forces of Evil The Magic Book of Spells

While I am a huge fan of behind-the-scenes material and making-of books, I’m also a big fan of things that are meant to be materials from a series or show (that is, if the items are done right).

With the television series Star vs the Forces of Evil, creator Daron Nefcy and some of her associates, first attempted to give their fans a “tangible” item the year 2017, with Star and Marco’s Guide to Mastering All Dimensions. The book provided some insights by Princess Star Butterfly and her friends, along with some tidbits regarding Star’s Magic Book of Spells.

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Scene from the book’s first appearance in the Star vs the Forces of Evil segment, Monster Arm.

Introduced in the show’s first season, the book of spells has been handed down through generations of Mewni Princesses and Queens. It was a place where they could put down some of their own thoughts, and provide information about new magic spells they had come up with.

Also contained within the book, is a little blue man named Glossaryck of Terms. One would assume that he would be there almost like a helper, but most of the time, all he seemed to do (according to Marco Diaz),  was “spout cryptic remarks and eat pudding.”

Though it is not-to-scale or as thick as the version seen on the show, Daron Nefcy, Dominic Bisignano, Amber Benson, and Devin Taylor have attempted to create a version of the book that reveals more about Mewni’s past…well, as much as is recorded by the women who ruled over the kingdom.

The main focus overall, is on the numerous princesses and queens that have come before Star Butterfly.  Up until now, we only had a few names revealed to us from the television show, but this book quickly fills us in on the others we were less privy to.

Like many royal lines lines in our realm,  Mewni’s has some interesting rulers, and a few “duds” here and there. Some of the entries are real page-turners, and others made my head droop as I struggled to stay interested. The book also gives information on several spells Star Butterfly has used, and just who in her past lineage, created them.

On the show, it was mentioned that the inside of the book is “a complete disorganized mess.” Of course, when dealing with a book for people to read from cover-to-cover in our dimension, it probably was made clear to Nefcy and her crew that there would need to be some semblance of order. However, the book does stick to it’s television counterpart, by having the table of contents in the center.

For those like me who were intrigued by the strange culture of Mewni, there was one thing I was hoping the book would finally do: blow the lid off of the strange symbols we’ve seen all throughout the kingdon on television.

While the book does not provide us with a Mewni-to-English alphabet, it does give enough information to allow the more astute readers, to decipher the symbols if they look through the book enough (or, just go online and find the people who have already figured it out!).

That ability for the readers to also interact with the book, seems to be something that creator Daron Nefcy prizes greatly. There was a bit of this in the last Star book she did, but here, that reader/book interaction is on display in a number of ways.

Readers are encouraged to cut out a few things here and there. Plus, it is assumed that the reader is now the book’s new owner, and is encouraged to personalize it, along with designing what their magic wand looks like, and creating their own log and spells.

The Book of Spells at over 256 pages, is almost on par with another show-oriented book that Disney Press released several years ago: Journal 3 from the hit television series, Gravity Falls.

Much like that book, Spells manages to take a tome that is well-known to the show’s viewers, and add some things that the die-hard fans are yearning to know about, as well as be an intriguing find, or a gateway to those who may not have heard of the series.

Personally, I was hoping for a bit more information written in the book from the numerous owners. At times, it feels like some sections were truncated due to the page-count.

Even so, I do feel that most fans of Star vs the Forces of Evil will enjoy what Disney Press has put out, and may bring in some new fans, who happen to come across the book.

 

Audio Commentary Commentation: Who Framed Roger Rabbit

I think for many people, there are some films they saw in theaters, that just make them unable to forget ‘their first time.’

I was not of age to see Star Wars when it was released in 1977, but a decade later, there was one film I saw on the big-screen, that just blew my 8-year-old mind.

At the time, Who Framed Roger Rabbit’s creation was a risky venture between Walt Disney Pictures and Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment company, that combined animated characters within a live-action film-noir story.

The production was a neverending headache for director Robert Zemeckis. Having just come off of the whirlwind production of Back to the FutureRoger would be a production that would take several years, and be made in a number of different locales around the world.

When it was all over, many breathed a sigh of relief when the film came out in 1988, and became one of that year’s biggest hits.

Growing up, I was often on the lookout for anything associated with the film’s production. While a making-of book was never released, there were some other items that filled me in. From a making-of article in the special effects magazine Cinefex, to the DVD release in 2003. This release not only gave images and a making-of special, but something I am always game for: an audio commentary!

The commentary featured Robert Zemeckis (director), Frank Marshall (producer), Steve Starkey (associate producer), Jeff Price (screenwriter), Peter Seaman (screenwriter), and Ken Ralston (the film’s visual effects supervisor). Each of the men in the special audio track, talks about their experience on the film, and given the film is over 30 years old this year, I thought I’d highlight a few of the things they talked about.

