September 29, 2015

9 Questions I Have About Kid's Shows...

I have some legitimate questions about the TV shows my kids watch. No, no, not about whether they're "educational" enough or not (come on, it's a substitute babysitter--stop trying to rationalize it) or even age appropriate (should my 4-year-old not watch America's Next Top Model with me?). My questions stem from watching these shows on seemingly repeat with no attempt on the part of the creators to address the following:

1. Why is Swiper such an a**hole?
Swiper the Fox from Dora the Explorer has one role: to steal Dora's stuff. Except he doesn't even use it for himself, which would make sense. If he gets a hold of it, he usually just chucks it somewhere far away for them to retrieve, then laughs about it. It's a pretty dick-ish thing to do.

2. How is no one bothered by the rip-off that is Go Diego Go?
Diego is Dora's equivalent of The Cleveland Show. He's a decent character within a larger story, but probably shouldn't have had his own show. Or, at the very least, could have been given a different show--not just a sub par version of the original. Practically everything is the same: animal sidekick? Check. Talking backpack that shows up with a song? Check. A helpful tool to assist in the mission? Check. Friends along the way? Check. A designated troublemaker? Check. Every last detail has been copied. Except baby jaguar's role in on par with that of an actual baby (read: sit there and look cute), the camera doesn't have an awesome insect mariachi band to introduce it, and no matter how much of a jerk Swiper is (see above), he's still infinitely better and more interesting than the stupid Bobo monkeys, who don't even talk.

Side note: this is my daughter's current favorite show. I've had a lot of time to think about how Diego is inferior to Dora in every way, except that his backpack's song is more zesty. Seriously. That's all I came up with.

3. If everyone hates Caillou so much, why is he still on TV?
Ask any parent, and Caillou will be atop their list of worst children's shows. He is this generation's Barney. Is this show intended to teach kids empathy toward whiny, self-entitled, inexplicably bald children with stupid names? I seriously do not understand the purpose of his show. Even his parents speak in those annoyingly soft, calm tones that make you think they are child therapists or something.

4. How is Ninjago a thing?
I get that people love LEGO. I love LEGO too. Even The LEGO Movie was surprisingly awesome. But doesn't there come a point when you can't turn everything into a LEGO? Apparently not. Not only are these books, but also a TV show, and of course, paraphernalia. Because LEGO Star Wars wasn't enough for this world.

5. Are Brits really that boring?
As an adult, I love British-produced television. (Ok, movies). But even other adults in my household often find them boring. So how any child, with an attention span slightly longer than that of a gnat, manages to sit through an entire episode of Peppa Pig is beyond me. I'm not saying kids should be constantly bombarded by neon colors and flashing lights, but even I use this show to put myself to sleep. Maybe that's the intent? Those cheeky Brits!

6. Am I the only person who didn't know how to pronounce The Berenstain Bears?
Growing up, my sisters and I collected these books. We had almost every one (except The Berenstain Bears and the Sitter. Damn it! The deprivation still stings!). And I made it through decades of life pronouncing it The "BerenSTEIN" Bears. Because really, shouldn't it be pronounced that way? It wasn't until I had kids and watched this show (which is one of those snobby examples of "the books are much better") that I realized I've been saying it wrong my whole life. Please tell me I'm not alone.

Update: I found out that this Berenstein bv. Berenstain Bears is very much a thing and that I'm totally correct.

7. How can anyone watch Curious George after reading the original book?
This isn't me being snobby again about the books being better than the show. Honestly, have you ever read the original Curious George? Haven't you always wondered how George came to live with the man with the yellow hat? Let me recap it for you: the man with the yellow hat (whose name now sounds suspiciously like a police description) goes to the jungle and lures George into a trap so he can kidnap and bring him home to put in a zoo. While at the man's house, George dials 911 because he wants to see the trucks with all the sirens come on. They arrest him and put him in jail for falsely dialing emergency services. The book actually has a picture of George sitting in a jail cell! Eventually he breaks out, the man with the yellow hat gets him, and they put him in a zoo. Yay?

8. Doesn't anyone care about quality animation anymore?
It feels like anyone with a pencil is allowed to make an animated show these days. Maisy? Peg + Cat? Watching these shows is like walking through a modern art gallery. All I can think is, "I could draw that!"

