Once Upon a Time’s Megara-Fail

What a wasted opportunity Sunday’s episode was.

When it was announced that the second half of this season would focus on the Underworld and Hades, I was stoked. Because I love Hercules.

Yes, in the great pantheon of Disney animated features, it doesn’t quite live up to the best. The music is all over the place and anticlimactically arranged. The only things they’ve actually taken from Greek mythology are names. Everything else is Disney mythology. But it’s filled with great moments. Hades is a brilliant villain, fast-talking, witty, and smarmy, like the older guy at the bar who keeps trying to impress you with his fancy suit and high-paying job, only to blow up when you dismiss his advances.

Hercules, in the movie, is a bit of a rube. Super naive and singularly focused, he’s not the strongest of male leads. But don’t worry – Meg makes up for it. Voiced by Susan Egan, Megara is the queen of sass, accenting her quips with a hair flip or hip sway. I love her. In the grand scheme of female leads, Belle is my hero, but Meg is me.

Meg is not an official Disney princess. But that’s part of what makes her so great. She’s a complex female with a past. She’s made mistakes. Unlike most Princesses, she’s not the result of her upbringing – overprotective parents, royalty strains, or feeling like she doesn’t belong. We don’t know anything about Meg’s family. She’s like the princess after the first movie, when it didn’t work out. We only know she made a mistake – she saved her boyfriend’s (Boyfriend?! Disney princesses do NOT have boyfriends.) life by offering her own, and then he ditched her, leaving Meg to serve out her sentence to Hades. A fact that Hades brings up for exposition’s sake, but it doesn’t feel out of character for him. Like he enjoys twisting the knife.

Film Meg doesn’t take kindly to being rescued. She fights her own battles. She plays Herc for the innocent chump that he is. She can’t believe she finds herself falling for him. She ultimately sacrifices herself to save him — the 2nd time she’s done so for love. It’s true that in the end, Herc had to save her… but she was kinda dead, so there wasn’t much she could do there. She had given everything she could. Not only did Herc bring her back from the dead, but he gave up his immortality for her.

Anyway, Once Upon a Time, a series I truly enjoy, completely sputtered when it came to representing Meg. What’s worse is that this could have been a prime theme for the entire episode – women who kick ass.

The main story here revolved around Mary Margaret and how the young Snow White became the kick ass Snow White we all know and love. It was Herc. They were teenage crushes, and Herc taught young Snow all she needed to know about being a leader and shooting an arrow. In current time, Mary Margaret is having a personal crisis, coming to terms with the fact that she’s become pretty wussy since living in Storybrooke. I like that the show has decided to confront one of the main complaints about Ginnifer Goodwin’s character — the Snow White flashbacks are always amazing. (One of her best episodes is when she meets Red Riding Hood.) But how is that person the same wispy, hope-spouting maternal soul we see in Maine?

Maybe now, the real Snow will stand up. Regardless, it was a good story about a strong female character finding her strength and acknowledging she may have lost it. It was also great to see Regina be the one to give MM a pep talk, when it could have just as easily been Charming.

Also in the strong women department, we come across the lovely Cruella De Vil, who manipulates Henry into helping her come back to life. I adore Once’s take on Cruella, a boozy socialite who was just born bad, and Victoria Smurfit does a great job. While the overall plot of the quill being a living thing seems a little too convenient, I appreciated that Cruella was wise enough to use the idea of restoring Emma’s purity to convince Henry of her plan.

So how, with all this great female interaction, how could they allow Megara to be a sad, scared little girl, who would rather stay in her cell than face Cerberus?? Even if, even if she didn’t want to leave her cell, at least make her brazen about it. Not all whimpery.

I was really hoping at the end, when Herc gave Meg his dagger to help kill the Hound of Hades, that she would turn on them, that she had been playing them the whole time, an aide to Hades, with Cerberus under her command. But sadly, that was not the case. No, instead, Meg helped defeat Cerberus, was revealed to be the girl Herc died trying to save, and together they walked hand in hand to Olympus or heaven or wherever that bridge leads.

