Monday, November 15

Lost in Translation - The Japanese Origins of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers

If you were a kid in the 1990s and had basic cable, you are probably familiar with the spandex clad, butt-kicking super team known as The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.

Not quite.
The show begins when Rita Repulsa, an evil alien sorceress who has been sealed away in her planetary prison for the past 10,000 years, is released by two hapless astronauts. I guess plans of world domination must be a popular form of recreation for for those recently sprung from the joint because the first things all evil sorcerers seem to want to do when they are released is take over planet Earth for no apparent reason. The all-knowing, giant floating head, Zordon --

Like so
-- tells his robot assistant Alpha to find him five “overbearing and over-emotional humans,” (i.e. teenagers) to become the defenders of the planet. Because we all know that we like our supernatural crime fighting teams the way we like our pop idols: beautiful, oversexed, and underaged. 

The original 1993 cast of The Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers.
The rangers assembled are all high school students from Angel Grove, California: Billy (Blue ranger), Jason (Red ranger), Zack (Black ranger), Trini (Yellow ranger), and Kimberly (Pink ranger). 

They gain weapons from Zordon as well as morphers, communicators, and their respective Zords -- giant fighting robots in the shape of their respective dinosaurs. When the villain is too strong for the rangers and their Zords individually, the machines unite to create the Megazord. 

The DinoZords
In each episode they have a personal issue they’re dealing with in school whether it be gymnastics competitions, getting good grades, or trying to get signatures for a petition to save the environment. You know, the stuff actual high-schoolers are too caught up in their facebook drama to care about. The only thing that really puts a damper on their fun are the two school bullies, Bulk and Skull, a Laurel and Hardy team who provide slapstick comedic relief. Remember, this was back in 1993 when bullying was shoving you into lockers, not viciously singling you out to diligently cut away your self-esteem until you’re driven to suicide. This was afternoon programming for children after all.

The wholesome high school shenanigans were usually interrupted by some sort of monster sent down by Rita Repulsa who – having not yet figured out how to hook up her cable – basically had nothing better to do.

Rita Repulsa, probably about to break something. Just cuz.
Based on your level of dorkdom (or a certain level of “I never really gave a crap”), you may or may not be aware that this show was based off of and used footage, props, monsters, and costumes from a popular Japanese Super Sentai series (sentai meaning essentially “task force”) known as Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger which originally aired in Japan in 1992.

In the original series, the creators pull a Dr. Who and create an anachronistic "wibbly wobbly, timey wimey" version of history so that 170 Million years ago, tribes of dinosaurs simultaneously co-existed with beings that descended from dinosaurs (who look an awful lot like humans) literally translated on several websites I found as "Homo Dinosaurs." I would make a joke about that, but I'm not five-years-old. 

I'm four-and-three-quarters, thank you very much.

The dinosaurs and these prehistoric humans lived side-by-side in five tribes that were protected by their individual Beast Guardians (a pterodactyl, triceratops, sabretooth tiger, t-rex, and a mammoth) until the witch Bandora (who flipping hated dinosaurs and children) set out to destroy them all. 

Fortunately, the five Beast Guardians were able to seal her away on Planet Nemesis where she wouldn’t constantly kill things. As a safeguard, one member of nobility was chosen from each clan to be put to sleep and only awoken if Bandora were to somehow escape her prison. These nobles were: Mei, the Risha Tribe's Warrior of Love (The Pteraranger), Dan, the Etoph tribe Warrior of Courage (The Triceraranger), Goushi, the Sharma tribe Warrior of Wisdom (The Mammothranger), Boi the Daim tribe Warrior of Hope (The Tigerranger),  and Geki, the Yamato tribe Warrior of Justice (The Tyrannoranger).

Prince Geki and his merry band.
Predictably, humans – who seem to like to open things just because they can – discovered her secret prison while on a space mission and broke the seal, releasing the witch and her minions. As a means to thank them, she blows the astronauts into space, sending them hurtling weightlessly to their deaths. Apparently she was in a hurry and the Hallmark store was closed.

Barza, a wizard-ish dude who was the basis for Zordon, uses his massive ear to hear the seal being broken from millions of miles away back on earth. 

He then springs into action to wake up the slumbering heroes and thus their journey begins. Along the way, they gain new weapons from the guardians as well as the ability to harness the power of a God who emerges only when the five Beast Guardians unite.  
In the first season of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, most of the fight scenes and in-costume sequences (aside from things taking place in Zordon’s control room) were out of context footage taken from the Zyurangers series. All of the scenes showing the character’s faces were filmed in America and worked with entirely new overarching storylines. Almost any sequence where they are sporting masks and fighting baddies, or any scene with Rita Repulsa or the Zords during season 1 were from Zyurangers. That’s why the witch seemed somewhat unsettling when she spoke; the Rita you see is actually the original actress playing Bandora, the late Machiko Soga, with the voice being dubbed over by an American voice actress.

Bandora the Witch and part-time child predator.

 Ever wonder why even though there are two female rangers, only the pink ranger wears a skirt? That’s because in the Japanese series, she was the only girl and the yellow ranger was a dude…named Boi.  If you ever look back at a Power Ranger fight scene and notice the yellow ranger is pretty flat-chested and has a package that Fed-Ex couldn’t deliver, you’ll know that I speak the truth.

The late Thuy Trang who played Trini had no junk of which to speak...
This guy however, was definitively a dude.

So why were the two shows made to look and feel nothing like each other?

As happens with any translation, some things get lost in the process, if not cut out altogether. In the case of Zyurangers, there were just too many elements that were idiomatic and just wouldn’t translate to an audience of American viewers with limited knowledge of Japanese culture. This is one reason why, if you’re ever unfortunate enough to get trapped in a room with an anime “purist,” most of them would argue that the only real way to enjoy the Japanese media is with subtitles. Although most of them can’t tell you why subs are better, they will simply tell you that “dubs suck.”

More fundamentalist fans will tell you that true dorkdom isn't contained by things like haircuts or pants.

I find this hard to believe considering the fact that dubs outsell the crap out of subs and American voice actors are seen as quasi-gods to gaggles of adoring fans at anime conventions around the nation. Plus, it would kind of hamper my voice-over aspirations if I didn’t appreciate a good dub, now wouldn’t it?

