List of the Week: 10 Reasons Why ‘The Little Mermaid’ is Awesome

Little Mermaid 25thToday marks the 25th anniversary of the release of the The Little Mermaid, one of the most beloved Disney movies of all-time, and a watershed production for the studio, which had spent two decades as a fallen giant before the story of a young mermaid named Ariel brought the studio back to the top. I wrote extensively about the movie for my Disney Canon project, but since I love it so much, I couldn’t let the anniversary go by without acknowledging its greatness one way or another, so, without further ado, here is a list of the…

Top Ten Reasons Why ‘The Little Mermaid’ Is Awesome

10. The “Les Poissons” Sequence
…in which Sebastian runs around the palace kitchen to keep Chef Louie of turning him into Ariel’s dinner. It’s an extended sequence that has little to do with the movie’s plot, but it’s so much, and has some pretty solid gags.

9. Sebastian
So, while we’re in the topic of Sebastian, he is a pretty awesome sidekick isn’t he? Sure, some people complaint about the Jamaican accent, but truth be told, I find it kind of endearing, and far from being stereotypical. Beyond the accent, Sebastian doesn’t spot any stereotypes usually attributed to Jamaican people (except that they’re good musicians). Also, his uptight desperation makes him so endearing.

Max Lil Mermaid8. Max
My family used to have an English Sheepdog when I was a kid, so I’ve always have a particular fondness for Prince Eric’s dog.

7. “Under the Sea
6. “Kiss the Girl
A lot of the entries in this list are just going to be songs, but that’s what happens when a movie has as strong a score as The Little Mermaid. Both of these numbers are delightful. “Under the Sea” is iconic, as most things that are parodied on The Simpsons are, but I want to throw a bone to “Kiss the Girl”, which is one of the loveliest, most romantic show-stopping numbers in cinema.

5. Pat Carroll as Ursula
Ursula is one of the best villains in the history of Disney Animation, and Pat Carroll does an outstanding job of giving her the personality of an evil underwater diva. In a movie with a strong queer identity (more on that later), Ursula is a delicious drag queen. She also gets to sing “Poor Unfortunate Souls“, which is an awesome song…

4. Howard Ashman
…talking about awesome songs, the original score by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman is a complete delight. Most specifically, though, Howard Ashman seems to me like one of the most genius people to have worked at Disney, not only did he write some of the most clever and memorable lyrics in the studio’s history, but he seems to have had a deep connection to what made Disney movies so great. From his insistence on not cutting “Part of That World” from The Little Mermaid when it was received poorly by a test audience to his major role crafting Beauty and the Beast, he was a treasure who was sadly taken before his time.

3. Ariel
Who is such a fantastic protagonist. First of all, because she is beautifully animated by Glen Keane. Second, because she has a delightful personality (even when she can’t speak), and is a character that has a lot to say about gender identity, which brings me to my next point…

2. It has an awesome queer message.
I’ve written about this before, but my reading of the film is that Ariel is clearly a transgender character. She is born a mermaid, but doesn’t feel comfortable in her body. Her dream is becoming a human being. A lot of people read this plot as yet another story of a woman sacrificing her identity to be with a man, I see it as a woman defining herself in her own terms, and forging her identity according to her own feelings.

1. “Part of That World”
Everything I love about Ariel, about Menken and Ashman’s amazing score, and about the movie’s message about identity comes together in “Part of That World”, my favorite song in Disney history, and, in my humble opinion, the best “I Want” song ever written.


Foxcatcher: The Fox Speaks, But Is He Saying Anything?

How to describe Foxcatcher? Remember that episode of The Simpsons in which Bart is adopted by Mr. Burns? Yeah, it’s kind of like that. But based on real events, and you know, not a comedy. The Bart part is played by Channing Tatum as Mark Schultz, a professional wrestler most memorable for winning gold at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. The Mr. Burns to Tatum’s Bart is eccentric (and very creepy) billionaire John Du Pont, of the all-American Du Pont dynasty, who lures the broke wrestler into his estate by offering him a rather lucrative sponsorship. All he asks in return? To be his father figure and mentor.