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Historical Ties to the Past

Though it isn’t a facet of all of his films, director Robert Zemeckis seems to enjoy playing around in the past, and sometimes having his film’s characters influence what was happening, or encounter past historical events.

His debut film I Wanna Hold Your Hand had a number of fictional teen characters trying to see the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show. For the film 1941 (which he and his friend Bob Gale wrote for Steven Spielberg), their fictional characters encountered real-life figures in a panic on the streets of Los Angeles.

Some may assume the encounter with animated characters in 1947 Hollywood was the big connection to the past, but buried within the film, was a connection to a real-life event that affected the city of Los Angeles’ transportation system:

Peter Seaman: Actually, the Red Car (Trolley) part of the movie came from-I don’t know if you remember Bob (Zemeckis), but a meeting with you and (Steven) Spielberg. Jeff (Price) and I were in there, and Spielberg said there was no reason to make this movie just to match animation/live-action. There had to be a real story so, we came up with the Red Car plot, which is a real one, where the tire companies and auto companies conspired to get rid of the trolley cars in Los Angeles, because the car was the future.

Robert Zemeckis: That’s right, and all the freeways in Los Angeles run right along the same routes as the Red Car tracks.

When it comes to the film’s plot, most people remember Judge Doom’s plan to destroy Toontown so he could open up new land for a freeway and commercial growth, but the Red Car plot almost gets buried within the film.

It’s briefly mentioned in regards to the Cloverleaf Industries billboard (the company Doom owns) being hoisted above the Red Car depot across from Eddie’s office, to the judge admitting to Valiant that he purchased the trolley system, to ‘dismantle it.’

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A Question (mark) about the title

To some that saw the film, there probably was some confusion over it’s title. It seemed to be asking a question, and yet the title did not have a proper punctuation mark at the end.

Naturally, one of the filmmakers brought this up in conversation.

Steve Starkey: Why was there no question mark after the title of this movie, Bob (Zemeckis)?

Robert Zemeckis: Because everyone said that you don’t put question marks at-I mean, we looked at it. Yeah, it didn’t look right.

Peter SeamanThat was the most-asked question in our press interview.

Robert Zemeckis: Yeah, interesting.

Peter SeamanMade ‘us’ look bad…”the writers.”

Seaman is only joking of course. Throughout the commentary, the writers and the production crew have plenty of laughs together, and this bit gave them a chuckle.

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Missed Humor

Like some comedians doing stand-up, the film had a number of jokes and gags that just flew over the heads of the viewers.

In one scene, Eddie tells his girlfriend Dolores to go downtown, and check on the probate regarding Marvin Acme’s will. Co-writers Price and Seaman actually found a crazy way to give the explanation, a little life:

Peter Seaman: Here was the ‘semi-splainer’ scene where we had to describe the probate of the will and all that stuff. It was really dry and everything, so, we were just joking around in the office, and Steven Spielberg was in the office with us.

And he said, “Yeah, you got to explain that probate so people understand it.”

So, that’s when we said, “well, how about we say, ‘yeah, probate, my Uncle Thumper used to take big pills for his probate.’ ‘No, prostate, you idiot!'”

We were just joking around, but he said, “No, you gotta put that in the movie!”

While the joke gave Spielberg a good laugh, it got just a few chuckles at the film’s premiere. However, co-writer Jeff Price laughs on the commentary, claiming that now that everyone who saw the film has gotten older, they’d probably understand it better.

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Stop the Film!

When the film wasn’t being about Eddie Valiant trying to clear Roger’s name, it would often get very rowdy and very noisy, given the toons and what they were doing.

Much of the film showed Valiant being very annoyed with Roger’s antics, with only a scant few moments where the rabbit seemed willing to slow down, and be a little more serious.

One such moment came right after the madcap chase in Benny the Cab, where Roger and Eddie hide out in a movie theater:

Robert Zemeckis: Now this is-I think this is just really great lighting, on the toon here. This is great, and great animation and-Simon Wells animated this and I think, if I’m not mistaken, it’s the longest continuous animation scene in the movie. This shot here with Roger, and what’s nice about the animation in this is it’s just so subtle, and restrained-

Frank Marshall: And always ‘alive.’

Robert Zemeckis: And alive, yeah.

Ken Ralston: Remember this-Steven Spielberg came in and said, “I don’t care what you have to do, stop the movie if you have to, but put the rabbit and the detective in the same scene, and let them talk to each other.”