Essentially, the heart of the argument is supposed to be that subtitles allowed you to display notes whenever an unfamiliar word or topic was spoken by the characters, allowing you to get a more accurate translation of the cultural elements so you could experience the story in its intended context. When the voices are dubbed into English, you lose the ability to explain language idioms through visual footnotes in the corner of the screen (although some still use them).

 Additionally, you’re under time constraints because all the dialogue must be condensed to match the mouth movements of the characters. Subsequently, dialogue, key plot points, and even character names are often altered, abridged, or removed from the series to facilitate the viewing experience for Western viewers, thus creating an adaptation rather than a translation. Carl Macek, one of the people who adapted the several anime series into the 1980s show Robotech, sums it up best:

“You can’t just translate a Japanese TV series literally into English if you want the American public to accept it. There are all kinds of little changes you have to make – sort of like creating an American body language – so that the characters will seem more natural to American viewers. For one thing, Japanese cartoons are very slowly paced by American standards. They’re full of long, dramatic pauses while there’s a close-up of somebody’s face registering an emotion, or a slow camera pan across a beautiful background. Americans won’t sit still for that. They’ll turn to another channel.” -- page 310 of the book Watching Anime, Reading Manga: 25 years of Essays and Reviews.
I for one, don’t necessarily see the problem with adapting a story by putting it into a cultural context the audience can understand.

Actually, I’m the biggest hypocrite ever. I see no need why perfectly good Ricky Gervais comedies need to be remade into the same language just because Americans find a British accent too cumbersome to decipher.
One of the most basic cultural differences was that Japan and America have different standards for what’s appropriate for their children. Death of main characters, on-camera or off, is usually a no-no in kid’s entertainment stateside, unless of course that character was a nameless, unsympathetic  creature like the Putties, or they just really, really deserved it. 
The Putties: A face only a roundhouse kick could love.
 Take it away again, Carl:
“I took the recommended TV standards and practices for children’s programming and I read them very carefully…the actual standards don’t say that you cannot show death under any circumstances; you can’t show characters getting hurt. They prohibit evil winning over good; they prohibit violence for violence’s sake. In Robotech, the good guys use only enough violence to defend themselves. Some of the bad guys are shown as honestly mistaken rather than as evil; they have a chance to reform. Some of the good guys make mistakes too, and they suffer for them." 

Whether we’re aware of it or not, our culture has a moral code in almost all of our fictional entertainment. As I addressed in my Halloween Psych series, the just world phenomenon entails that we can only feel stable if we can believe we live in a world where good things happen to good people and bad things only happen to those who did something to deserve it. 

Take that, unbridled chest hair.

The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers often depicted moral quandaries that were confronted and resolved through good American values and teamwork. In the season two episode, “Doom Bloom,” Lord Zed plans to cause dissension in the ranks by using a poison plant to turn an already envious Kimberly into a raving piss ant who turns on her friends. In the end, she is returned to normal, but the point is made clear that Kimberly made herself susceptible to his attack because she had already allowed envy to sneak into her heart when she resented Trini’s volleyball club for getting more members than Kim’s gardening club.

In the Japanese version, people straight up die in the first five minutes (remember those lucky astronauts?). You don’t have to be a giant evil plant or Minotaur to get capped (although it certainly helps). 

Bandora used to be a fairy queen but destroyed the dinosaurs and is basically a child murderer because she was actually a grieving mother. She repressed the memory that her own son was killed by a dinosaur so all she remembers is that she’s mad at pretty much everyone and can no longer stand the sight of children. The same as with its anime, Japan likes to display a level of moral ambiguity in both its heroes and its villains because it makes for a more dynamic story. In American kids shows, it seems good and evil always need to be clearly delineated because I guess our children are just simple-minded folk who don’t need to be confused with character motivations and psychoanalysis. They just want to see stuff go boom.

The Michael Bay School for Explosive-Happy Toddlers.
In general, Japanese parents seem to be more lax in the amount of violence, death, and horrific images their children are allowed to see. This is why seeing the Japanese language, subtitled version of a children’s anime is always going to be much less censored and often a lot darker in tone than the dubs meant for distribution on American television. When it came out, parents in the U.S. protested the Power Rangers, decrying it as too violent and a bad influence on their kids. But sticking within the TV standards, the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers didn’t use excessive violence, they stuck to the guidelines of using it only enough to defend themselves and the world. That’s admirable right? After having seen the first 6 episodes of the Japanese version, I’m gonna say that the Land of the Rising Sun could teach these parents a thing or two about what real violence is.

For example, when the Putties are vanquished by the Power Rangers, they tend to just get kicked out of the view of the camera or disappear, while the Zyurangers are busy slashing them with swords and running them through with spears 300 style. One of the bad guys, Dora Skeleton, gets his head lopped off and one of the rangers throws it into the fiery pit off hell which just happens to be conveniently located to their left.

Oh, and did I forget to mention Satan? 

Who? You mean Moi?
When Bandora’s son is killed, she vows vengeance and makes a pact with Satan to give her power to destroy the planet. The friggin’ lord of the underworld gets a cameo on Japanese TV yet the U.S. media gets in a tizzy whenever the Big Man Upstairs gets a shout-out in a courtroom?  Whatevs. We live in a country where Snuggies sell millions and Tila Tequila is considered famous enough to get her own TV shows so I guess there are some things I’ll just never understand.

Even when things aren’t necessarily violent or satanic in Zyurangers, they’re downright disturbing on a profound psychological level. Which makes it oh so much fun.

In one episode, the souls of Japanese children are trapped inside of trees in a forest that’s getting cut down to make way for a golf course. You see the children screaming and crying as the developers take chainsaws to their trunks and slice away. If they employed that plot device on Captain Planet, I can almost guarantee you that every Millenial youth would be a devout tree hugger and probably wouldn’t even pick flowers…just to be safe. 

But devil worship, decapitation and deforestation aren’t the only things keeping the Zyurangers from being accepted by U.S. audiences. 

Japan as a nation is really old and steeped with culture, tradition, and mythology to draw from that a n00b like America doesn’t really have in its arsenal. This time discrepancy may or may not be worth noting, but the backstory for the Power Rangers series began with Rita’s imprisonment only 10,000 years ago, whereas the original series found its genesis over 170 million years ago in the age of the dinosaurs where ancient gods and spirits were abundant. When Geki, the Tyrannoranger reads about the epic battle that took place, the images resemble the style of wood block paintings, a traditional form of Japanese art often used to represent scenes from history or mythology.

