Tag Archives: Disney

Is Netflix Doomed?

All the “Netflix is doomed” opinions either miss or ignore the sheer amount of content and internationalization the platform’s achieved. Whether it deserves to be doomed or not, the other large streamers come nowhere close to matching its output.

That may be seen as producing a lot of volume for volume’s sake, and while that may be true to some extent, it overlooks three elements:

1. People watch volume for volume’s sake. Always have, always will. That’s not an argument against their future viewing numbers, it’s an argument for it.

2. That much output fills in a lot of gaps that other streaming services are missing. Enough niche audiences in one place is a subscriber base.

3. The streaming services producing a limited amount of exceptionally high quality content (what’s up, Apple TV), are nowhere close to leading the field.

The component that’s nearly always missed is the strength of Netflix’s international production and distribution agreements. Of Netflix’s top 10 most watched seasons ever, four are non-English. That’s “Squid Game” (#1), “Money Heist”, (#3, #6), and “All of Us Are Dead” (#9).

Aside from “Money Heist”, a huge number of Spanish-language series hover outside the top 10 (“Elite”, “Who Killed Sara?”, “Dark Desire”), and that’s before getting into their investment in telenovelas. Netflix is hardly the biggest player in Spanish content with Univision and Pantaya are in the field. HBO Max and Peacock also pay a lot of attention to Spanish-speaking audiences, but Netflix has had a number of both Spanish and Latin-American hits.

They’ve got a ton of French, Filipino, Indian, Nigerian, and Turkish content (although their relationship with India is routinely tenuous). They have a range of content from across Southeast Asia that puts most other streamers to shame. Many streaming services have some content in the world’s most spoken languages, but Netflix adds to this by reliably boasting new content in French and Arabic (the fifth and sixth most spoken languages in the world). They’ve found a successful niche in the landscape of original anime.

Not only is Netflix putting out more content than other streaming services, their content is diversified across a wide range of audiences. Not only do those audiences have a deep well of content to watch on Netflix, but they’re watching each others’ content as well. This includes English-speaking audiences who are reliably watching K-dramas – not just the hits, but across the board – as well as Spanish-language content. Turkish series have proven popular across a range of cultures. “Money Heist” was so popular in Korea that there’s a K-Drama Money Heist that premiered this month. And while the original was from Spain, one of the most overlooked cultural relationships that’s grown over the last several years is the one between Korea and Latin America, particularly in music but also in watching each others’ shows. One of the best places to do that is Netflix.

This isn’t meant as a defense of Netflix. There is a lot to legitimately criticize about them. Ultimately, I don’t know that they’re particularly better or worse than other streaming platforms. I do think that trying to assess their future health while ignoring their unparalleled international footprint as a platform can lead to inaccurate narratives. Netflix easily has the most diverse range of audiences, which will react in different ways to different decisions. They’re not doomed because they’ve upset American viewers, and as much as I may want “The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance”, “GLOW”, “Teenage Bounty Hunters”, “The OA”, or “Altered Carbon” to continue, canceling English-language shows is neither enough to chase away audiences looking at the rest of the world’s content, nor enough to keep the rest from coming back the minute a new “Stranger Things” season drops.

Netflix’s largest subscriber growth in Q4 2021 was outside North America. They’ve already hit a plateau here, but I don’t think there’s any fear of mass exodus, or any reason to fear it. Netflix concluded 2021 with more than 221 million paid subscribers and they’re not in any particular danger of losing the #1 spot. Amazon assessed that more than 200 million Prime members streamed something in 2021, but this is complicated by Prime offering free shipping from Amazon, free games, and other incentives that subscribers factor into their membership. Disney finished the year with a distant 129.8 subscribers worldwide, only cracking the 200-million mark when including unique Hulu and ESPN+ accounts.

Will they lose some subscribers? The plateau they hit during the pandemic may be unsustainable, and as other options mature and viewers increasingly adopt strategies of rotating services, they will lose viewers. I’m sure their own decisions as a company contribute to that. The other big services will take their chunks, especially if Disney rolls out a less expensive, ad-supported tier. Don’t forget the nascent services like Paramount+, which rocketed from 8 million to 40 million viewers in the span of about 15 months.