It’s notable that Zemeckis shoots this scene all in one long take, pushing in on Eddie as he tells Roger what happened to his brother, Teddy Valiant.

This is often a signature of Zemeckis’ directing, where he will often do a long camera-take, without cutting away. One can see this in the opening scene of Back to the Future, when the camera shows us all of Doc Brown’s garage-laboratory, without cutting away.

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Three Films in One

Looking back at Zemeckis’ filmography, one can see that in several of his works, he likes to mash together a number of genres. This was notably with Back to the Future, given it wasn’t just a science fiction film, but a comedy, a drama, and much more.

Near the end of the film as the commentators watch a complex scene, Zemeckis sums up just what he and the film crew were up against in putting the film together:

Robert Zemeckis: It’s three gigantic movies in one. You had a 48-minute animation movie which is, just a little under what an animated feature runs. You had a live-action period movie, with giant stunts and giant sets and vehicles and guns and all that stuff, and you had this huge special effects movie where there were, 1500 composite shots.

This same sentiment of combining things is mentioned throughout the commentary. Another notable moment is in regards to Alan Silvestri’s score, which managed to be a mixture of period-piece film noir musical cues, and the kind of crazy music as seen in animated cartoons of the time. Oftentimes, the tempo changes of the music would be too much for the film’s orchestra.

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The commentary at times does have a lot of people talking over each other, but the information gleaned from it is still something I enjoy coming back to.

Notable are some areas where the commentators discuss a number of ideas that came up during production, that were ultimately dropped.

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LJN toys image, showing a Judge Doom figure with a vulture accessory.

At one point, Baby Herman was considered to be the bad guy, and another time, Judge Doom was to have an animated pet vulture (named Voltaire), that was dropped when the filmmakers had to make cuts due to time and money.

The fact that Voltaire was part of the early drafts, could explain why when a line of Roger Rabbit “bendy” figures were released in 1988, Doom came with a vulture in his packaging.

There is even talk about the first, early test-screening of the film. Because much of the film was unfinished at the time, and since the audience had no clue just how the film was supposed to ‘work,’ the test-screening ended horribly.

Of course, looking back on the film all these years later, Roger Rabbit is still surprisingly well-done, given the time-crunch and mad dash to finish it. It ended up being director Robert Zemeckis’ third hit in a row (following Romancing the Stone and Back to the Future), and paved the way for a few Roger Rabbit cartoon shorts. However, licensing snafus between Disney and Amblin Entertainment (Spielberg’s production company) soon sidelined Roger’s career. Talk of a sequel or prequel has come up over the years (and test-footage of a CG-animation test was leaked some time ago), but it seems that it will forever be a remnant from our past.

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Scene from a Roger Rabbit sequel pitch. In this scene, Roger is a toon-shaded, 3D model.

However, bits of the film are still alive in the Disney theme parks. Several of the film’s props are still sitting around Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Walt Disney World, and on special occasions, Roger (and sometimes Jessica) can be seen in the various theme parks as meet-and-greet characters. Plus, the film’s characters live on in Roger Rabbit’s Car-toon Spin, a “dark ride” attraction located in Mickey’s Toontown at Disneyland.

In the thirty years since the film was released, we’ve seen a number of live-action/animation films like Cool World and Looney Tunes: Back in Action, attempt to do what Robert Zemeckis’ film did. However, none of the attempts I’ve seen, even comes close to topping Roger. Today, it would be ‘easy’ to make a film like this, but the blood, sweat and tears that went into making that 1988 film, helps make it a true work of art in my opinion.

Movie Musings: Remembering ‘Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,’ 10 Years Later

Inspired by the Saturday Matinee Serials like Flash Gordon and Commando Cody that he saw as a boy, George Lucas would combine his memories of those shows with mythology and “the hero’s journey,” to create one of the most pop-culturally loved (and loathed) space-adventure series of all time.

Though not much of a storyteller, George was largely a man of ideas, and on a Hawaiian beach with Steven Spielberg in 1977, he shared another serial-inspired idea with his famous friend.

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L to R: Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and Harrison Ford on the set of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

While Steven had been trying to get the family of Albert Broccoli to allow him to direct a James Bond film, George claimed he had an idea that was “better than Bond.”

Lucas’ concept of an archaeologist/professor intrigued Steven, and the two directors made a pact to do a trilogy of films around the character.

With Harrison Ford cast as the lead, Indiana Jones made his whip-cracking debut in 1981 in Raiders of the Lost Ark, and quickly became a worldwide hit. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom followed in 1984, and while a much darker film than it’s predecessor, it still turned a profit. Five years later, the trilogy was completed, with Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

However, even though he had created an entertaining action-film trilogy, the public wanted more. Following the release of Crusade, Steven would often be asked, “when are you making another Indiana Jones movie?”