The triangle at the center of this movie is completed by Mark Ruffalo as Mark’s brother, Dave. His character doesn’t have a clear Simpsons equivalent, but he works as the other guiding force in Mark’s life. If Carell’s Du Pont is a the devil whispering into Mark’s left ear, then Dave is the angel standing on the right shoulder. The brothers had a rough childhood. Mark says he was basically raised by Dave, and you can tell that he is still very much looking after his little brother, which is good, ’cause he kind of needs it. Let’s just say Mark isn’t the brightest bulb in the box. As played by Tatum, he is a purely primitive man. He bounced his body like a caveman, and always keeps his jaw tense.

Ruffalo’s Dave, on the other hand, is what you would call a smart fighter. Mark is bigger (and probably stronger), but Dave has got the brains, and the moves. He is also pure heart, the most recognizably human character in this bleak drama. To finish talking about the performances, Carell’s Du Pont is… well, I really don’t know what he is doing here. In isolation, his is a bonkers performance. Understated, yet constantly over-the-top, he is never too far from being a cartoon character. It’s not like he was trying to channel the behavior of the actual John Du Pont, or at least not judging from the footage of him you can find on Youtube. His performance has a level of weirdness that I think the movie doesn’t appreciate as much as I do.

Because, you see, the other comparison I can make when describing Foxcatcher is to Paul Thomas Anderson’s The MasterThey are both movies about a man trying to take the reigns of another man’s “soul”. One a cultish leader, the other a millionaire obsessed with wrestling. Both movies feature go-for-broke performances, and both feature scenes as ridiculous as to be the most avant-garde SNL sketch you’ve ever seen. The difference is that The Master develops its themes out of its tight focus on the characters, while Foxcatcher seems like a movie that wants to have a theme, but doesn’t really know how to justify it.

It’s no secret that Foxcatcher wants to be about America. It is this far away from screaming it at our faces, what with all of Du Pont’s patriotic speeches, the ubiquitous American flags, and its chanting-filled final moments. The problem is that it doesn’t seem to know how to be about it. Try as I might, I am unable of interpreting the movie in any meaningful way. Besides, that is, a very mushy and superficial message about the rich being evil and whatnot.

I don’t think director Bennett Miller, who is responsible for a movie as effective as 2011’s Moneyballand who won best director at Cannes for this movie earlier this year, would be satisfy with such a superficial message. I’ve always found him to be one that prioritizes objective presentation over any kind of didactic themes. Here, however, while keeping a cold aesthetic throughout the movie, the constant symbols, and the way he treats Carell’s performance have him hammering his point to the audience without much to back him up on the script level.

Somewhat amusingly, this movie about a man born into a wealthy family using his fortune to vicariously achieve success at wrestling was produced by Megan Ellison, herself the daughter of a millionaire who used her fortune to break into the movie business. Now, I’m not trying to diss Ellison, who has been doing an outstanding job producing some of the best movies of the past few years -like Zero Dark Thirty and Spring Breakers-, but I can’t help but wonder if she sees any parallels at all between her and Du Pont. In any case, the saddest thing about Foxcatcher is that my speculation about Megan Ellison’s thoughts is more interesting than the movie itself.

Grade: out of 10.

The Week in Movie Podcasts (Nov. 9-14)

This was a pretty good week for podcasts, lots of interesting and funny discussions, so here are some recommendations.

Podcast of the Week:

Voice Film ClubThe Voice Film Club podcast spans two coasts, as it is hosted by writers of both the Village Voice, and its sister newspaper the L.A. Weekly. In this installment, Alan Scherstuhl and Stephanie Zacharek from the Voice, and Amy Nicholson from L.A. Weekly share theirs thoughts on some of the week’s new releases (particularly Foxcatcher and Rosewater), but the real reason why I chose it as the podcast of the week, is because of what comes after the discussion of those movies.

That’s when Amy Nicholson starts talking about the experience of writing a piece for the L.A. Weekly about Chris Strompolos and Eric Zala. You shouldn’t be worried if those names don’t ring a bell, they are two guys who, starting when they were children back in the early eighties, and spanning 33 years, dedicated a large portion of their lives to film a shot-for-shot remake of Steven Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark. These guys’ story is pretty fascinating, and Nicholson’s anecdotes about meeting them equally entertaining. What’s more, if you are intrigued by the discussion on the podcast, you can head over to the L.A. Weekly website, and read the finished piece about them.