9. SpongeBob SquarePants
People don't really show this to their kids, do they?

September 18, 2015

Maleficent (2015)

Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning

Sleeping Beauty isn't really anyone's favorite Disney movie, but Maleficent is definitely one of its best villains (behind maybe Ursula). So I can see the appeal in giving her her own movie.

But as the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. That's a bit harsh for this particular situation, but suffice it to say the intent behind this movie is far better than its execution.

Hint: this picture isn't from the original movie
For one thing, it feels very Wicked. As in, the Broadway show. Blah blah blah, everyone has a backstory, but why try to make one of the most evil Disney villains suddenly sympathetic? Explaining why she became evil is a great idea--turning her into the hero of the story is revisionist history. If you're going to do a spin-off, you don't get to make up a new story to go along with it. So few details about Maleficent, the original story, the characters, and the outcome are left unchanged that I wonder why they bothered to base it on Sleeping Beauty in the first place. It's basically fan fiction.

It almost feels ridiculous to complain about taking liberties with the story, considering how much Disney changes every time it turns a story into a movie (cough, cough Pocahontas), but taking it an extra step and altering your own story? Why? Whyyyyyy???

As for the casting, I thought Angelina Jolie would make a wonderful Maleficent. She certainly looks like she could portray evil, and she scared the hell out of me the first time I watched Girl, Interrupted. But her prosthetic cheekbones are such a distraction it's hard to remember she's a character and not just the old weird Angelina Jolie who used to wear blood around her neck and make out with her brother.

And as a younger sister used to growing up in the shadow of more accomplished siblings, it pains me to say this, but Elle Fanning will never be Dakota Fanning. Some kids just grow up cuter than others, which would be fine if Elle had just carved out her own niche. But no, she just had to go into acting too. So she's not as talented, nor as attractive. Which all adds up to a very mediocre Sleeping Beauty--the key word there being beauty. Sigh. I will just never understand the logic behind bleaching your hair but leaving the eyebrows untouched. Did we not address this in the Saved by the Bell movie?!?

Final word: I wonder how many people were suckered into watching this movie simply because it got an Oscar nomination.

September 11, 2015

In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume [book]

Reading Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume is as much a part of being a teenage girl as having body insecurities or playing 'Truth or Dare' with a group of people you don't entirely trust. And despite having been written before I was alive, Judy Blume managed to speak to my adolescent self and capture a lot of tumultuous feelings one experiences at that age. Even if I didn't understand what the hell she was talking about with the period belt with clips for sanitary napkins.

Sadly, those sanitary napkin clips make a reappearance in her new book because apparently Judy Blume doesn't know how to write anything for people who use tampons and don't use the clinical term "menstruation." It's not a main part of this book, but the fact that she managed to work the topic in again is something to note.

You know what else Judy Blume managed to work in? Sex. Like, actual sex. Descriptions of sex. It wouldn't be so shocking, except that entire book is written as if it were another YA novel, but added the sex descriptions to appeal to an older audience. It's disconcerting.

Sanitary napkins and sex shock aside, this book is ultimately a trip down memory lane for Blume. The entire project feels more like a detailed diary of her childhood and less like a compelling novel. I understand it's a period piece, but the constant references to 50's music, style and such don't seem to have much relevance to the story itself--just reminders that Judy Blume knows a lot about the 50's.

She also attempts to do a multi-character story, with the perspective jumping around every few paragraphs. Not only is it confusing, but considering many of the characters get only one paragraph before ultimately perishing in a fiery plane crash, it's also unnecessary. The lack of focus only draws attention to the fact that none of the characters are compelling enough to support an entire story.

Historical fiction is always a tricky genre simply because there is always the question of just how factual to make it. Hollywood movies seem to have no difficulty, usually only stealing the basic premise of an event or life and then crafting a plot that creates the most drama and interest. Blume would have been better off going that route. Instead, she felt compelled to stay true to many of the facts of these mysterious plane crashes, leaving no central narrative to hold it all together other than the fact that they happened.

Perhaps the remaining residents of Elizabeth, New Jersey will appreciate this book because it gives them a glimpse into their town's history. But for everyone else, it offers little more than beautiful prose on an unworthy topic.

Final word: Hardly a staple of anyone's literary library. It made for a bummer summer read. Let me know when you get the joke.