From what I can find, it seems as though that was their only appearance. And if that’s the case, then WTF. Seriously. Maybe they’ll come back. Maybe Meg’s character will come into play later on down the road. Maybe?

Once Upon a Time likes to take elements of the Disney films we all know so well and spin them. Rarely are any of the characters identical to their Disney origins (except for Frozen, but of course),  making Pan evil and Hook a good guy, making Belle’s father a bully, etc. And that’s fine. But why make a strong female character decidedly weak? Meg’s oft-quoted anti-princess mantra is “I’m a damsel. I’m in distress. I can handle this.”

So, Once staff, what’s the deal? Will Meg be brought back and redeemed? Or did you just waste one of the strongest female characters in the Disney canon?

Thoughts On 5 Fan Theories from 2015

Fan theories run rampant online, this we know. But for every thousand random rants or way-too-forced connections, a few gems pop up that blow your mind, open your eyes or at the very least make you think for a minute.

So much happens during the creative process, decisions must be made, and often really great ideas are cut, leading to loose ends that eagle-eyed viewers might be able to detect and conclude. Other times, bread crumbs are left intentionally by a writer or filmmaker — not even for the viewer to find, necessarily, but more as a storytelling frame or tonal touchstone, so they don’t lose their way throughout production.

So with a solid understanding of the process, when fan theories come out, I like to take the time really examine them and take everything into consideration. Buzzfeed recently put out the Top Fan Theories of 2015. Here are five of them, along with my humble (but thoroughly educated!) opinion.

1.The Peddler is the Genie in Aladdin.

How do I say this? Ummm…. Duh? Sorry, it’s just I thought we already knew this. Robin Williams voiced the Peddler. He also has Robin’s/The Genie’s quick-paced delivery. Who else would know the story AND have the lamp? To see this even labeled as a “fan theory” feels a little false. Not to mention since it’s been confirmed, that it is no longer classified as a theory so much as an actual element of the story.

2. The Joker is the Real Hero.

I kinda love this theory, as posted on Reddit. While we’re emotionally and psychologically set up to root for Batman, when you look at the chain of events, and the cause and effect… it’s clear that the Joker was actually the one to clean up Gotham, albeit in his own twisted way. Yes, Batman is all about ethics, but the Joker pushed Batman so far past his own beliefs, he turned Batman against himself. The Joker was just the ultimate infiltrator. This is really more of a philosophical question – what do you consider to be the greater good? That’s deep. And I appreciate it.

3. Jar Jar Binks was a Sith Genius.

Cory brought this one to my attention and though initially, I thought it was ridiculous. But damn are these arguments convincing. Is it really possible that Jar Jar was essentially too smart for his own good? Would Lucas really wimp out and choose to ditch Jar Jar’s original path? That’s the part of this theory that bothers me most, I suppose. Wouldn’t it have been the ultimate answer to the backlash if Jar Jar turned out to be the badass Sith Lord he was supposed to be? Once the negative feedback started to rumble, Lucas should’ve been out there fighting for him. As much as I would love if this were true, more realistically, I’m still on the fence.

4. Lime Green Represents Evil in the Disney Universe.

I’m not sure why this is really a theory, so much as a detail astutely brought to our attention. But Disney isn’t the only one to do this. In live action films, this can go back as far as 1939 with The Wizard of Oz. Determined to make the most of new Technicolor technology, the production team made The Wicked Witch and the Wizard (at his scariest) both sickeningly green, indicating evil.

While I am not a verified source here, I can make an educated guess that lime green is favorable on the evil artistry palette, particularly in animation. Think about the traditional colors of evil – black and red. Black, while often used as accents for evil characters, can be tough to differentiate in animation. Red is also tricky — too deep, it’s gory. Too bright, it’s jarring and difficult to look at for long. If you need a color to drench your evil scene, lime green is it. It’s not pleasant, especially when accented with black or purple. And when used to envelop a character, it projects an uneasy feeling, making the viewers instinctively understand that character is evil.