Other Recommendations This Week:

Battleship Pretension: On their regular episode, Tyler Smith and David Bax deal with the always interesting, but also impossible to answer, question of what constitutes “independent film”. Does that title even mean anything anymore? But the surprising development this week, is the introduction of a new supplemental episode, the BP Movie Journal, in which the hosts will share their comments on the movies they’ve been watching recently. As someone who’s listen to the show for years, and, while immensely enjoying their in-depth conversations about different genres and eras of filmmaking, has often gone to see the latest releases and wondered “what would Tyler and David have thought about this movie?”, this new supplement comes as great news.

Fighting in the War Room: As I mentioned on my post about the HBO miniseries Olive Kitteridgethese guys were one of the few outlets to talk about this fantastic piece of television. That alone is enough to recommend this episode, but the fact that there is also a round of 2014-movie-line-trivia is the cherry on top. (I didn’t listen to their review segment this week, because it focuses on Foxcatcher, and I haven’t seen it yet).

The CanonIt’s a very Indiana Jones-heavy week, as Devin Faraci of Badass Digest, and the aforementioned Amy Nicholson, argue about the quality of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Unlike what happened during their Goodfellas discussion, which was featured on last week’s post, there isn’t that much Devin can do to defend a movie as flawed as Temple of Doom against Amy’s astute criticisms.

Mousterpiece CinemaThis podast is dedicated to analyzing and reviewing movies produced and distributed by the Walt Disney Company. This week, hosts Josh Spiegel and Gabe Bucsko are joined by John Gholson to review Big Hero 6. Two of them seem to have been as underwhelmed by the film as I was, and they go very much into detail on many of the things I disliked about the movie, but couldn’t find room to write about in my review.

/FilmcastSimilarly, the guys of the /Filmcast, like me, have very mixed feelings about Interstellar. David Chen, Devindra Hardewar, and Jeff Canatta, are joined this week by Matt Singer, and have a very in-depth discussion about Interstellar, director Christopher Nolan, and the current trend of nitpicking on science-fiction movies’ scientific accuracy.

Studio Ghibli: My Neighbor Totoro (1988)

Screen shot 2014-11-13 at 12.13.34 a.m.

My Neighbor Totoro is Hayao Miyazaki’s masterpiece, which probably makes it the best animated movie ever made, and definitely puts it amongst the very best movies -in general, not only animated ones- ever made.Totoro, the furry forest spirit that gives name to the movie, has become Studio Ghibli’s mascot. He is one of the most iconic and beloved characters of Japanese animation history.

All of these facts make it a little surprising that, on its original theatrical run, Totoro actually lost money. I talked on more detail about this in my review of Grave of the Firefliesbut the gist of it is that the two movies were originally released as a rather mis-matched double-feature. They’re both excellent films, but while one of them is a serious (and seriously depressing) historical drama, the other is a pleasant adventure about little girls and big furry creatures running around in a forest. Pairing these up seems like a dubious idea, but easy to understand if you take another fact about this movie into account: it is very, very different from everything Miyazaki had done up to that point.

If you ask someone to describe Miyazaki’s movies, then they’ll probably describe something very close to his two previous features (Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind and Laputa: Castle in the Sky): fantastic-futuristic settings, a young teenage protagonist (usually female), ambiguous villains, environmental messages, and lots of flying machines. There is a bit of flying in Totoro, and the main protagonists are young girls, but for the most part, it’s a completely different animal. Its originality, paired up with the fact that it was a fairly expensive movie to produce, made the guys at Ghibli decide to release it along with Grave of the Fireflies, hoping that the prestige and gravitas of that movie would benefit Totoro‘s box office.  

But let’s go to what makes Totoro so unique. Miyazaki’s previous movies are epic adventures. The only people who would describe Totoro as an adventure, let alone an epic, would be small children, which is appropriate, because this is one hundred percent a movie made for them. What makes the movie so special is precisely the fact that it is the rare movie for preschoolers that doesn’t talk down to them. This isn’t some stupid Teletubbies-type of thing, this is a masterful filmmaker making a masterful film, and asking himself what the emotions of being a small child are.