Oh yeah.
 The Zyurangers draw from ancient archetypes of brave, stoic warriors in ceremonial garb, well-versed in swordplay and martial arts, who cast off material and personal pleasures for the cause of the greater good. The Japanese are much more intrinsically spiritual and pantheistic than Western culture. In Shinto mythology, animals, trees, even inanimate objects like swords often have spirits of some kind. In the Power Rangers, the Beast Guardians were just referred to as Zords, machinery that that rangers could pilot and unite to form Megazord. In the original, the Beast Guardians were actual spirits that guarded their individual tribes in the age of the dinosaurs, and now help the Zyurangers along their path, often granting them power, visions, and sentient weapons. If the spirit is displeased with something, it will tell them so with words or gestures and will even eject the rangers from the cockpit if they tick them off enough.  The “Megazord” that we all know and love, was not just an awesome machine, but an actual god with thoughts and feelings of its own.

"I feel like all we ever do is fight, guys. Can't we just sit around and, idunno, share how our days went?"
The United States of America is only a couple hundred years old, and nobody really wants to create a show based on our “epic” history by creating a super task force consisting of historical figures like Ben Franklin, Thomas Edison, and Susan B. Anthony.
Or don't they...

I invented bifocals, electricity, and awesomeness.
That’s why I think the American adaptation of the series dropped the historical, spirit guide component and shifted the focus onto modern youth and technological advances such as the addition of Alpha the robot, Zordon’s command center, high-tech communicator devices, and the simplified revisioning of the Zords as merely giant robots that kicked butt. Besides the hang up that our own history is boring and lacks dynasties, samurai, and those uncomfortable-looking Japanese sandals, even if the show were to draw cultural influences from America’s past, who’s past and which culture would it be representing?
This guy's hat surely doesn't know.
The Japanese are a very homogenized people with mostly everyone having similar genetic features and origin. America, with its colorful history and multicultural make up, would not be served well by a show that only featured the ancestry of a smaller percentage of the country’s demographic. This is why, even though the original was more epic and magical, it was a smart move for the American adapters to drop the cultural and historical elements and recast the show with a more diverse ensemble. It’s proven that people are more likely to watch a show if their demographic has a strong presence on it. Therefore they whitened up a couple of the kids to represent the ethnic majority, and then added an African-American, an Asian-American, and secured a stronger female demographic by adding a second girl to the squad.

I’m sure there are other reasons behind the changes and maybe I’m just dedicating a lot of analysis into what could have been completely arbitrary decisions by the Power Rangers staff. Either way, I definitely recommend looking up a few of the super sentai series on youtube or something, because you may even find that you like that version better or it could just provide you with a good laugh or WTF moment. Hopefully, seeing the foreign origin of what we thought of as iconic American television as children, will help us better realize that our cultural experiences have been somewhat tailored for us so to minimize the discomfort that comes from cross-cultural interaction. You may never get the chance to visit a foreign country or even leave your state, but it will be eye-opening to step outside of your myopic experience of the world and get a taste of another country through its music, literature, film, or even it’s weird screaming men with bowler hats:

Not sure how that article turned into a public service announcement for foreign exchange and cross-cultural understanding, but I hope you found the contrasts and comparisons between The Power Rangers and the series it was based on, at least somewhat entertaining.

Do you have any comments you’d want to share of cross-cultural experiences where things seemed completely new, intriguing, or bizarre to you? It could be something you learned while traveling in a different country, or even noticed about a foreign TV show while sitting in the comfort of your own room. 

I love comments. I love them almost as much as I love kettle corn. Comments open up a possibility for conversation, and (if you haven’t noticed) I’m quite the talker.

Friday, November 12

Reason #3 Why The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest Was Ballin' Television

#3. Girl Power
Now, I don’t claim to be a connoisseur of old school Jonny Quest by any means, but in the episodes I have seen, I noticed very quickly that there was a noticeable absence of the XX chromosome. Always.

Apparently, I’m not alone in this realization:
"All in all, we see nine women largely featured and four-plus shown in crowd scenes [I estimated 8 - 3 in Riddle of the Gold, and 5 in Terror Island (crowd scene watching dragon) - LPB]. Of the nine featured women, three (Drena Hartman, Jezebel Jade, and Denise Lor) are of major importance to the storyline. (

There were 26 episodes total in the original 1960s series and out of those eps and hundreds of characters, goons, and lizardmen they encountered, only 3 of the major players were of the female variety. Most of them seemed to either be flight attendants or treacherous skanks.

Welcome aboard Progress Airlines. My name's Cindy and I'll be your indentured servant for the flight.
It seemed like most depictions of women on TV back in the day were either the pleasant, submissive type, the damsel in distress, or the alluring, yet morally deficient femme fatale who always brought down any man foolish enough to stumble into her web. The most prominent female character (who appeared in all of 2 episodes),“Jezebel” Jade was interesting because she was always so morally ambiguous that it was hard to tell where her true loyalties lay at any given moment. She was strong in the sense that she was able to thrive independent of male help, and in fact, rescued the Quest boys’ hapless butts on more than one occasion. 
Jezebel Jade. 'Nuf said.
Much of her perceived power, however, was drawn from the mysterious allure she held over men, allowing her to use and manipulate them like microwaved silly putty. This female character who was a thief, adventurer, and explorer was not as progressive as it sounds. The creators seemed to have no qualms revealing their attitude toward women who defied socially-sanctified gender roles in the very fact that they called her "Jezebel;" a name traditionally reserved for evil, sexually promiscuous women, and those who won't speak straight about their feelings for Doug Funny.

Patty Mayonnaise: A mixed-message sending, gerbil holding Jezebel
Fast forward 30 years and you have the birth of real girl power in the introduction of Race Bannon’s teenage daughter, Jessie. This might seem a little discriminatory, but one of the first major draws to The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest for me as a child was because there was a girl on the team. Plain and simple.

Hey, if you look at most American action-adventure shows of the 80s and 90s (i.e. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Batman, Spider-Man, G.I. Joe, Gargoyles, Transformers, etc.) the focus was mainly on male leads and if there were recurring female characters it seemed like they were either villains, love interests, or just put there because she gave the hero a constant derriere to save.