The same was asked of Harrison Ford and George Lucas, and after a reunion with the cast and crew, almost everyone who had been involved seemed okay with doing another film…except Steven.

In a making-of excerpt, Spielberg explained that he was ‘the hold-out,’ and felt the scene of the characters riding off into the sunset at the end of Last Crusade, was a fitting closure to Dr Jones’ story on film.

In the end, Steven was coaxed along by his friends, and after a decade or so of prep-work, Henry Jones Jr, would return to the big-screen.

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Aliens…why’d it have to be aliens?

In the early years of the 21st century, it was commonplace for many to bash filmmaker George Lucas as an out-of-touch creator. His Special Edition releases of The Star Wars Trilogy had brought fans back to theaters, but purists were angered at the changes he had made. The release of the Star Wars prequels from 1999-2005, further cemented fan-hatred, when Lucas seemed unwilling to fulfill the words of what Obi-Wan Kenobi had told Luke Skywalker, in A New Hope.

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L to R: Producers Kathleen Kennedy and George Lucas, on the set of Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

When it came to Indiana Jones, his adventures of fighting Nazi’s and trekking through strange-and-exotic locales in the first three films, fit into Lucas’ ode to the serials and the time period of the 1930’s. While Indy would weather the years and rarely change his ways, audiences would soon find that the world of the 50’s, was a very different place.

With the defeat of Hitler and the end of WWII, there was now a new war…a Cold War, and it involved the country of Russia. With Crystal Skull‘s 1957 time period, the film attempted to tie together real-life elements, such as the fear of Communism, the Red Scare, as well as the birth of The Atomic Age.

There was also a change in the adventure-film aesthetics. In Lucas’ mind, the concept of 1950’s B-movies, would influence Indy’s 1950’s adventure, much in the same way that the 1930’s serial had done with the first three films.

And, unlike artifacts that were a bit more tangible to the common person in western civilization (such as the Ark of the Covenant or The Holy Grail), the mcguffin for the new film, would be a bit more of an ‘abstract’ object, akin to the Sankara stones from Temple of Doom.

The new item, was a crystal skull, in the shape of an elongated alien’s head, that possessed psychic powers.

Upon hearing his friend’s idea to use aliens in the new film, Spielberg claimed that he was done with alien films, but Lucas was adamant that the new film would work with the alien mcguffin. Over the course of pre-production, it was the one storypoint that he would not compromise on: there would be aliens, end of story..or so he thought.

Finally, Lucas decided that instead of being aliens, the crystal-skulled creatures, would actually be ‘inter-dimensional beings,’ but with an alien appearance. And, while they would travel in flying saucers (another staple of 1950’s B-movies), they wouldn’t travel through space, but through time.

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Poster for Tokyo DisneySeas’ Temple of the Crystal Skull attraction.

Some may assume that Lucas’ concept of crystal skulls in the world of Indy was brand-new, but in fact, they had been thought of as a (non-alien-influenced) mcguffin for Dr Jones, as far back as the early 1990’s.

During that time, Lucas was producing The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. The television series showed Indy in various time periods of his life, and at one point, a script had been written where Indy went looking for a crystal skull. However, the series was cancelled, and the script was shelved…but the concept was still there.

The story concept would next find new life, when Tokyo Disneyseas (an expansion of Tokyo Disneyland), opened Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Crystal Skull in the fall of 2001.

While the ride’s innards would largely resemble Disneyland‘s Temple of the Forbidden Eye, the deity known as Mara would be replaced by a large, glowing crystal skull, that sent riders on a path to their doom.

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“You Can’t Go Home Again.”

I often recalled as a kid, the characters in Charles Schulz’s Peanuts comics, referencing this line. Taken from novelist Thomas Wolfe, I feel it best summarizes Lucas’ films where he returns to a familiar subject, after some time has passed.

When it comes the properties Lucas has been associated with over the years, people have very much been enamored with trying to recapture the magic they experienced, seeing those films in their youth. I recall how high the nostalgic factor was when Episode I debuted. Within hours of it’s release, it soon became apparent that George was not just going to shower his viewers with lots and lots of fanservice.

The same could be said when it came to Crystal Skull. However, I can’t help but feel there was a method to ‘the madness.’

Like the Star Wars prequels, it feels like many were hoping to walk in and encounter Indiana, as if no time had passed. Lucas isn’t really a sentimental individual, and it feels like the story concept for the film, was to show that Jones had to move on, and find a new group of people to be with in his life.