Before I go any further, let me set the movie up really quick. Our protagonists are Satsuki and her little four-year-old sister Mei. The girls, and their father, have just moved to a house in the Japanese countryside in order to be closer to the hospital where their mother currently resides. The mother’s illness is never specified. Neither is the type period in which the movie is set (although Miyazaki has been quoted as saying it’s 1955). However, plot is not really that important. Most of the movie is made up of vignettes in which the girls encounter a series of spirit creatures (the titular Totoro being one of them) in the forest near their house, and occasionally deal with the fact that their mother is hospitalized.

One very effective word to describe My Neighbor Totoro is careful. At this point Miyazaki had more than come into his own as a filmmaker, and one of his greatest virtues, the attention to detail, was starting to flourish. I’m not talking about attention to detail in the way James Cameron makes sure that he has the right set of china that was used on the Titanic, but detail that comes from observation and understanding. In this case, the way he so carefully and tenderly writes the main girls’ dialogue, and the even more careful way in which he animates their movements.

Take, for example, the fact that Mei so often practically repeats all of Satsuki’s lines. At first glance, you say “of course she does, she’s a four-year-old hanging out with her big sister”, but think a little bit longer, and you’ll quickly realize how many movies wouldn’t have given a second thought to such a detail. It’s a simple detail, but an invaluable one. It makes everything ring true. It makes the oldest adult be fascinated by what’s going on. It might be unconscious, but it shows you how much the filmmakers cared while making this movie. Screen shot 2014-11-12 at 11.49.30 p.m.

Another perfect word to describe the movie is “delightful”. The emotionally accurate portrayal of childhood is only part of what My Neighbor Totoro has to offer. Its other charms, are what its protagonists are so fascinated by: the cute furry creatures that inhabit the forest. Totoro, of course, is the main attraction. He is fantastically designed: a big, round, and furry creature. With giant eyes and a mouth that seems to appear and disappear when needed. He doesn’t speak, but rather, behaves like an animal. Like a huge family dog that doesn’t fully understand what these girls around him are doing. He is, like the girls, also very carefully animated.

Again, what makes this aspect of the movie so strong (besides the detail) is that it is so deeply rooted in the perspective of a small child. The mini adventures that Satsuki and Mei have are very much the stuff of backyard imagination on a saturday afternoon. Totoro is an imaginary-friend-type creature if there ever was one, and so are all his seemingly “magic” powers. The most successful example of this is the other incredibly iconic character in the movie: the catbus, which, just like you’d imagine, is a creature that is half cat, half bus.

The catbus is an intensely bizarre idea, but also one that could only have been imagined by a four-year-old, is it not? It’s almost too appropriate for the movie. Case in point, the way people react to the scene in which it makes its first appearance. Little children just accept it, often being excited by the fantastic creature. Adults, on the other hand, can hardly wrap their heads around it (I know I couldn’t). It’s just such a weird idea… except if you’re actually a child. Screen shot 2014-11-13 at 12.57.29 a.m.

Very few movies manage to embrace the point of view of their protagonists as profoundly and effectively as My Neighbor Totoro. It’s even rarer in movies aimed at children. I can think about a few that do a pretty remarkable job, one of them is Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Arewhich while being a terrific movie, occasionally seemed more preoccupied with adult nostalgia than with an actual child’s perspective.

That is what makes Totoro so great. It is commits to its purpose without reservations. It gives over to the worldview of a child, and by doing so, speaks truthfully to the way one experiences joy, grief, and frustration at that age. I think all children deserve to watch My Neighbor Totoro. Again, I’ll allude to film critic Roger Ebert’s famous quote, and say that if the movies’ power is to generate empathy, then a movie like My Neighbor Totoro is how you put yourself in another person’s shoes. This is what cinema is about.Screen shot 2014-11-13 at 1.02.41 a.m.

Next Time: Another childhood adventure, as Miyazaki adapts Kiki’s Delivery Service. 