Whether I agree with Netflix’s decisions or them canceling some of my favorite shows or not, Netflix is hardly doomed. It’s still the healthiest of the major streaming platforms because you can carve a million subscribers off here or there and it doesn’t matter to them. They’re measuring audiences by country and culture at this point, not by whether they’re able to maintain an unsustainable plateau in one market.

Offer Cara Dune on “The Mandalorian” to Her Stunt Performer: Amy Sturdivant

Words have consequences. That’s what happened when Gina Carano was fired from “The Mandalorian” in 2021. She had compared “hating someone for their political views” to the treatment of Jewish people that preceded the Holocaust. It’s part and parcel to the narrative that disagreeing with a Republican victimizes them so much that their suffering can only be compared to a genocide.

Before this, Carano had pushed election conspiracy theories and supported voter suppression efforts. Needless to say, Disney got tired of its hit series shouldering the criticism of a supporting actress who had appeared in fewer than half its episodes. Why cover for her and risk a serious hit to the reputation of a cornerstone franchise? Carano was fired in February 2021 and Disney stated that she wouldn’t appear in any future “Star Wars” projects.

Since then, Carano has been associated with film projects by The Daily Wire, Ben Shapiro’s media company, and “My Son Hunter”, a film based on Rudy Giuliani’s 2020 election conspiracy propaganda that centers on President Joe Biden’s son Hunter. It’s by the makers of “The ObamaGate Movie” starring Dean Cain. What, they couldn’t get Kevin Sorbo?

Carano more recently argued that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is nothing but a conspiracy to distract from the U.S. government “losing control of the covid narrative”. She’s also said that the COVID-19 vaccines are most similar to the AIDS epidemic. Not that the COVID-19 pandemic is similar to the AIDS epidemic, but that the vaccines are. She lamented being “stripped of everything” due to the firing. You know, aside from her $4 million net worth and contracts that came pouring in from Republican outlets.

Point is – and I meant to make it more briefly than this, but the examples really keep on coming – that Carano is exceptionally toxic and can’t return to the franchise. Yet why let her take a character with her? Marshall Cara Dune of “The Mandalorian” is a character others wrote, directed, choreographed, and even performed in certain moments. A character is always the creation of many, not just one person.

Recasting should always be a well-considered conversation. It can be easily abused to minimize actors’ creative input, or to keep them from revealing a toxic set. Here, however, it was Carano who was the toxic and hateful one. She was the one creating the problem. Franchises constantly update characters to toss out the elements that don’t work. If Carano’s the element that doesn’t work, problem solved.

Would recasting Cara Dune ruin our immersion? Did it ruin our immersion when War Machine was recast from Terrence Howard in “Iron Man” to Don Cheadle in “Iron Man 2”? Those two actors look nothing alike and act nothing alike – their portrayals of the character were completely different. We embraced Cheadle anyway.

Was our immersion ruined when “Batman Begins” recast love interest Rachel Dawes from a solid Katie Holmes performance over to an even better Maggie Gyllenhaal? No, it was the right move.

We’ve got a couple of Spider-Men and Batfolk and Commissioners Gordon bouncing around, no one’s making the argument that shifting back and forth between their actors ruins immersion.

“The Mandalorian” purposefully doesn’t cast dynamic supporting actors. It casts supporting roles with actors who play directly into type so that Pedro Pascal can stand out as exceptional even when he’s unable to show his face 95% of the time. If the supporting actors were our best character actors, Pascal would become lost. This isn’t a criticism of the show’s actors – type actors aren’t lesser than character actors, they just perform a different storytelling role. It’s how you can make the faceless role the most dynamic one among actors who all get to show their faces. You cast the ensemble for earnest portrayals, not complex ones, and it works beautifully.

I say this as someone who used to be a fan of Carano’s. When she was competing in MMA, she was my favorite fighter. She was a stand-up fighter who tried to win fights with a minimum of going to the ground. That reflected what I was taught in taekwondo and kickboxing growing up, and I appreciated that there was a fighter who made that philosophy work in a sport that tends to prioritize grappling. I tracked down a lot of her early films before streaming was as widespread because I wanted to see the fight choreography. Even then, I knew she wasn’t a good actress. Maybe she’d become one, but I watched her the way I watch some early Schwarzenegger movies – because I appreciated what they were doing on-screen even if the acting was questionable.