When we first encounter him, Jones is under suspicion of being in league with the Communists after the Area 51 opening. This puts his teaching career in jeopardy, and, we learn that two of the people in his life have recently died: Marcus Brody, and his father, Henry Jones, Sr.

As the story goes on, we see a new family unit build up around him. From the realization that Mutt Williams (Shia LeBeouf) is his son, to the fact that Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) still harbors feelings for him, and his old friend Harold Oxley (John Hurt), needs his help.

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L to R: Indy (Harrison Ford), Harold Oxley (John Hurt), Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), Mutt Williams (Shia LeBeouf)

By the end of the film, Indy has a new ‘family,’ and we see him marrying Marion.

Some may find this an odd ending, given the old formula of how Jones encountered a new female lead with every film, but that was a younger Indy, and he isn’t quite the ladies man now, as he was in the 1930’s.

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Parallels to Previous Storylines

While many gave Crystal Skull a hard time, screenwriter David Koepp still attempted to retain certain through-lines, that drew parallels to the three previous films.

In Raiders, there was talk about how Hitler was ‘obsessed with the occult,’ which tied into the search for the Ark of the Covenant. In Skull, there is word that Stalin is interested in ‘psychic warfare,’ which ties into the search for the crystal skulls, and attempts to find the lost city of Akator.

The villains also figure into parallels to previous films.

Ever since Raiders, there has come a moment where Indiana usually has to take on a ‘big baddie.’ Whether it be the German mechanic in Raiders, or Colonel Dovchenko in Skull, Indy usually finds himself fighting a losing battle, until he is saved by happenstance, and his foe meets a gruesome demise.

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There is also the continual plotpoint about how the lead villain is searching for something, and once they get their hands on it…it usually leads to their demise (as seen in the screencaps above).

Indiana himself is also open to story parallels.

Almost every film involves him trekking deep into a temple or a darkened cavern. In these situations, it is usually Indy who is the brave one, while he has to contend with a cohort who is freaked out by what they find inside. Whether it be Marion with the snakes in Raiders or Mutt encountering a scorpion in Skull, each darkened space can be counted on to contain some creepy-crawlies.

There also is Indy’s doubt over the ‘mystical nature’ of the artifacts he is looking for. In each film, he starts out just thinking the mysticism surrounding the items is nonsense. Of course, by the end of the film, he has usually changed his tune.

Also by the end of the film, he usually ends up going home empty-handed, but has quite a story to tell.

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Closing Thoughts, and Ideas on Indiana Jones 5

Much like The Phantom Menace, Crystal Skull would clean-up at the worldwide box-office, but it’s ‘imperfections’ have made it the black sheep of the series, causing many to disavow that it ever happened.

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Tweet from the Alamo Drafthouse, about their Crystal Skull celebration/not-celebration.

The most notable one, happened recently when the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema announced they were holding a 10th anniversary party for the opening of Crystal Skull…by showing only the first three films (the equivalent of throwing someone a birthday party, and not inviting the guest-of-honor!).

Looking around online in the past few days, it does appear there are those that feel the same as I do about the film: while not a great film, it is far from the trainwreck many claim it to be…but then again, internet fanbases loves to throw pity-parties.

One of the most ridiculous comments I heard following the release of Crystal Skull, was some fans ‘demanding’ that a fifth film be made to ‘apologize’ for the fourth one.

Rumors persisted that we might still get an Indy 5, notably in regards to The Walt Disney Company acquiring Lucasfilm in 2011 (whose purchase included ownership of both Star Wars and Indiana Jones licenses).

Now, word is that another film is coming to pass, with Harrison Ford once again cracking the whip…but, for the last time. Ford is now in his mid-70’s, and given Indy’s rough-and-tumble penchant for action and stunts, it makes sense this will be his last outing.

Scheduled for a July 2020 release, what the fifth installment will entail has not been revealed. Word is that Lucas declined to be involved with the film’s development, but David Koepp (who wrote the screenplay for Crystal Skull), is currently involved. However, it sounds like the new family Indy found for himself in his previous outing, may not return, and plunge the adventurer into a new area. With Shia Lebeouf having distanced himself from Spielberg, and John Hurt passing away last year, that just leaves Karen Allen, though there’s been no word if she’ll return as “Mrs Jones.”

Some of you might be wondering, where is is there left to explore? Well, given that the filmmakers like to have Indy associated with certain time frames, I have one possible locale: Vietnam.

Given Indy has already dealt with Germans and Russians, I could see him having been cleared of spy charges, and then ends up over in Vietnam in the mid-60’s. Given at the time a lot of young men were being drafted to fight in the Vietnam War, I could imagine one of them becoming disillusioned, attempting to defect, and following Dr Jones on an adventure into the surrounding jungle territories.