Sympathy for the Devil: Why HBO’s Olive Kitteridge is Amazing Television

Frances McDormand gives an outstanding performance as Olive Kitteridge.

Frances McDormand gives an outstanding performance as Olive Kitteridge.

After that one time when I wanted to write about The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, this is the second time that I’ve planned to write about something that then ends up being the topic of a Fighting in the War Room episode. I recommend to what the great hosts of that podcast have to say about the latest HBO miniseries Olive Kitteridge, but if I’m to give my two cents, then let me tell you that it is absolutely fantastic. Easily one of the very best things to have aired on television this year, which makes it all the more frustrating that so few people are obsessing over it.

Part of that has to be on HBO, which decided to air all four episodes of the show over two consecutive nights. Granted, this story about a grumpy old lady and the residents of a small Maine town is not the kind of thing that will get online fans to speculate what “it all means” like they did with True Detectivebut this method of airing it makes little sense to me. What is HBO trying to do, besides wanting to win some Emmys? Is the data that tells them people are more likely to watch this on HBOGo so staggering that it doesn’t really matter how it airs? That’s an interesting notion, but be it as it may, I’m just trying to advocate for what I think is a great piece of television.

Directed by Lisa Cholodenko (The Kids Are All Right), and based on the Pulitzer-winning novel by Elizabeth Strout, the miniseries spans about twenty-five years in the life of a seaside New England town. More than chapters, each episode feels like a short story, focusing on different people, but always featuring the title character. By the end of the four installments, it becomes clear that Olive Kitteridge (Frances McDormand) is the main focus, even though we’ve seen so many people come and go and change through the years.

What’s so effective about this approach is that we first meet Olive Kitteridge from other people’s points of view. The first episode focuses heavily on her husband Henry (Richard Jenkins) and a young new employee at is pharmacy. The second, starts out from one of Olive’s former student’s point of view (she works as a schoolteacher). This is important, because our first impression is that, while she has a wickedly dark sense of humor, Olive is an unbearably difficult and unsentimental person to be around. She is the kind of person who will never take a compliment, and would be even more unlikely to give one.

She might seem a little cartoony at times, but if you think about it, I bet you’ll find people you’ve encountered along the way that seem as bitter as Olive does. There are things brewing beneath Olive’s tough exterior, but her stubborn temper takes the best of her. She drives all the people that care about her away. She can’t help it. It isn’t really until the fourth episode that I feel like we get a whole hour from Olive’s point of view, and by the time we get there, we aren’t even surprised that the show is able to find such deep humanity and sympathy in what seemed like such an unpleasant character at the beginning.

It helps, of course, that Frances McDormand is giving what may be the best work of her career. She is masterful at playing an emotional arc that spans years (by the way, if this show doesn’t win the Emmy for Best Makeup for the ridiculously realistic work on display, then there is no justice in this world). And the rest of the cast is also fantastic. I mentioned Richard Jenkins, but Rosemarie DeWitt, John Gallagher Jr., Zoe Kazan, and Bill Murray, among others, show up to give life to Olive’s world.

I remember being a child and playing with my cousins around my grandma’s neighborhood. One of her neighbors was an old lady that always yelled at us. We called her “mrs. diarrhea”, I was scared of her, and I hated it with intense passion. If movies and television are the place where we come to empathize, then I can’t think of something more rewarding than watching Olive Kitteridge, and identifying with the type of person that elicited such raging feelings from me as a child.

Olive Kitteridge is available on HBOGo right now. What are you waiting for? 

Studio Ghibli: Grave of the Fireflies (1988)

Screen shot 2014-11-08 at 8.42.37 p.m.
Studio Ghibli was founded in 1984 by director Hayao Miyazaki and producer Toshio Suzuki. Another member who quickly joined their ranks was Isao Takahata, who had come into the animation business working on some television series (I’m only familiar with his anime version of Heidi: A Girl from the Alpswhich was aired by some Peruvian network at some point during my childhood), and gotten into feature films by producing Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind and Laputa: Castle in the Skywhich I’ve already written about. This is all to say that he already had a relationship with Miyazaki and his work, so it isn’t surprising that once Ghibli became a reality, Takahata became the first person other than Miyazaki to direct a film for the Studio.