5. Pigeon Man killed himself in front of Arnold.

This…. I can get behind. 100%. Someday, I may finally finish my thesis on the dark depths of Hey, Arnold!, from Grandma’s perpetual state of denial over the loss of her child to Helga’s brutal upbringing with an abusive father and alcoholic mother. But let’s save that for another time. The theory says that when Arnold sees Pigeon Man carried away into the sunset by pigeons, this is a replaced memory and Pigeon Man actually jumped off the roof and died in front of Arnold. It’s a spin-off of an earlier theory, where the scene was literally created where Pigeon Man jumped to his death, but Nickelodeon wouldn’t allow it to air, so it was changed. Craig Bartlett is on record denying this theory in all its forms. But I’m not convinced. I fully believe Hey, Arnold! is riddled with grim clues that things aren’t exactly as we see them, so to me, this theory is totally plausible.

What do you guys think? About the Jar Jar one, really… I need to know where everybody stands on that.

Our Pop Culture Wedding

Life has been crazy recently for… a lot of reasons. One of the bigger (and much, much better) events was our wedding.

“Oh, great. That’s totally why we subscribed to your blog, Sarah. So we could read #humblebragging about your wedding. Swell.”

Hear me out. As a pop culture enthusiast, it was really important to me to figure out subtle, yet fun ways to incorporate certain pop culture elements into our day. Not just to do it, but because there was a reason behind it.

The Invitation:

Of all of the things, this invitation might be what I’m most proud of. After scouring the likes of online stationary sites, I decided we should go to a physical store. I chose, for whatever reason (I didn’t spend hours looking at reviews or pouring over  wedding magazines. I just went with what I found.) Anyway, this process lead me to Seaside Papery at Seaport Village, here in San Diego.

Quick aside — I scheduled the original appointment, but accidentally made it at an alternate location. We ended up canceling due to our Austin trip. It wasn’t until then that I realized the location error, and made a new appointment at the correct location for later. Thank god. Because….

We went. A few times. Dug through binders and binders of samples. And I didn’t like any of them. They were too flowery, too structured, or just too much. It was also tough because the few we did like had minimum ordering requirements of 50 or more. We just needed 30.

After Katie, the wonderful stationary specialist, showed us the last binder, I was defeated. Cory looked at me, then looked at Katie and said, “You know, we were kind of thinking about something like this…” and he described to her what we had talked about a few nights before. It was a completely original design. Katie listened, slowly nodded, then started sketching. As she sketched, she made a few suggestions, then a few more, her voice getting louder and more excited by the word.

“Exactly!” Cory said. “Is there anything like that?”
“I’ll do it,” Katie said with a shrug that said, “of course.”
And she did:

The TV Invitation

This didn’t mean our whole wedding was necessarily themed after TV, as much fun as that would have been. It was a small event, so ardently sticking to a theme didn’t seem worth it. Instead of consciously “theme-ing,” we simply found things that spoke to us.

The Little Things:

Star Wars Han & Leia Champagne Glasses:

Champagne Glasses
Saw these on Pinterest. Immediately knew they were perfect.  (Etsy)

Meaningful Disney Pins instead of boutonnieres:

Cory:Grape Soda Mark:FrozoneScreen shot 2015-11-19 at 1.28.42 PM
Because I really don’t like flower boutonnieres. And while this was NOT supposed to lead to Disney Pin collecting… it kinda did…. Good job, Disney.

A Wall-E and Eve cake topper:

Cake Topper

I couldn’t stand the thought of a typical Bride & Groom thing. Hearts/flowers, too gushy. Pinterest (of course) lead me to adorable toppers using Wall-E and Eve toys, dressed up in little top hats and veils. Over the next few months, I ordered countless toys online, trying to find the right sizes, but none of them seemed to be in proportion to each other. I was getting frustrated, until I fell upon these gorgeous acrylic cut toppers.  (also Etsy)

The Music:

Boarding music consisting of the themes from The Love Boat and Gilligan’s Island. I was absolutely insistent on this one. It helped that Bose has a Bluetooth speaker that matched our wedding colors.