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An interpretation of The Monkey King, by artist Aaron Shepard.

Of course, the big question you may have is, what would Indy be looking for? Why, The Temple of the Monkey King.

Also known as Sun Wukong, the Monkey King is known in a number of different Asian cultures. Resembling a monkey and having supernatural powers, some of the tales revolving around the character, tie into the concepts that the creature or certain items around him, can grant one immortality.

A story involving the Monkey King had been considered for both The Temple of Doom and The Last Crusade, and given how previous unused story ideas have often been recycled into later stories, I could see this being a good candidate to pay homage to some of the past story ideas Lucas considered.

Of course, some might say it could be a story retread, given the Holy Grail was a relic that promised ‘eternal life,’ but if the story was probably tweaked a bit more beyond what I can imagine, it might make for a fitting end. Plus, given technological leaps these days, one can imagine a motion-captured rendition of the Monkey King, interacting with Indiana Jones (though whether the old-school fans would accept this, is hard to say).

Of course, what you’ve read in the last couple paragraphs is just me speculating. I don’t have actual inside information, just a few ideas of my own. Still, if the Monkey King idea is dusted off, I’ll be interested to see what is done.

Otherwise, we’ll see if Spielberg and Koepp may find another religion-based mcguffin for Jones to go after in a few years.

Episode Review: Star vs the Forces of Evil (Season 3, Episode 20) – Divide

With 19 episodes under season 3’s belt, here we are, at the second-to-last episode, and the first of a two-part story, that seeks to make this season go out with a bang.

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– Divide –

At the end of the last episode, Queen Moon was severely injured, and disappeared through a multi-colored portal. With Moon gone, Star has now been made the ‘acting queen’ of Mewni, but finds it frustrating how everyone is looking to her for decisions.

With Meteora still advancing on the kingdom, Marco and Star’s friends try to slow her down, while Star attempts to try and find out what happened to her mom.

At the beginning of the episode, the writers try to balance drama and humor, as Star finds out that much of the Kingdom’s decision-making, was done by her mother…and without Queen Moon, most people are unable to think for themselves (making me wonder what happened with previous ruling parties).

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While the stupidity of several of the royal personnel is a bit eye-rolling, it was intriguing to see Star reacting almost identically to her Mom in the earlier Season 3 story, Moon the Undaunted. Just like young Moon, Star is thrust into an awkward position of power, one that she finds herself struggling to work through.

It is also notable how Star is unwilling to take the advice of Eclipsa (who is partially to blame for Moon’s disappearance), or the Magic High Commission (who were found guilty of tampering with Mewni’s past history texts some time ago!). This signals a move that some would probably see as being foolhardy, but it seems that Star doesn’t feel like she can trust ‘the old ways’ of doing things. Much of this season has shown her trying to make changes to a broken ruling system, and this feels like another small step forward.

Most of Star’s time in this episode, is spent outside of the castle in the unnamed, paradise-like place she entered into in the earlier story, called Deep Dive. There is still the danger that Star could be sidetracked in her quest to find her mom, and the writers come up with a neat idea, on trying to keep her mind on her plan.

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On the other end of the ‘divide,’ we have Marco staying behind on Mewni, trying to work on slowing down Meteora. This leads to the grouping of a number of characters we’ve seen him interact with over the season, as he attempts to put several plans into action.

While there is plenty that is good about the episode, Divide feels like it focuses a bit too much on gags in some areas,  almost like in splitting the final story for the season in two, the writers had to ‘pad it out’ in a number of places.

One highlight is when we see Star and Marco talking over things before everyone splits off into their separate quests. Plus, we get to see how their fighting skills have improved over the last season. It’s probably one of the most productive conversations Star has in the episode.

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Best line from episode (said by Marco Diaz): “No Star, my abs are not back.”

Final Grade: B

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Best honorable mention line from episode (said by Tom Lucitor): “Oh, well I’ll just take the bait here. Where did you get that sword, Marco?”

When watching Divide, I couldn’t help but feel that many of it’s events, were largely just to set-up the events of the next episode. However, it does have some memorable moments.

Much like seeing Moon Butterfly in her younger days, we get to see Star trying to deal with being thrust into the spotlight as an ‘active queen.’ Her working through a number of emotions, helped make this story pretty enjoyable, though I was hoping for a little more drama during the second part of the episode for her.

Marco’s attempts to stop Meteora, helped give the episode some action, and prove just how ruthless Eclipsa’s daughter is (using magic-draining powers that may remind some of what Toffee was capable of in season 2).