Carano is eminently replaceable as an actor. Even if she weren’t, she says a lot of harmful, dangerous shit. Anyone who’s pushing hatred and conspiracies shouldn’t be given a platform, and pushing hatred doesn’t give someone a magical right to someone else’s platform. I’m glad Carano’s fired, and I hope the conservative rumor mill that regularly insists she’ll be rehired remains nothing more than clickbait gossip.

Of course, the easiest way to not rehire her is to recast the role and move on. It also enables all those other people who helped create the character to keep on doing so.

If you keep Cara Dune, though, who plays her? Fan recasting efforts centered around Lucy Lawless, but I don’t know that she’d communicate the same character. She also has a habit of outshining her costars, which works in her projects – but is the exact opposite of what “The Mandalorian” needs from its supporting actors. Lawless is also an order of magnitude more expensive than what they were paying Carano. Even hit series have to keep to budget.

Why not just cast the woman who’s already played Cara Dune? No, not Carano. Amy Sturdivant has been Cara Dune’s stunt performer on the show. She was also Taskmaster’s stunt performer in “Black Widow”, and appeared as a stunt actor in “Obi-Wan Kenobi” and “Captain Marvel”. Here’s a short fight film of hers:

Despite how much they contribute to creating characters, down to how they move through a scene, stunt actors rarely have paths into acting in Western film. The film industries of many Asian countries regularly look for talent among stunt performers to promote into acting – Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, and Tony Jaa are some of the most famous.

As the American film industry has embraced more martial arts fight choreography, though, it’s lagged behind in creating this stunt-to-acting pipeline. This is one reason why American fight scenes still lack the complexity, scope, and length of Chinese, Hong Kong, Korean, Indonesian, Japanese, and Thai fight scenes.

The mold needs to be broken. We’ll stick singers, dancers, streamers, Instagram stars, and celebrities-of-the-moment all into our movies and series with no acting experience, and give them every resource to succeed, but stunt performers who have eaten and breathed their lives on set for their entire career still don’t have that pipeline. Stunt performers who’ve taken physical risks and suffered injuries portraying characters with barely any credit still don’t have that pipeline. Hell, Carano had no acting training before she shifted from MMA to Hollywood. Why should it stop a stunt performer who’s already been on sets for 10 years?

Amy Sturdivant has already performed Cara Dune in some of her most harrowing moments. I’m not making the argument she’s a great actor. She could be, who knows? I’ve watched some of her short films and choreography sessions in researching this article. She seems solid, and has enough charisma to deliver Cara Dune. More to the point, she’s already done the hardest, most taxing parts of portraying that character capably. I’m just saying let her do it 100% of the time. What do you have to lose? A side character in a few episodes who’s otherwise written out of the series?

But angry Republican fans will…do what? They’re already angry at you, they’ve already said the things they’re going to say, the few who’d stop watching have already done so.

The fans who are sticking with the series, the ones who wanted Carano to go, would be happy to see her recast with someone less toxic and hateful. A lot of people would be pleased to find out it’s someone who’s been involved with the character from the start.

What you have to gain is keeping intact a character who’s already established. What you have to gain is testing a stunt-to-actor pipeline that could give you returns for years in franchises that need actors who boast these kinds of skillsets. What you have to gain is a new source of potential actors, and a new actor in particular who could succeed in a popular role.

It’s the easiest recasting in the world in terms of finding your replacement – Sturdivant doesn’t just already work on the series, she already works on that character’s performance. Given the nature of “The Mandalorian”, Sturdivant’s already helped shape the Cara Dune we’ve seen. Why not let her keep on doing it in a way that’s more visible?

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Anti-Trust in Faith: Why Sony Needs to Play Hardball with Spider-Man

by Gabriel Valdez

Sony is playing hardball with Disney over the next “Spider-Man” movie. Will they still share production of the next movie and allow the character to remain in the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Or will the character revert to Sony and once again go solo in their own movie? The more important question might be why Sony is digging in its heels at this moment.