The themes from The Office and Friends in our playlist. Because they’re our favorites. Our playlist also had songs from Sweeney Todd, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Into the Woods, and Jurassic Park.

It was great.

Oh and then instead of a honeymoon, we took our wedding party, friends, and family to Disneyland.

It’s also worth noting that Cory & I didn’t do anything because we were “supposed to” or because it was “tradition.” Everything we did was because it’s what we wanted. Married on a boat. A wedding party that consisted of a Best Man, a Man of Honor, and a Best Person Ever. No dances. No cake-smushing. I didn’t have a shower. We didn’t register.

We just had an incredible wedding, surrounded by our favorite people, in a beautiful place. And then went to Disneyland.

Pop culture doesn’t get more personal than that.

Pilot Watch: Once Upon a Time – “Pilot”

I love Once Upon a Time.2014-07-25 22.37.03

My dad was the one who pushed me into watching ABC’s fairy tale-driven fantasy drama. I’m not sure how he stumbled onto it, but he was persistent, using the lore of my favorite Disney characters as bait. So one Christmas break, I couldn’t sleep thanks to a pesky cold, so I started watching Season 1 on Netflix. Binged the whole season in a matter of days. I couldn’t stop. Caught up by the middle of Season 2. Now well into Season 5, the series as a whole has had ups and downs. The Pan story and Frozen arc were not strong points. This season has been surprisingly fresh, thanks to the dramatic Dark Swan. But that’s not why we’re here. We’re here to look at where it all began, at that very first episode —

Once upon a time…

After a few cards giving some brief exposition, the episode starts with Snow White and Prince Charming at their legendary moment, with Charming breaking the deadly spell with true love’s kiss. Which leads right into —

Their wedding, though it’s immediately interrupted by the Evil Queen. Snow quickly draws Charming’s sword – a nice move showing her strength. This isn’t your typical Disney Princess. She’s not afraid of weaponry. And that’s pretty great.

Emma’s entrance is far more modern, in a form fitting pink dress. On a “date,” she identifies as a loner, without family. It doesn’t take long for Emma’s current identity as a bailbondsman (woman) trapping a guy who skipped out. She busts him, bashing his head against his own steering wheel after he makes a crack about her lack of family.

We follow Emma back to her apartment, and can I just say I’ve always loved Emma’s apartment door, with the writing scrawled across it. A little heavy-handed? Maybe. Still love it.

At this point, the writers go to great lengths showing just how alone Emma is, seeing her big, empty apartment, blowing out a birthday candle on her little cupcake.

Enter Henry. I’d forgotten how little he was. Precocious without being obnoxious, he’s a instantly likable.

We cut back to the past to see a pregnant Snow, worrying about the witch’s curse. There’s obvious chemistry between Josh Dallas and Ginnifer Goodwin (Congrats to them on baby #2!), so watching them is a delight.

With a storytelling tactic of switching between past and present storylines a la LOST, it’s interesting in this first episode that they use the illustrations in the book to transition from real world/present to Enchanted Forest/past.

Finally we get to meet Rumplestiltskin – slimy and volatile, even locked behind bars. He makes a deal with Snow, revealing Regina’s  spell, and why Storybrooke is the way it is (hello, more exposition!), in exchange for the baby’s name.

In Rumple’s explanation, the final battle will begin when Emma returns in 28 years (guess this is one big, long, epic battle, 5 seasons later…).

Back in real-time, there are signs that Emma’s return is shaking up the town already, as the power lines spark when she slams the car door. Henry’s theory is starting to look more plausible – Archie, Henry’s therapist, advises strongly against lying. When Henry tries to tell Emma Archie’s true identity, she brushes him off — and just as quickly, we’re brought into the Enchanted Forest, with Jiminy Cricket, who has Archie’s voice, speaking to a round table of fairy tale peeps.

There’s no shortage of Easter egg-level foreshadowing here, which is bold as a pilot with no promise of a future. As Regina flips through Henry’s book, the camera pauses on illustrations of flying monkeys and Wonderland caterpillars — a great idea to entice fairy tale freaks…. like me… to keep following along.