Overall, if the episode had felt a little more ‘complete,’ I probably would have given it a higher rating. Still, it did prove to be entertaining.

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And then…there was one left.

Come back soon, when I review the final episode of Star vs the Forces of Evil’s third season: Conquer.

Episode Review: Star vs the Forces of Evil (Season 3, Episode 19) – Bam Ui Pati! / Tough Love

The last episode of Star vs the Forces of Evil gave us some rather startling revelations, making it one of the most enjoyable episodes this season.

Episode 19 of the third season, manages to tie into that episode, in several ways.

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– Bam Ui Pati! –

Following events from the episode 18 story Skooled, Ponyhead has locked herself in her room, watching Korean soap operas. Star is contacted by a few of Ponyhead’s sisters to help break her out of her lethargy, but things may be more complex than they seem.

By now, most of the series’ fans are probably used to things going a little weird at times. In this case, Ponyhead’s story is tied into her watching the Korean soap opera, Bam Ui Pati (aka Party of the Night), in which a famous singer is stricken with a horrible illness, that may affect her life…forever.

I could almost see this story as being the yang to the ying that was the earlier Season 3 story, Scent of a Hoodie. While Ponyhead worked to try and bring Star out of her crazed lethargy there, Star almost seems to be returning the favor here. However, that storyline was a bit more entertaining in it’s main character going through some crazy stuff.

For this story, the writers try to use the soap opera to mirror Ponyhead’s ‘journey,’ as she tries to come to grips with what happened to her, and move on. It sounds like a good concept, but the execution of it feels disjointed, as the story tried to throw all sorts of obstacles in the way of Ponyhead trying to watch her show.

It was a little surprising to see several of Ponyhead’s sisters again, though it didn’t feel like they added very much to the story. Personally, I was more enamored with the return of Ponyhead’s ex-boyfriend (last seen in the Demoncism episode), whose salesperson persona, provided some much-needed comic relief at times.

Overall, this felt like ‘filler.’ It ties into events from a previous story, and tries to push us forward…but it’s attempts to be a little kooky with how it does that, just didn’t do it for me.

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Best line from episode (said by Star Butterfly): “Oh, sorry, Cloudy was a lot further down than I thought he was.”

Final Grade: C+

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– Tough Love –

After finding out information about her past in the last episode, Meteora (formerly Ms Heinous) returns to Mewni, intent on claiming the royal throne. Unknown to her, Queen Moon and Eclipsa (Meteora’s mother), are hot on her trail.

Seeing Moon and Eclipsa play off each other over season 3, has led to some very entertaining moments for me. It feels like as time has gone on, Moon’s stance on the former queen of Mewni has softened a bit, though Eclipsa still tries to assert herself in some situations, irking the current queen.

Much of the story is based around the two women trying to track down Meteora, while also encountering the angered denizens of Rich Pigeon’s kingdom, and an angry mob of villagers. The encounters are good for quick bits of comedy, but it definitely feels like the writers missed the opportunity to make this a stronger, more emotional storyline, by shortening these scenes a bit more.

The meeting between Meteora and her mother sadly, is something I felt would be a bit stronger. It does have it’s moments, though it does seem that Meteora may also have become mentally unstable from years of repressing herself at St Olga’s. It’s also notable that Meteora uses green ‘dark magic,’ which we haven’t seen used since Toffee had overtaken Ludo at the end of last season.

It is in the last few minutes, that the story gets really eye-opening. However, some shocking events happen so quickly, that by the time the credits roll, your brain is still trying to process what you just saw.

A good episode for sure, but one that I definitely feel, could have been great if it focused more on the dramatic tension at the end.

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Best line from episode (said by Eclipsa): “Well, some terrible, terrible people, locked me up in a dingy old crystal, deep down in a dark dungeon. They were a rather backwards, maladjusted people, especially that old queen.”

Final Grade: B

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Best honorable mention line from episode (said by Happy Villager, in Tough Love): “She gave me this neat hat…I like it.”)

Well, that was an episode that was okay, but definitely could have been better.

Bam Ui Pati‘s storyline could have held up a bit stronger in it’s storyline of Ponyhead coping with a crisis, but it’s attempts to parallel the soap opera she was watching, felt like a fun concept that just didn’t work for me.

Tough Love brings us the encounter we’ve been waiting for, between Meteora, her mother, and Queen Moon. The opening comedy beats of the story somewhat take away from the more interesting and serious bits, and while the story does have some serious moments, it feels like a much stronger story could have surfaced here.

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And thus, the last 2-story episode of season 3 is over.