When you need 4 turtles to rescue you from a pig with a nose ring, it's probably time to re-evaluate your decisions in life.
Seeing a female role model close to my age who was a computer whiz, could Maguyver a hot air balloon out of airplane wreckage and fabri c scraps, saved the boys from falling off cliffs, could pilot a plane, and knew her way around the business end of a gun was revolutionary for me. She did everything the boys did and often better, yet nobody ever called her femininity into question. Jessie was 100% woman.
And sometimes part bird according to the concept art.
The brand-new writing crew for season 2 also gave Jessie girl power…the kind of power a girl had in Renaissance England when your most effective strategy in a tough situation was fainting, or not giving the king a male heir. The butt-kicking gal that we all knew and loved from the first 26 episodes suddenly finds herself possessed by hormonal ghosts, gets mummified, has a demon drain her life-force once or twice, and is otherwise unconscious on-again-off-again for a quarter of the season. 

Jessie takes a nap while Jonny almost breaks his arm trying to keep her soul from getting sucked out.
If that isn’t bad enough, they give her a daintier, more stereotypical “girl” look in the 2nd season. To complete the transformation, they outfit her with a horrid pink jumper contraption, shiny turquoise earrings, and a piercing Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom damsel in distress cry which she deploys in basically every episode.

Oh yeah, and they pretty much remove all semblance of balls…uh, figuratively of course.

Because Race Bannon certainly doesn't create no flipper-like hermaphrodite babies.
To basically sum up the differences between the two different Jessies, why don’t we play everyone’s favorite game: “Your Jessie Sucks.” In this game we ask each Jessie a question about how they would deal with hypothetical situations and they will answer using actual quotations from their respective season. This way we will be able to determine which Jessie is the real one, and which one sucks. 

Host: Contestant #1,your plane goes down in Siberia and you come across a civilization in the ice. How do you explain their ability to sustain themselves without sunlight as a source of photosynthesis for vegetation?

Season 1 Jessie: “The geothermal energy from that volcano is creating its own eco-system. You’ve been farming the arable land between the lava flow and the ice cliffs.”

Host: Interesting. Contestant #2, how would you handle it if you were to go to Tweet an adorable picture of Bandit to all your friends but Twitter wouldn’t load due to high volumes of traffic?

Season 2 Jessie: “Johnnyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy---

*quick commercial break*
...*Returns from break*

--- yyyyyyyyyyyyy!!!” 

I think we have our answer ladies and gentlemen.

The addition of Jessie also brought new dimensions to the existing Quest team members. It was intriguing to see the hunky James Bond-like lady-killer and action man, Race Bannon, become incredibly sensitive and outright vulnerable when it came to the well-being and safety of his daughter. Jessie, being close in age to Jonny, provided both a romantic interest and a foil for the young Quest. With Jessie being a brainiac like Dr. Quest and Jonny being a kung-fu action man like Race, they each provided perceived competition for their individual father’s affections, and even made one wonder whether the two weren’t switched at birth.

You know, Benton Quest also originally had red hair in the 1960s series…

"Benton, you are not the father."

  In the Jonny Quest writer's guide which the creators used while pitching and creating the show (can be read on the ever fantastic, they describe Jessie's character as such:

“As Race's daughter, she is fit and athletic but she is not Superwoman in training. She cannot, even with all Race's tuition in the martial arts, overpower an adult[…]But though Jessie is not as strong, physically, as Jonny, she is just as tough. She's smarter, too, and more thoughtful."
Jessie is a well-rounded character who has her strengths and can hold her own but isn’t perfect and even has areas she struggles with. Choosing to make her human and not some impossible superhero who is good at everything truly makes her more relatable to the girls in the viewing audience who may be struggling with their own insecurities.

“Like Hadji, Jessie has a strong interest in Dr. Quest's work and she often has a better grasp of the academic and the theoretical than Jonny. So, just as Jonny likes to hang out with Race - the man of action - Jessie likes to spend time with Dr. Quest. She shares his consuming interest in archaeology, physics and the paranormal. Race may be a touch envious of Jessie's relationship with Benton. Call it fatherly jealousy. But Race is also extremely proud that his daughter can hold her own with a genius like Dr. Quest. The very real differences between Jessie and Jonny should make for interesting crossplay and tensions[…]Maybe some day, the two will become more than friends. Maybe Jessie really prefers Hadji's company. Sometimes Jonny thinks so.”

As we all know, jealousy and competition are the stuff of compelling television because tension can add spice and momentum to a plot. The set up Lawrence established here by tossing Jessie in the mix, set the stage for all sorts of potential drama and deeper character motivations. 
Go go, Gadget Drama.
     We see this demonstrated really well in several season 2 episodes where the romantic tension between Jonny and Jessie are milked for maximum effect. In “The Haunted Sonata,” Jonny has a crush on Irina, a piano prodigy, while Jessie is digging on Milo, a Russian guy with a thick pony tail. The two indulge in endless jibes and slightly envious eye-rolling whenever the romantic affiliations of the other person are mentioned. 

     The episode “Eclipse” has Hadji bewitched to fall in love with a female vampire/demon thingie and Jessie becomes green with envy, which seems to unsettle young Mr. Quest (all of us hopeless romantics are pretty sure it’s because he’s madly in love with her and wants to have tons of ginger babies with her. But this is just a theory.)

Jessie is truly the epitome of girl power because she is not sexualized and reduced to being objectified by her fellow cast members. They don’t endow her with ridiculous cleavage, and they don’t force her to flaunt her body in skimpy outfits for the pleasure of male viewers. There’s no gratuitous jiggling or bouncing when she walks and thankfully none of the skeevy action panty-shots we’ve become so accustomed to in many comic books and anime (here’s looking at you, Sailor Scouts). 

Yet another reason to consider pants for all of your crime-fighting needs.
Despite what baggage the word might carry to some people, "feminism" is simply used to describe a theory in which men and women are equal. It has nothing to do with bra burning and man-hating; just a matter of asking to be treated with the same respect men get. I believe the creators of TRAJQ really did Jessie (and girls everywhere) a service when they chose to ignore her "lovely lady lumps," and focus on developing a great character that people would be drawn to based on her brains, integrity, and bad-assitude.