Later, in a burst of emotion that adults usually don’t express to children, Emma confesses her traumatic childhood to Henry, who doesn’t even bat an eye, and tries to convince Emma it didn’t happen the way she thinks.

Henry’s so innocent. He’s a great age for this story – old enough to be wicked smart, young enough to be innocent and full of hope. That innocence gives the whole show a wash of genuine storytelling, free from jaded irony and bitterness. It’s so refreshing.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t a few quips expertly laid out. Like when the Evil Queen describes where she’s sending the cursed kingdom: “Somewhere horrible. Absolutely horrible.”

In the Enchanted Forest, the last we see of Charming before the curse takes over is dead in the arms of Snow. In Storybrooke? Turns out he wasn’t quite dead. Now he’s John Doe, an unidentified man in a coma at the hospital.

As the episode comes to a close, Emma checks into Granny’s B-n-B, Mr. Gold/Rumple appears, collecting cash from Granny. He owns that place. The town. We’re now well aware of the power Gold has, and even this early on, it’s clear he knows more than the rest of the town.

And just after Emma checks into Granny’s, the clock tower, frozen forever, ticks back to life.

The episode slowed in the middle a bit, but picked up brilliantly in the end. Emma and Regina’s confrontation, resulting in Emma deciding to stay in Storybrooke for a bit, leading to the clock tower working again, with Henry’s big smile on his face — I couldn’t contain myself; I had to keep watching. Hooked. (Get it? GET IT?) Seriously, OUAT does a great job using mystery elements encoded in common fairy tales, not only providing clues to the viewers, but letting them think they’re one step ahead, figuring out who is who and how they’re all interconnected. A great story, indeed.

Castle of Illusion – The Beginning and the End of My Video Game World

Due to undisclosed medical reasons, I was stuck in the apartment for about two weeks early in March. Luckily, this was an expected situation, so I had time to stock up on low-impact,  boredom-killing activities like puzzles, painting, and… video games. More accurately, video game.

One game to rule them all was available for download on the PS3. And it’s been a blast.

Castle Of Illusion

Castle of Illusions Starring Mickey Mouse for Sega Genesis was my very first video game. The funny thing was, it wasn’t even mine. Aunt Lisa, always up on the latest trends, got one for her kid, who was maybe 2. Realizing the insanity, and seeing how much fun James and I were having, she let us borrow the system, along with the few games she had, one of the being Castle of Illusion. (I think the others were Sonic 1 and Cool Spot – the game starring the red dot from the 7Up logo.)

I’m not sure what it was about that game, but it was wildly addictive. Aunt Lisa would cheer me on as I desperately tried to get Mickey to swing from rope to rope. James developed a habit early on of physically doing what the main character was doing, so he’d jump every time Mickey would jump. And when that giant apple would come rolling down…. wow.

And as the years went by, and we discovered and fell in love with more games (Aladdin. The Lion King. Sonic 3. Tiny Toons. — violence was clearly not our thing), Castle of Illusion never fell out of favor.

As gaming systems developed and advanced over the years, my taste and tolerance for them waned. Except for maybe Guitar Hero and Rockband, I haven’t played a game made in the last two decades. Until now.

At last year’s Comic-Con, James and I wandered into an arcade where they were demoing new games. We where drawn in by the ginormous Sonic installed in front, but when we entered? To our amazement, they were demoing an updated version of Castle of Illusion for the PS3. James and I may or may not have pushed a small child out of the way to be next in line to try this game.

When we got there, it was the level in the dungeon, never one of our favorites, but still. Shockingly, it was nearly identical. Oh, sure the graphics were improved by a billion and the game play added a little bit of complexity. But the music? Identical. The overall structure? Identical. The feeling we got when playing? I-freakin-dentical.

Since I’ve been playing the full version, it’s been amazing. Though I do miss some of the standard 8-bit graphics I grew up with, I appreciate the revamping that stayed true to the original.

Nostalgia for the win.