Disney’s Dominance

Chances are probably good that the two will figure out a deal. Yet the impasse reveals something more core about how studios need to begin interacting with Disney. Disney was already the most successful studio before its purchase of Fox. Now, it’s unquestionably the most dominant studio in the field.

Buena Vista is the releasing arm of Disney. According to Box Office Mojo, it’s controlled 36.5% of domestic studio market share thus far in 2019. That represents $2.79 billion.

The next closest studio is Universal at 13.9%. That represents $1.06 billion. And that’s before Disney really gets a chance to push any of their Fox properties onto the calendar.

Buena Vista has hovered around 20-26% market share for years, but the last time another studio came first was Universal in 2015.

This informs why Disney has been pushing so much material out. Good, bad, it doesn’t matter so long as they’re releasing an event film regularly.

Calendar Control

A big part of what Disney’s doing is trying to choke out the calendar. Movies only tend to have extremely large openings during certain times of year – mainly the extended summer and holidays. The fewer dates available for other studios to get event films in, the worse a situation those other studios face and the more their properties are de-valued.

It doesn’t matter so much to Disney if a movie’s successful or not. They can weather a bad opening, such as the one for “Solo”. They’ll still be fine, and the franchise as a whole will still be fine. It matters that they can control the calendar and deny dates to other films. A major “Avengers” or “Star Wars” film can block other movies opening big for three weeks. Even a minor MCU film can scare off other studios for a two-week block.

The fewer good dates available for event movies, and the more other studios fail to launch their own franchises. Yet to do this, Disney needs franchises. They need new material constantly churning out of the MCU, “Star Wars”, and their live-action remakes of cartoon classics to be able to take up those dates. They often reserve them years ahead of time. This still isn’t enough to sustain Disney blocking all these dates out indefinitely. That’s a major reason it’s in other studios’ interests to play hardball with Disney about sharing or selling any properties.

Disney Needs Franchise Fuel

Disney still needs more fuel – more franchises. Sony and other studios are fully aware of this, and they own or have the rights to those franchises. The only way non-Disney studios can keep their ability to stake out dates in the calendar is to retain these franchises while denying them to Disney. The deal has to be much sweeter for a studio like Sony to essentially sabotage access to event dates in the future.

This approach by Disney is reminiscent of classic monopolistic behavior. Now, it’s important to point out that Disney is not a monopoly. It is striving to become one, or as close to one as it can get, and to do that requires monopolistic practices.

Monopolies don’t start exercising monopolistic strategies only after becoming monopolies. They use them in order to become monopolies in the first place. They often try to undercut a competitor in one area, and only once that competitor is driven out of that area, will they raise their prices.

This isn’t selling oil in 1890 Ohio, though. Movies are released nationally, and theater chains charge the same regardless of which studio releases a movie. How exactly is Disney able to make their approach most effective?

Blocking Competitors

Disney has done this in an even more direct way. They’ve made theater chains sign ridiculous contracts – if they want to carry a large Disney movie like an “Avengers” or “Star Wars” release, they have to make agreements to show them on their largest screens for four weeks straight. In some cases, theaters have even been required to show more minor Disney films later in the year on a set number of screens for a set number of weeks. Both factors directly block the number and quality of screens available to other studios’ releases at key dates.

They’re also poisonous to smaller theaters that only have a few screens. It means that these theaters will often be blocked a month from showing any other movies if they want access to any Disney event films. Since another major release from another studio is likely within two-to-four weeks, it means that it’s going to be blocked from those small theaters entirely. Often, the only way for small theaters to change the films they’re showing is to carry whatever the next Disney event film is – with a similarly restrictive contract. This can create a cycle where smaller theaters are essentially locked into only showing Disney movies for months at a time.

This means that having more properties to fill those dates doesn’t just lock in more of the calendar for Disney. More to the point, it blocks those dates from other studios. More franchises means more large releases to force more imbalanced contracts with theater chains and to strong-arm smaller theaters. That means that Disney can deny screens to the releases of other studios. Even a flop can be contractually required to take up screens for four weeks.