Women are showcased quite a bit on this series as anything from old western gunslingers to astronauts and they often play a vital role in the outcome of the episodes. Sometimes the women have so much awesome in them that they come back to life as ghosts just to be like, “hey guys, remember how awesome I was?...yeah so, funny thing was, I had too much awesome for one lifetime so I had to come back again just to relieve myself of some of this awesomeness.”

And if I haven't already hammered home the point that this show has awesome female heroes, check out my mock trailer: Kill Belle 2. Using audio bytes from the Kill Bill 2 trailer, I pay homage to Belle Bonnet, one of TRAJQ's coolest undead lady characters ever: 

What are your thoughts on the women of the JQ universe?
Become a follower, leave a comment, and join in on the discussion! 

Oh yeah, and buy the DVD yo:

Tuesday, November 9

Extreme Home Make-Over: Disney Princess Edition

Whether you’re an American, European, tribesman in Botswana, or just general resident of Planet Earth, you’re most likely at least familiar with the Walt Disney Princess franchise, even if you haven’t worn holes in your Beauty and the Beast VHS tape or know all the words to "Part of Your World" in 2 and a half foreign languages...Don't judge me.

If you were living under a rock for the past 80 years and don’t know what I’m talking about, let me just say first of all, that the intriguing pallor of your sun-deprived skin actually really compliments your anti-social tendencies. Makes your eyes pop as well.
"Why, thank you."
In your years of solitude and media deprivation, you missed out on the rise of Walt Disney and his Princesses. Disney movies are magical stories drawn from classic fairytales, literature, and folklore from all around the globe that typically (although not always) revolve around female heroines. Although the Disney Princess roster seems to perpetually fluctuate and redefine its criteria, here are the characters most often grouped into this category:
Mulan is the only character who isn’t officially a princess by lineage, and on rare occasions Megara (Hercules) and the gypsy Esmeralda (Hunchback of Notre Dame) are included in the princess arsenal.  I guess Disney implies that if you have working lady parts and are stamped with the Disney trademark, yo butt is a Princess. I’m Amanda Miller, and I approved that message.

Even in our post-Title IX, "gender-equal" society, we are still so inundated with degrading portrayals of women on Reality TV, in movies, and in rap lyrics that it’s a nice change of pace for women to be held as precious, special creatures and not referred to as ho, skank, slut, or any array of more colorful monikers.

Because belts that say "RAPE" are always in style.
Only Aurora, Pocahontas, Snow White, Jasmine, and Ariel were actually born into royal families. Belle, Tiana, Cinderella, and Mulan start out their adventures as normal gals and somehow luck their way into the Princess franchise by actually snagging a prince or simply working the Mulan route and finding favor with the sovereign deity of White Guilt.  This god is also known to his bowling league buddies by the nickname of “Years of Racial Insensitivity Committed by Long-Dead Old Dudes in Tights and Powdered Wigs but White People Still Feel Kinda Crappy About It.” 
Obviously he wasn't too popular at Hera's annual Christmas party.
 These women are not the only female characters in the Disney repertoire and are most certainly not the only figures that are of royal or noble blood. In The Lion King, Nala is part of the same pride as the future king, Simba thereby making her a princess…and the two lions…cousins?
Kida, in the much maligned Atlantis was the sole heir to the subterranean throne, Tiger Lily in Peter Pan was the tribe’s princess, and Maid Marian in Robin Hood was the King’s niece. All of these characters were considered nobility or royals, but not actually classified as “Princesses.” What gives?

First of all, I’m just going to say that for the purpose of this categorization, anthropomorphic animal characters like Maid Marian and Nala (a fox and a lioness respectively) don’t actually count as Princesses. Real princesses don’t eat you or potentially give you rabies. It’s just not ladylike.

There are two distinct ages of Disney that need to be noted before comparing characters that span both eras. Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarves fall into the initial era of Disney success under founder Walt Disney and his brother Roy. After they died, Disney lost its direction and had box office lulls during the 70s which ended in 1989 when The Little Mermaid was released in theatres. The age known as the “Disney Renaissance” is delineated as any film that the company released between 1989 and 1999, starting with The Little Mermaid and ending with Tarzan (although I personally didn’t care for Tarzan and simply cut it off after Mulan in 1998).

But enough of my jibber-jabber. Let’s get crackin!

So you want to be a Disney Princess, huh? There are 7 things that you're going to need:

1. At least one dead parent (evil stepmothers are a plus)

Your first step on your journey to princessdom is to get yourself some parental baggage. Do you have a nuclear family? Mom, Dad, 2.5 kids and maybe even some grandparents? Get rid of at least one, if not all of them. But make sure you do it before the opening credits start so it becomes tragic backstory. Commit patricide on-camera and suddenly you become slightly less endearing and a little more Lizzy Borden. Not a good look for an aspiring princess.

So, let’s see how our contenders stack up in this department:

Belle: Raised by crack-pot genius inventor father, Maurice. Mother presumed dead as I’m pretty sure running away with the pool-boy was not a popular enterprise in 19th century France. Points: 1

Ariel: Raised by an emotionally distant and trident-happy father who was probably a blast to talk about “The barnacles and the barracudas” with. Although not mentioned in the original movie or sequel, the fate of Ariel’s mother was eventually addressed in the prequel, The Little Mermaid III: Ariel’s Beginning. As we see in the opening credits, Queen Athena, marries King Triton, pops out 6 fish baby princesses and then is promptly crushed against the rocks by a pirate ship. I tell no lies. Points: 1

Jasmine: Raised by her father known only as “the Sultan” (like Prince, but less crushed velvet) who would make an adorable replacement if the Snuggle fabric softener Bear ever decided to quit. Mother is m.i.a. which is Disney for “taking a long dirt nap.” Points: 1

Tiana: started out having both parents in possession of a currently beating heart, but it is implied that her father was killed in battle during World War I. Tiana is the only one of the princesses raised solely by her mother. Maybe if the other princesses’ moms were voiced by Oprah as well, they would have been more awesome and less dead. Points: 1

Pocahontas – Raised by her father, Chief Powhatan, but looks to talking vegetation for maternal guidance. Dead mother had a taste for clunky jewelry. Points: 1