Takahata decided that his firs project for Ghibli be an adaptation of Akiyuki Nosaka’s semi-autobiographical novel Grave of the Fireflies, a grim tale about two Japanese children’s struggle to survive the last years of World War II. It’s not necessarily the kind of material you would associate with animated movies, even if you come from places such as Japan, where animated movies aren’t meant solely as children’s entertainment. And even in that case, Grave of the Fireflies was very much intended to be seen by people from all ages, despite being an incredibly sad movie whose plot could be accurately summed up as the slow process by which two orphan children starve to death.

I am, of course, being facetious. Grave of the Fireflies is so much more than just a sad movie. Yes, it is quite depressing, but it is also one of the most powerful cinematic experiences that I’ve ever had, and an essential watch for anyone who loves film. To talk about the plot a little bit, it focuses on young teenager Seita, and his five-year-old sister Setsuko, who stay together trying to find a way to get food and survive after their mother is killed in an air-strike, and their father is away serving in the Japanese army. The movie opens on September 21, 1945, as Seita explains to us, in voice-over, that that was the night that he died.

Like I said above, it is obviously not the easiest movie to watch, which brings me to the fascinating fact that, upon its original release, the movie was exclusively screened as a double-feature with Hayao Miyazaki’s innocent tale of childhood and forest creatures My Neighbor Totoro. What makes this release strategy even more fascinating is the fact that Grave of the Fireflies, the film about wartime sorrow, and not the comedic fantasy, was considered the most likely to succeed. Apparently, movies like Totoro were rarely made in Japan at the time, and the Studio felt like an “important” tale about Japan’s past would make parents interested in taking their children to the theater.

It’s not so much the idea that you would pair such a hopeful and optimistic film with such an emotionally exhausting one that boggles the mind. Neither is it the fact that I couldn’t possibly conceive what order to show the movies in (Ghibli, curiously enough, did not specify either, leaving the order of the screenings up to the exhibitors). It’s the fact that you would decide to pair up Grave of the Fireflies with any other movie at all. I couldn’t even fathom the idea of watching a trailer before this movie, let alone anything after. Not after a movie that demands as much from my emotions as this one.

It would be an understatement to say that this is one of the saddest movies I have ever seen, and mostly any way I try to describe it will make it sound like a horribly exhausting and depressing movie to watch, and yes, it is quite depressing, and it will probably make you cry, and be angry and sad about the current state of the world, but at the same time, these are all things that need to happen, and while incredibly sad, it is also a beautiful, beautiful movie. None other than famous film critic Roger Ebert praised the film for its portrait of humanity, and the tender, loving relationship between Seita and Setsuko.Ebert pointed out to a couple of key scenes, like when Seita playfully catches an air bubble while bathing Setsuko, and, most notably, when the siblings catch a bunch of fireflies to light the hillside cave that they’ve adopted as their home.

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These are just some of the movie’s numerous moments of beauty. The many instances in which it presents a kind of love and care that can almost only be present in childhood, a time free of ideology. This last part, I think, is a very important factor in Grave of the Fireflies’s ultimate message. As much as it is a portrait of the endurance of a tender relationship, it is an angry movie about the importance of being children, and the absolute folly of war and violence. To illustrate this, I point to the moment where Seita reacts in absolute outrage when finding out that Japan has surrendered, and thus, lost the war.

It’s a small moment, but it’s indicative of the movie’s ultimate goal, and the blind Nationalism that it is criticizing. As a matter of fact, a large reason for Seita and Setsuko’s tragic fate has to do with the country’s refusal to recognize that they are about the lose the war. Similarly, an aunt that initially takes the children in when they first become orphaned constantly complains about Seita, unlike her husband and daughter, not doing anything to help their country win the war. The horror of the air-strike sequences, as well as the moments involving the body of Seita and Setsuko’s deceased mother, contrast with a very short scene, in which three young girls return home one the war is over, and are overwhelmed in joy to be back in their old village, not even glancing at the thought that their country has surrendered.