Digging in Their Heels

This is what forms the context for Sony – and when their time comes, other studios – being very strict about negotiating favorable deals with Disney. The more franchises they allow Disney to have, the more event dates Disney controls. The more event dates Disney controls, the more screens they can force theaters to block from other studios’ releases – sometimes just for that event release, but sometimes by including even more minor films that take up screens on certain major release dates.

Sony is not just negotiating a favorable “Spider-Man” deal. They are also effectively negotiating the access their own films will have to the calendar in the future.

Of course it’s a goal for their films to make money. Of course it’s a goal for Disney to release on good dates. The best way to look at Disney right now, however, is to understand that their primary goal is to deny dates and screens to other studios’ films.

This is why they’re pushing so much material out the door. Regardless as to whether there’s a reason to make certain films, or even if some of them are record flops, each one can deny dates and screens to other studios for up to a month’s time. That’s good for Disney. It de-values the properties they’d seek to buy from other studios in order to further strong-arm theaters and further control and block the calendar.

What Can Be Done?

Neither Sony nor theater chains are heroes to Disney’s villain in this. They each have their own godawful business practices. Disney’s just the one that got there before the others, but it still makes sense for the others to dig their heels in before they can’t anymore.

It’s also difficult to figure out how to combat this. I’m going to be in theaters for “Black Panther 2” and “The Rise of Skywalker”. Disney’s making a decent amount of progressive event films and doing a better (though still far from perfect) job with women leads and actors and directors of color than many. I want to support those films, and at the same time not see Disney increasingly take over the industry.

The best answer I can give is that the key rests in greater regulation. Media and entertainment laws have become more and more de-regulated in the U.S. on endless fronts. In particular, the Paramount Consent Decrees need to be extended to Disney (and other players like Amazon). Aggressive enforcement of the decrees has all but evaporated. As in so many areas today, it needs to come back.

Silent All These Years — F*ck “Cinderella”

by Vanessa Tottle

What does Cinderella look like to a victim of child abuse? If you’ve been hit, or beaten, or terrorized, or tortured – what does Cinderella tell you? “Shut up, take it, know your place. God sorts out the rest.”

Or, in Kenneth Branagh’s latest re-imagining: “Have courage and be kind.”


Courage is to not sit there happily like a dumb puppy glad even for negative attention, wagging her tail for more. Courage is to not stay silent and accept that being abused is your destiny in life. Courage is to say, God may get to it eventually, but if it’s wrong, it’s wrong, and I’m here now.

“Be kind.”

Be kind doesn’t mean to take the slights of abusers like a whimpering simp. It doesn’t mean to knuckle under.

If you’re getting beaten, terrorized, tortured, enslaved, we don’t need a fairy tale or a movie or a Disney movement being sold to little girls telling you to shut up, take it, and know your place.

And don’t tell me that it’s just a movie or just a princess. It’s “just” part of a multi-billion dollar industry with more than 25,000 princess products, and “Cinderella” conveys messages to children seeing their first movies about what is and isn’t heroic, what is and isn’t courage, what is and isn’t being kind. What it teaches them about those values is wrong and dangerous.

I knew my place once and that was getting hit and having my life threatened day after day. I was Cinderella, told she was destined to be nothing and sit in her attic and think of why she deserved this abuse, who looked out the window and wondered what was wrong with her – just her – so special in all the wrong ways that she became determined to accept it, live it, suffer it quietly and cry and cry and cry, but only when no one was looking.

“Have courage and be kind.”

That’s what I believed. It sounds like a good message, but not to women, not to abuse victims, not the way it’s perverted and redefined by Cinderella and especially Branagh as, “Shut up, take it, know your place.”

I believed that courage was being quiet and kindness was to be forgotten. Branagh’s Cinderella – most Cinderellas – follow suit.

As Cleopatra pointed out, Cinderella – especially Branagh’s lavish but insane retelling of it – is at its heart a way of reinforcing the idea that if you suffer now and don’t complain, you’ll be rewarded later. Disney-brand Indulgences are on sale in the lobby.

Branagh’s Cinderella tells an abuse victim, “Have courage and be kind.” It tells her suffering is its own reward, so don’t fight, don’t object, just accept, and get locked in that attic with a stiff upper lip.