Snow White -  Dead parents and evil stepmother who tried to have her ass murdered and her heart cut out. Serious parental baggage there. Points: 1

Cinderella – Living Father decided it was important to replace dead mother so Cinderella would have a lady figure in her life. Living Father becomes Dead Father and now Cindy’s stuck with New Mommy making her clean toilets. Points: 1

Mulan -  has both parents, a senile grandmother, and a cricket. But little Miss ain’t technically a princess is she? The most she ever gets to become is the booty call of an emotionally inarticulate general. Lame. Points: 0

Aurora – Has a set of living parents that she never meets until her 16th birthday. Before then she’s raised under the alias Briar Rose by three questionably competent middle-aged fairies in a witness protection program for princesses who are too stupid to not touch cursed needles. Points: 0

Tagline for Sleeping Beauty the Reality Show: "1 cursed princess. 3 magical moms. A whole lot of trouble."
Does it make for better storytelling if the women are lacking a parental figure in their upbringing? I’ve never been able to see the logic behind this dysfunctional family thing going on. It’s never like the princesses are abused or beaten by their drunk dad, or moved to action because of their lack of a maternal figure so it doesn’t necessarily move the plot along. The only exception is Tiana who is driven by the memory of her father to fulfill his dream of owning a restaurant. 

Personally, I think Disney just gets is kicks committing patricide every chance it gets because even if you don’t mention it, lacking a parent or two suggests inherent drama. If you look at all the non-musical or the non-princess movies, the parents are still often dead. 

Examples: Finding Nemo (Both Nemo’s mom and his siblings get capped in the first 5 minutes), Tarzan (orphaned but had gorilla parents) Jane (no momma), Treasure Planet (de-fathered), Lilo & Stitch (Nani & Lilo lose their parents in a car crash), Bambi (Bambi and his mom are grazing in a field where hunters frequent. What could possibly go wrong?), Pinocchio (Old Pinoc never had a mother. This was like a precursor to a testube baby except specifically for creepy anti-social carpenters).

2. Must be an ingrate, or at least considerably unhappy.

As far as archetypes go, the princesses are all fairly uniform in their desires and motivations. Whether its freedom, a restaurant, legs, something more than this provincial life, or a sugar daddy prince charming to carry them away, they all seem to fall under the Seeker archetype in some way. They are all dissatisfied with their lot in life and are vying for something bigger and better. And although their lack of a mother isn’t explicitly referenced in their behavior, often their actions can be a rebellion against their remaining parent or just against the status quo. True princesses are never content with or thankful for the perfectly comfortable life they have. If they were happy as a clam with their life situation there would be no story and nothing for them to sing about for half of the movie.

Cinderella: Cindy kind of has an out on this one because she was seeking to get out of a genuinely crappy living situation and had the kind of family dysfunction that would merit at least a two-parter special on Dr. Phil just to be able to fit in all the drama. Points: 0

Pocahontas: Wants to know what’s just around the river bend (that’s what Google Maps Street View is for). Basically, she wants to adventure into the unknown and unexplored so much so that she endangers the welfare of her people and gets her boo murdered by Christian Bale. Points: 1

Aurora: This gal has a mixed bag in life because she is born into great privilege and even gets to have both of her parents simultaneously alive (always a plus). When she’s born, she’s gets tons of awesome gifts and more guests to her birthday party than there are people in the nation of Fiji. She is so popular that she even gets people that go out of their way to crash said party and give her gifts. Albeit that gift was a curse that would eventually kill her but nobody said picking out good gifts was necessarily Maleficent’s strong suit, and it’s really the thought that should count anyway. Aurora gets magically spared so that she will instead get ample amounts of beauty sleep in case the curse ever gets fulfilled. So she not only won’t die but she will never be able to get crow’s feet. Pluses all around. Aurora gets to be raised in a quaint little cottage by 3 sweet old fairies and yet all she can think about is finding a boyfriend. Points: 1
Belle : Our belle of the ball has a very simple and comfortable existence in a scenic village in the French countryside. Her dad is kind of cuckoo for cocoa puffs but at least he loves the crap out of her, and they have a pretty supportive relationship. Belle retreats into her books to escape the “poor provincial town” in which she lives and can experience a life of adventure vicariously through the characters.  Points: 1

Jasmine: Jasmine is a beautiful princess with a killer bod, living in a beautiful castle, being courted by…not so beautiful men. Royal law decrees that she take a husband even though marriage is the last thing on her mind. All she wants is freedom from palace life and to be loved for who she is. This is not necessarily unreasonable, but the fact that she’s ornery and hormonal towards nearly everyone definitely adds to the angsty spoiled princess vibe. Points: 1  

Ariel: This kid is both a princess and a mermaid. Those are two things that every little girl at one point dreams of becoming (that wasn’t just me, was it?). Add in the fact that she’s supposed to have the best singing voice in the entire ocean, allegedly be King Triton’s favorite daughter, and have a secret cave full of useless crap and you’re looking at one very lucky ladyfish. Yet this isn’t enough for daddy’s little princess. She will trade life and fin to catch the eye of some boy she stalked. Once. Although arguably my favorite princess because I’ve always had a unhealthy lifelong obsession with gingers, when it boils down to it, I still can’t help feeling that she’s just another whiny, ungrateful butthole teenager. Points: 1

Mulan: The plot of this film is not about Mulan fulfilling secret dreams of cross-dressing. She doesn’t have an aching desire to see what it’s like to wear a jock strap or pee standing up. She just wants to make her parents happy while still maintaining her individuality in a world that frowns upon such a thing. She doesn’t have any plans to run away or feel that grass is greener on the other side but is forced into action when faced with the prospect of her father  being drafted for the war. She agonizes over the decision and finally decides that she’d rather trade in her own life by going to war dressed up as a boy than to see her father meet his end on the battlefield. Points: 0

Tiana: This little lady has the desire to rise up beyond the circumstances of her current state, but when that current state happens to be in Jim Crow Louisiana and you happen to be a woman of color, aspiring for something more is not hard to fathom. She doesn’t want a prince, fame, or a mansion; she just wants to fulfill her father’s dream of owning their own restaurant. However, I never said the desire couldn’t be justified, I just said they had to at least be unhappy and not being able to take out a loan to start your own restaurant due to racial discrimination definitely  falls under the “unhappy” criteria. Points: ½

Snow White: To me, this girl seems like a vapid leaf blowing in the wind. She doesn’t necessarily aspire to do anything; she just passively absorbs whatever happens to her like a mentally challenged sea sponge. I guess her only desire in this movie is to avoid her step-mother and not die, neither of which she manages to do effectively. Points: 0 

3. You must sing.
Every true Disney princess sings. I don’t care who you are. If you don’t have a song to yourself or at least a duet, you’re not a princess. The only exception I can think to this rule would be Princess Kida in Atlantis but she is actually a royal and her mom died to become some giant rock guardian so I guess she gets to keep her princess title even if she doesn’t get listed in the official princess ranks. For this round, to give ample opportunity for the pre-Renaissance princesses to catch up in the running, I’m counting points per song, with half points for duets, ensemble numbers, and reprises (because that’s just a continuation of an earlier song and not a separate song).