The final two episodes of this season, will be full 22-minute stories, with some rather ominous titles. The next episode is titled Divide, and the final season’s episode…will be titled, Conquer.

I’ll be reviewing each of the episodes separately, so see you back here soon, when we take a look at episode 21: Divide.

Episode Review: Star vs the Forces of Evil (Season 3, Episode 18) – Skooled! / Booth Buddies

Time is ticking away, as only a few episodes remain for the third season of Star vs the Forces of Evil.

Last week’s episode brought about revelations for Star Butterfly and Marco Diaz, both on Mewni, and back on Earth. Things are definitely changing around them, with some of those changes, being things beyond their control.

This week’s episode, brings about some more unexpected surprises.

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– Skooled! –

Princess Ponyhead decides to return to St Olga’s, to continue her education. However, her attempts to get a handle on the new curriculum are thrown for a loop, when former headmistress Ms Heinous returns to the school, with an agenda of her own.

The previews for this episode definitely did a good job of masking the inclusion of Ms Heinous (also known as Meteora, the daughter of Queen Eclipsa, and her monster husband). After the reveal of Heinous’ heritage in the episode Monster Bash, this story attempts to fill us in on more of her backstory.

There is definitely some emotional storytelling at work here, but sadly, much of it seems truncated for time. It feels like the chance to go much deeper into Heinous’ past, was sidelined by the inclusion of the Ponyhead subplot.

There is even some time given to showing the other princesses around the school, but even here, it just feels like more ‘filler’ that doesn’t quite hit some of it’s comedy beats.

The last few minutes of Skooled may be some of the most shocking stuff we’ve seen in awhile (probably since the episode Toffee!). I think it’s fair to say that the ‘kid-gloves are off,’ and that the kingdom of Mewni may be facing a major threat, very soon.

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Best line from episode (said by Princess Ponyhead): “If I don’t make it out of this, I want you to know…I hate you.”

Final Grade: B

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– Booth Buddies –

At a wedding for royal servants Ruberiot and Foolduke, Star is ecstatic to see that Ponyhead (though not currently in attendance), has dropped off the old Bounce Lounge’s photobooth for the festivities!

Naturally, Star is eager to get some pics with one of her best ‘besties,’ Marco! However, as she looks over the snapshots, Star can’t help but feel that something isn’t right about them, and is determined to get an ‘acceptable’ souvenir…soon leading to the two friends being trapped in the booth!

One thing I’ve really enjoyed in some of my favorite Star stories, is when characters actually have candid, quiet moments. This can allow the writers to slow down, and give us some character introspection outside of the monster fights, and daily whirlwind of madness these characters find themselves in. We definitely get that here, as the storyline takes a deep breath…and starts tackling some stuff that these two ‘friends,’ haven’t really discussed over the season!

The story also introduces a new supporting character, in the form of Ben Fotino (voiced by Gravity Falls creator, Alex Hirsch!). Ben is the goblin handyman of the photobooth, and surprisingly, I couldn’t stop laughing at every little thing he did! He almost has a ‘trolling complex’ much like Roy the Goblin Dog vendor, only here, his jovial old-man routine is highly-entertaining (to me, at least).

Buddies manages to mix together drama and comedy in a very enjoyable package. Where it falls a little flat for me, is in some of the repetitiveness of the booth’s picture-taking moments. To me, I always come for the emotional content, and Booth Buddies had me yearning for a little more, than what we ended up with.

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Best line from episode (said by Star Butterfly): “These aren’t photos…they’re travesties.”

Final Grade: B+

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Best honorable mention line from episode (said by Star Butterfly, in Booth Buddies): “Well I like our adventures. And I thought you liked them too.”)

And there you have it… an episode with two stories that proved to not only be pretty entertaining, but also seemed to lay some groundwork for revelations further on down the line!

Skooled! pulls ‘the ol’ switcheroo’ when it comes to it’s storyline’s subject matter. Ponyhead’s subplot eats up valuable time, that could have been better utilized, focusing on Ms Heinous/Meteora’s dramatic backstory.

Booth Buddies was a pleasant surprise overall. The story of Star and Marco trapped in a photo booth managed to not only be humorous, but also poured on the drama, and confronted some topics that I think have been on the minds of many loyal viewers, for much of the season!

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And with episode 18 down, we have one more 2-story episode, before two full-length episodes finish up the season.

Next episode, we find Ponyhead enamored with a Korean television drama, in the storyline titled, Bam Ui Pati! Then, in Tough Love, it’s a meeting of three characters that has me so excited, I don’t want to reveal their names! Needless to say, I am eager to see what’s coming in less-than-a-week’s time, and I hope you’ll return to read what I have to say about it!