Others may watch it and see the pretty dresses and the handsome hair and the CGI slippers. I watch and I see myself as a child, not knowing better than to accept. Courage was being quiet. Kindness was to be forgotten.

I know better now than to think those are the marks of a role model, of a hero. These aren’t traits to emulate, this is a character to pity, and for most women in similar situations, no magic will arrive. They will have what they’ve been taught is courage, which is the courage to stay with their abusers. They will be too kind, forgiving every hit they take. They will have this courage and be this kind until they are broken, until they are abusers themselves, or until they are dead.

This is what Branagh teaches in a Cinderella more conservative and patriarchal than any other version: accept the abuse, but look good enough in public to hide it. Don’t breathe a word about it, just smile and be polite. If you sustain enough without objection, your reward will find you.

“Have courage and be kind.” Courage was being quiet. Kindness was to be forgotten…

Those weren’t the exact words I whispered to myself every night, but they’re close. I used to wake up drenched in sweat. I used to piss the bed. I used to hit myself to stop from crying because I was quieter that way. I took the long way home to weep behind bushes where classmates couldn’t see me. I believed myself courageous. I believed myself kind. Nobody taught me what those things really were. All I had were tales like Cinderella that taught me wrong.

And even if the magic does save you, and I was very lucky to get out, you don’t stop the screaming in your head, you never lose that urge to cause yourself pain to quell the wound that never heals, you never trust the way that you see other people trust, the way that you see Cinderella trust. You still wake up in the middle of the night. You still take the long way home.

Branagh’s Cinderella teaches that abuse leaves no lasting impression, that if you suffer quietly enough you will be rewarded, and it misrepresents courage and kindness as meekness and self-subjugation. It is the wrong message to send to abuse victims, to women, to children, to society. I don’t care how “classic” it is. I care how dangerous it is.

So fuck you, Kenneth Branagh. And fuck your dangerous, damaging movie, too.

Help! I mixed up “Cinderella” and “50 Shades of Grey”

by Cleopatra Parnell

Help! I double-featured Cinderella and 50 Shades of Grey, but I forgot which film is which! Will you help me figure it out?

Let’s see…a woman gives in to suffering at the hands of those around her. This suffering has no rhyme or reason, but after she gives up her agency and allows herself to be abused, she is rewarded with a handsome man who covets her after only one brief meeting where he barely gets to know her. That was definitely…which one? Damn, I’ll need to be more specific.

OK, in one the hero is forced to wear bondage gear that was so tight the actress could only eat liquid foods while shooting the movie. That has to be 50 Shades, right?

Cinderella corset


OK, in one the hero is definitely locked away in a life of slavery and unrealized dreams. Every day, she does backbreaking chores that please her master, who wishes nothing less than to dominate her and remind her of her place. I remember in one, the hero asks questions and learns about why this is before making her decision. In the other, the hero shuts up, accepts it, and cries alone to herself.

That MUST have been 50 Shades.

Cinderella dirty

I’m so bad at this!

Hmm. Cinderella is all about women, right? The evil stepmother, her older stepsisters, a fairy godmother, and Cinderella herself. So the one that spends the most time focusing on the relationships between men must be 50 Shades. It’s all about domination and ownership, right? It must really focus on men.

Cinderella just some dudes

Oh gosh no what a surprise!

Cinderella pushes Cinderella herself to the side to talk about how awesome men are at being men with each other. But if Cinderella invents new characters in order to create healthy relationships among men who are patient and grow to understand each other, then it must invent characters with whom Cinderella can develop healthy, communicative relationships, right? It can’t just turn a movie about Cinderella’s struggle into an ode to how awesome and understanding men are, can it?

The movie that offered its female hero a confidant and equal who was willing to talk to her about difficult decisions couldn’t have been…

50 Shades Dakota Eloise

Whaaaaat? That…that doesn’t look like Cinderella! She’s wearing jeans and eating something that’s NOT LIQUID. Now I’ll never be able to tell these movies apart!

Wait, I think I’ve got it! In one, the hero has a job and educates herself. She has friends and a family life. She gives into a potentially harmful relationship, but at least she’s worked hard enough for herself to have options. That relationship is her own choice, one which she educates herself about, and it’s not a choice made for her.