Cinderella: “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes,” “Oh, Sing Sweet Nightingale,” “So This is Love,” “So This is Love (Reprise).” Points: 3.5

Snow White: “I’m Wishing/One Song” (duet), “With a Smile and a Song,” “Someday My Prince Will Come,” “Whistle While You Work.” Points: 3.5

Aurora: “Once Upon a Dream.” (to be fair she spends a third of the movie as an infant or completely unconscious) Points: 1

Ariel: “Part of Your World,” “Part of Your World (Reprise),” as well as that song she sings when she gives up her voice which is basically just Part of Your World without words so I’m not counting it. Points: 1.5 (Ironic, considering she’s supposed to be the princess most associated with singing)

Jasmine: “A Whole New World (duet).” Jasmine is a special case because she is the only princess on the list who is just a supporting character and not the star of the film, which explains why Aladdin gets to steal the musical thunder. Points: 0.5

Belle: “Belle (Ensemble number),” “Belle (Reprise)”, “Something There (Duet).” I’m going to say that the fact that she shares the opening number with the entire town negates her credit for that song to half a point. Points: 1.5

Pocahontas: “Just Around the Riverbend,” “Colors of the Wind,” “Savages, pt. II (ensemble & reprise),” “If I Never Knew You” (Duet with John Smith on the Special Edition DVD). I’m going to give Pocahontas a quarter point for “Savages” because it’s not only a reprise, but she shares it with the ensemble so it’s only partly considered her song. Points: 2.75

Mulan: "Honor To Us All (ensemble number)," "Reflection," "I'll Make a Man Out of You (ensemble number)," "A Girl Worth Fighting For (minimal dialogue)." I'm going to say that she gets zero points for "A Girl Worth Fighting for" considering a) she speaks the lines and b) it's only like 2 lines. She gets 1/4 of a point for "I'll Make a Man Out of You" because she does sing but she has one line. Points: 1.75
Tiana:  “Almost There,” “Almost There (Reprise),” “Dig a Little Deeper (ensemble number),”  “When We’re Human (trio),” “Down in New Orleans (finale).” Points: 3.5

4. You’ll need to be voiced by a celebrity and/or Broadway veteran.

I noticed that most Disney movies after the success of the star-riddled Lion King which boasted a cast featuring the likes of Neve Campbell, James Earl Jones, Jeremy Irons, Whoopi Goldberg, Cheech Marin, Matthew Broderick, Robert Guillaume, Nathan Lane, need I say more? Pocahontas featured a pre-Hitlerized Mel Gibson, and a "post-Newsies but pre-Batman" Christian Bale playing Thomas. Hunchback of Notre Dame amped up their roster of renowned screen and stage celebs to quasi Lion King proportions with the voices of Kevin Kline, Tom Hulce (not super-duper famous but the star of Amadeus, another great movie), Demi Moore, Jason Alexander, and the late Tony Jay who was not as well-known as some of his co-stars but will always be a rockstar in my eyes after growing up with his work as Virgil on Mighty Max.

So, how much starpower do these princesses have behind their pipes?

I’m excluding the Pre-Renaissance Princesses from this qualification because the trend of using star power to draw viewers was not as heavily practiced in the Snow White years as it is now and nobody would recognize the actresses names anyway. Old Timey Princesses, you just have to forfeit your points and sit out this round. Kick off your glass slippers, take a long nap, or enjoy an array of non-poisoned fruit. Try a mango or something.

Ariel: this was the break-out role for Jodi Benson, who provided the singing and speaking voice for the mermaid princess. She landed the role because she was in a show directed by Mermaid’s lyricist, Howard Ashman. Points: 0

Jasmine: Lea Salonga who provided the singing voice of Jasmine (as well as Mulan) brings the starpower to the character after originating the role of Kim in Miss Saigon on Broadway.  Linda Larkin, who provided the speaking voice, was and still is a relative unknown. Plus, Salonga only gets to sing for the duet “A Whole New World.” Points:0.5

Belle: Paige O’Hara had accumulated a number of impressive Broadway credits such as playing Ellie in 1983’s Showboat revival and Fantine in Les Mis before playing Belle. Points: 1

Pocahontas: Judy Kuhn originated the role of Cosette in Les Mis before singing “Colors of the Wind” for Pocahontas but I wouldn’t say she was a household name at that point. Irene Bedard, her speaking voice, had few recognizable credits to her name aside from playing Alice Starseer in one of the best cartoon of all time, The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest.Shameless plug? Of course. Does this mean Pocahontas passes this test? Nope. Points: 0
Tiana: Voiced entirely by Broadway vet Anika Noni-Rose who was also known for the movie Dreamgirls where she starred as the one who was neither Jennifer Hudson or Beyonce. Points: 1
Mulan: Voiced by E.R. actress Ming-Na with “Reflection” sung once again by Broadway baby, Lea Salonga. Points: 1

5. Get a shout-out in the movie's title.
Pocahontas (Pocahontas). Points: 1
Ariel (The Little Mermaid). Points: 1
Belle (beauty in the Beauty and the Beast equation). Points: 1
Cinderella (Cinderella). Points: 1
Aurora (Sleeping Beauty). Points: 1
Tiana (The Princess & The Frog). Points: 1
Snow White (Snow White and the Seven Dwarves). Points: 1
Mulan (Mulan). Points: 1
Jasmine (Aladdin). As mentioned before, she’s the only princess who is not the focal point of the film. Points: 0

6. Be completely incapable of having well-adjusted interactions with other human beings.

Have you ever noticed that without fail, almost all of the Disney princesses are socially incompetent pariahs? It seems that they can’t play nicely with the other children so they are forced to befriend all sorts of winged, scaled, finned, or furry friends to fulfill their interpersonal needs. If no wildlife is around to talk to, your next best bet is probably a candlestick or any other type of room ornament.