All of these small moments work towards the film’s humanistic message. Although the centerpieces, of course, are the many episodes between Seita and Setsuko. It’s the fact that these are not cute children, but real human characters. Often, serious movies with children protagonists can become overly sentimental, or can mistake the forest for the trees when trying to work within the frame of a larger tragedy such as World War II. I think, for example, of the offensively misguided point-of-view of The Boy in the Striped PajamasThere is none of that in Grave of the Fireflies, which does a masterful job of paying homage to Nosaka’s novel, which was written, in part, based on the sorrow he had felt when he lost his younger sister in circumstances similar to those of the protagonists.

The beauties of Grave of the Fireflies are immeasurable. From the characterization of its children, to the may beautiful images Takahata composes with his use of light and essential drawings. It is also an angry movie. A movie that has a lot to say. I am not hugely familiar with Takahata’s work (I hope I will be by the end of this series), but the one other movie of his that I’ve seen is this year’s The Tale of Princess Kaguyawhich makes me think that approaching enraging injustices through a deeply melancholic lense is something he is very interested in. Princess Kaguya is, after all, a very sad tale of repressed feminism, and Grave of the Fireflies, is similarly, a story about the tangible and tragic cost of such stupid ideologies as Nationalism. It may be a tough sit, but it’s absolutely worth watching, and one of the most beautiful movies I’ve ever seen.

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Next Time: Hayao Miyazaki’s first masterpiece, and Grave of the Fireflies’ original companion, My Neighbor Totoro. 

List of the Week: Best Sesame Street Characters


In celebration of Sesame Street’s 45th Anniversary (the show aired for the first time November 10th, 1969), all of everything this amazing show did for children’s education, and because I love making lists, here are some quick comments on my favorite Sesame Street characters.

1. Big Bird
I’m just around the right age to remember a time when Elmo wasn’t the end-all-be-all of Sesame Street characters. I don’t hate him as much as some other people (mostly older than me) do, but the fact that he is so far and away the most popular character on the show is simply ridiculous. It’s also a shame, since he is nowhere near to being as good at being the show’s “iconic” character as Big Bird.

It might be the fact that his gigantic self contrasts with his pure heart, but there is something about Big Bird, from his languid posture to his calmed voice, that makes him such an endearing character. It also makes him a little melancholic, which is a mood that I have always responded to (especially in children’s entertainment). Bottom line: He is adorable and want to give him a hug. Here is a heartbreaking video of him singing at Jim Henson’s memorial.

2. Grover
As I expected, any moment in which you reveal your favorite Sesame Street characters is going to turn into a revelation of your deepest fears and desires as a human being. Becuase you watch the show as a child, you respond to the characters that show the most basic and essential parts of your personality. Case in point, I have always responded to the underlying desperation and overall nervousness that is present in almost anything Grover does, especially when he is working in the serving industry, like in this clip, that has stuck with me from my childhood.

3. Oscar the Grouch
As a kid, I liked Oscar because he was green. As an adult, I love him because it’s incredibly easy to identify with him and his opinions. Actually, it’s not so much that I see myself reflected in Oscar, but that I wish I was more like him. That I could, as he puts it in this clip from Follow that Bird“stand-up and complain” without thinking too much about what other people might think.

4. Cookie Monster
Truth be told, when I was a kid, I kind of was a little unsettled by Cookie Monster’s appearances on the show. There was something about the abundance of “id” in the character that made me a little uneasy, and yet, I kind of loved him nonetheless. It might have been the fact that he looks so funny. I’ve always thought he is one of the best designed characters, with those googly eyes, the blue fur, and the kind of non-shape of his body. Also, who doesn’t love cookies?

5. The “I Love My Hair” Girl
As far as I know, this character doesn’t even have a name, but that won’t stop me from including her on the list. Being the grown person that I am, it’s been a long time since I’ve actually seen any Sesame Street beyond the rare Youtube clip here and there. One of the most recent clips I’ve seen, however, is this amazing song about a girl loving her hair. Not only is this an amazing message to send out to little girls, but it’s actually quite a delightful video, not in small part thanks to the incredible enthusiasm the main character shows when dancing around and singing about… well, loving her hair.