In the other, the hero scrubs floors, and she’s taught if she shuts up and scrubs floors extra hard then magic will happen and reward her for shutting up so good! What’s the reward? A man likes you! Fuck yeah!

I think I’ve almost figured out which is which now. The one that’s somehow more feminist, I remember that one! That’s 50 Shades. The one that makes you look at the big house in the nice neighborhood and tells you if you don’t rock the boat or try to change anything for the better, maybe one day you’ll live there? That’s Cinderella. Cinderella is the one where she doesn’t even put up as much fight as she did as a 1950s cartoon.

DISCLOSURE: Both BDSM and Disney movies are fine. Shitty representations of either aren’t.

Cinderella Glass Slippers

50 Shades Bind

“Big Hero 6” is This Year’s “Frozen” (and might be even better)

Big Hero 6 flying

by Gabriel Valdez

There’s a moment in Big Hero 6, Disney’s new animated superhero film, when I was reminded why I like watching movies with live audiences instead of in critic screenings. Young Hiro has just flipped the switch on his sweet, rotund, inflatable robot Baymax, turning him from a friendly caretaker into a killing machine. In order to exact vengeance, Hiro momentarily erases any conscience the robot has. The next time Hiro tries this, Baymax refuses. You see, Hiro’s lost someone very close, and Baymax tries to teach Hiro to cope in a healthier way than just getting even.

It’s a touching scene that offers a glimpse into how deeply emotional something as silly as a computer-animated superhero comedy can be. I glanced around the theater. Critics would have been furiously scribbling in their notebooks. Instead, I saw a mother wipe away tears and a father badly pretend not to. I looked further and saw this reflected across the entire theater. Families leaned a foot closer to a screen 80 feet away and cried. I’d already given up on wiping away my own tears.

As an adaptation from a Marvel comic, Big Hero 6 is hilarious and full of creative action. It’s colorfully, brightly animated, written for both children and adults, and let me repeat: it is incredibly funny. It’s also a tremendous film about coping with loss, one of the most difficult subjects to talk about with children.

Big Hero 6 mid

Hiro is a child prodigy. He invents robots in a California-Japan mishmash of a city called San Fransokyo. He’s content to hustle robot fighting leagues until older brother Tadashi inspires him toward college. Hiro is putting it all together until one key cog comes loose, and everything is taken from him. All Hiro is left with is a clue about the man responsible, and his brother’s robotic personal healthcare assistant Baymax, as large and squishy as he is well-meaning.

The two follow the clue, recruiting help from Hiro’s inventor friends and, once they realize they’re out of their depth, recasting themselves as a team of superheroes with Baymax at the center.

If you’ll follow me on a tangent, Disney (like Pixar) runs a short animated film before each feature. Big Hero 6 gives us a treat with “Feast.” It’s the story of a dog rescued off the street who changes the direction of a man’s life. It is easily the best pairing of animated short and feature film either Pixar or Disney has ever made – “Feast” sets the theme and level of emotion for the bigger film that follows. What is Baymax, after all, if not a rescue? Take away the central mystery and the villain and the superheroics, and the emotional effect Baymax’s innocence and unconditional loyalty have on Hiro’s life are much the same.

Big Hero 6 hairy baby

Let’s get to that headline, though. How is superhero adventure Big Hero 6 like fantasy musical Frozen? There’s no singing, there’s no dancing, no talking snowmen or ice palaces. And yet, I felt the same way coming out of both of them. Endorphins had been kicking in the whole movie, I felt happier coming out than when I went in, and I’d been taken on a very complete emotional journey. I’m still feeling overwhelmed and incredibly charged by Big Hero 6 even as I edit this a day later.

Neither Disney film is a cinematic marvel, and they each lack the polish of a Dreamworks (How to Train Your Dragon) or proper Pixar (Brave) movie. Yet Big Hero 6 and Frozen are both more rough-and-tumble creative propositions, less finely tuned and more willing to make mistakes. They each bite off more than they can chew, yet find a way to rise to the occasion. They each make up for some occasionally simplified animation with well-defined characters, improvised elements, and plots that are incredibly full of heart. If there were an Oscar for Best Crowd Pleaser, the two Disney animations would walk away with it two years running.