Ariel: Yes, she’s a mermaid so her associates would not necessarily be of human origin but do you ever see her holding a conversation with a fellow merperson that doesn’t end in screaming, tears, or overall contempt for her character? Her best friends are a crab, a flounder, and a seagull with a 3rd grade education. Points: 1

Belle: Belle has absolutely no friends her own age. Belle has absolutely no friends at all. Everybody in the town thinks she’s a pretentious, stuck-up book worm or just a freak. She kindles her closest relationships with furniture and cookware and even her future husband is a beast formerly known as Prince. Points: 1

Mulan: Is considered an odd ball because she doesn’t conform to the traditions of true Chinese femininity. She’s clumsy, awkward and has a dragon, a cricket, and a horse as her best friends until she is able to interact with and befriend her fellow soldiers. Points: 1

Pocahontas: Her only friend is Nakoma and we all know that she was only friends with Pocahontas to get screen time and enough footage to put on her acting reel. The only people who truly understood the princess were not people. They were the hummingbird Flit, the raccoon Meeko, and a talking tree. Except for Grandmother Willow, none of her friends even speak the same language as her. Points: 1

Cinderella: Her sisters and step-mothers were evil harpies so I can understand why she wouldn’t want to interact with them. Cindy is quite the talker though so she decides to babble to anything and everything that moves including a bloodhound, birds, and of course the mice who do slave labor for her. Points: 1

Snow White: Snow White is the only one who actually interacts with other humans on a consistent basis, even if those humans happen to only come up to her knees. The dwarfs become her main form of social support until the prince comes and “saves” her. This is the princess that originated the whole singing to the birds and animals around her even if they didn’t necessarily speak back. For pioneering the path of human-animal relations, she gets props. Points: 1

Jasmine: Jasmine just doesn't plain have many friends. Period. She has a pet tiger who doesn't speak, named Rajah and then she's got Aladdin. That's it. Granted it's hard to make friends when you have a giant wall between you and the land of social interaction. Points: 1

Aurora: She interacts with her fairy Godmothers so she’s not a complete social hermit, even though she lives in the middle of nowhere. Aurora was ostracized for her own protection and when you’re forced to live in the forest, it only makes sense that your friends will be owls and rabbits. Points: 1

Tiana: This is an interesting case because she has friends which means she has decent personal skills but she chooses to bypass nurturing her friendships in order to pick up more shifts at work. When she does cultivate relationships, they are with animals but that’s mainly because, at this point, she is currently a frog and therefore they have something in common. I’m just going to give it to her because technically she’s better friends with her animal friends than their human counterparts and that's all I'm looking for. Points: 1

7. Bag a prince or other adequately hot dude before the end credits. 

Snow White, Cinderella, and Aurora NEEDED their princes, Cinderella needed hers to support her financially and free her from her crappy home life (not the healthiest foundations for a relationship to start on), Snow White and Aurora needed a man to kiss them in order to literally save their lives. This pathetic level of passivity and co-dependency on a random stranger basically date-raping them or asking her to marry him based on a weird foot fetish, merits these ladies an extra point but not in a good way. Points: 2   

Tiana and Belle weren’t actively looking for a man or even vying to marry a prince, they were actually very smart and fiercely independent gals who happened to wow princes into marrying them with their gumption and their tolerance for G-rated bestiality. Points: 1

Ariel was already a princess but to become a member of the realm above the sea, she needed legs, to get legs, she had to basically dabble in witchcraft shenanigans. For her to achieve her dreams of becoming human, she needed to be kissed.  Her entire future depended on the physical validation of a man. He just happened to be a prince. Funny how that works? Points: 1

Jasmine didn’t necessarily want the validation of a man but she needed a prince. Period. It was the law. It’s the whole reason Aladdin needed the Genie after he escaped from the Cave of Wonders. To impress her with his princely bling. Even though he turned out to be broke as dirt and not a prince, the Disney gods declared that even though the whole plot up ‘til that point had been contingent upon the fact that he appear to be a prince, it was suddenly okay that he wasn’t and they’d let it slide this time. Points: 1

Pocahontas was already a princess and she didn’t need John Smith to make her life better or worse (although he did make it temporarily more exciting). In the end she gets a smooch but he goes back to England and she stays home, pops in a DVD of Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood with a bowl of Ben & Jerry’s to celebrate her singleness. Points: 0

Mulan is tricky because although Shang is definitely smoking hot, the terms of their relationship status aren’t clearly defined by the end of the film. There’s an implied interest there but they don’t officially hook up in the end. He just gets invited to dinner. Boo. Points: 0

In Conclusion

League of Super Princesses: I so wish I drew this.
 So for those of you keeping track (although I guess it doesn't matter because I'm going to tell you anyway) the tally for each princess is as follows:

Pocahontas = 6.75
Mulan = 4.75
Belle = 7.5
Tiana = 9
Cinderella = 8.5
Aurora = 6
Snow White = 7.5
Jasmine = 4
Ariel = 6.5

So as you can see, there were some variations on the 7 main criteria I listed for being a Disney Princess but overall, the Princesses fell within the 4 to 9 point range. So if you were rating yourself against this point system, if you scored more than 4 points, congrats, I look forward to buying and accessorizing your plastic princess doll form soon. If not, hey, somebody has to fill the role of Pocahontas's fugly b.f.f. right?
"My daddy says I've got 'handsome features'."
Mind you, all of these princess guidelines are just my personal opinion based on observations; there are no actual hard and fast rules. In fact, the rules of the Disney Princess initiation are somewhat arbitrary at times. I just ran through the math in my head for Megara and Esmeralda and they qualify for as many, if not more points than Mulan so the fact that she is included in the Princess clique and not these two is something you'll have to get a disgruntled French mob with pitchforks to take up with Disney's marketing team.
Or at least get Esmeralda to lay some hurt on that guy's mustache.