The Big Hero 6 by the way? That team consists of African-American, Caucasian, Japanese, Korean, Latin-American, and robot characters. Three men, two women, one robot. Including more diverse casts of characters not only provides a wider range of role models for children to look up to, it’s also one of the easiest ways of making the world of a film feel bigger and more real. It’s one less suspension of disbelief rested on an audience’s shoulders. Given the response I saw, I’d say it works.

Does it Pass the Bechdel Test?

This section helps us discuss one aspect of movies that we’d like to see improved – the representation of women. Read why we’re including this section here.

1. Does Big Hero 6 have more than one woman in it?

Yes. Two of the heroes are GoGo, voiced by Jamie Chung, and Honey Lemon, voiced by Genesis Rodriguez. (They all have silly names like that. The hero’s name is Hiro, for godssakes, although that’s lifted from Snow Crash). There’s also Hiro’s guardian, his Aunt Cass (Maya Rudolph).

2. Do they talk to each other?


3. About something other than a man?

Yes. They talk about science and technology, plan how to foil a villain, and argue over whether they’ll make it out of precarious situations. They also engage in group conversations in which women and men address the group at large.

As I was researching the film, I found an early interview indicating GoGo and Honey Lemon would have a petty rivalry over the boys’ attentions. Somewhere along the line, that got ditched, and I couldn’t be happier. Who are they without that petty rivalry? They’re both inventors, geniuses, technically apt, and good in a fight. GoGo is a laconic daredevil, Honey Lemon a stylish nerd.

When they become superheroes, GoGo uses magnetic levitation roller blades and hurls discs at enemies as if she saw Tron and took it as a challenge. Honey Lemon enters chemical formulas onto a keypad on her purse, which then dispenses the correct concoction. She can toss a ball of ice, sticky goo, or hardened shields at a moment’s notice.

As for the men, Wasabi has energy swords and Fred can jump high and breathe fire. That’s fun and all, but the women are far more exciting. GoGo’s scenes offer a lot of high-speed movement and stunts. Since Honey Lemon uses chemical reactions to fight, you don’t exactly know what she’s going to do – that always makes for an intriguing brand of action. Yeah, she uses her purse, but a purse that creates chemical reactions at will to let you fight as you want? Hell, I walked out of the theater wanting one of those.

Big Hero 6 GoGo

I’ll admit, GoGo is now one of my favorite superheroes. At one point, she tells a fretting Wasabi (Damon Wayans, Jr.) to “Woman up.” This later becomes a catchphrase she uses when she does something especially superheroic. I imagine my niece running around and shouting, “Woman up,” treating the phrase as the absolute essence of toughness and bravery. That is an incredibly big deal.

Additionally, on that diversity I mentioned earlier – Big Hero 6 is based on a Japanese comic in which nearly all the characters are Japanese. Obviously, that’s going to change in an American adaptation. It’s just what happens, and the same thing happens in reverse when American material is adapted in other countries. There’s nothing wrong with that. Cultures adapt and cast specifically to speak to their own demographics.

In this adaptation, however, Hiro’s family is Japanese, GoGo is Korean, Honey Lemon is Latin-American, Wasabi is African-American, and Fred is Caucasian. Where Frozen tackles issues of gender equality head-on and makes it an issue for certain characters, in Big Hero 6, no one ever has an attitude that someone can’t do something because of ethnicity or gender. It’s never even mentioned.

Both approaches are valuable. Frozen forces audience members to confront the way in which traditional media presents women as weak, helpless, and in need of saving. In Big Hero 6, equality just seems an everyday normality, and you get to spend two hours experiencing what that world is like.

That in itself is a powerful statement, and I can’t applaud the multitude of writers, directors Don Hall and Chris Williams, and casting director Jamie Sparer Roberts enough for how they designed this cast and these characters.

As moving as the film is itself, it’s even more extraordinary when you take into account how rare an approach to casting and character treatment this is in something that cost $165 million to make. I can’t recall a big-budget film ever doing diversity this well. Period.

Big Hero 6 team