1986 • 102 minutes • TriStar Pictures
As a teenager, my love of the eighties was not particularly shared by the alternative scene kids I ran with. But during my deeply ill-fated tenure on my high school’s debate team, I acquired a scene partner who loved Labyrinth. I’d heard of it—specifically, I’d heard of “Dance Magic”—but I’d never actually seen it. She gushed to me about David Bowie’s ethereal beauty and other attributes (I was identifying as asexual at that point in my life, so I was unmoved), and I trotted off to our local Blockbuster to rent the film in question. To quote John Mulaney, that’s a very old-fashioned sentence nowadays.
I enjoyed it, but it didn’t particularly stick with me. (Nor did I stick with debate, transitioning instead to an even more ill-fated tenure in school theater.) Recently, though, I had an opportunity to revisit it when the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema hosted an outdoor screening in Brooklyn. To be honest, I mostly went to try and ferret out an official opening date for the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema Brooklyn (let me give you all of my disposable income, you monsters!). But I enjoyed the screening, despite the drizzle and despite being deep in the throes of the dissociative funk that Disaster Preparedness pushed me into. And now… I kinda get Labyrinth.
Help Us! Great Warrior
by Madéleine Flores
2016 • 160 pages • BOOM! Box
How great is Great Warrior? SO GREAT.
I love Madéleine Flores’ little femme warrior green nugget, probably because she’s cut from the same cloth as one Usagi Tsukino: ferocious, childish, good-hearted, and always up for pizza, cute boys, and fancy clothes. Great Warrior catsits for cosmic deities. She slices sea monsters in half just to get her chips back. She eats an entire “cursed” pizza to save her village. (So brave.) All of Flores’ Great Warrior comics are funny little one-off gags featuring Great Warrior going about her unique lifestyle, with occasional recurring characters like Great Warrior’s other little green nugget buddies and cute warrior girl Leo.
So for Great Warrior’s print comics debut for BOOM! Box, BOOM!’s “gleeful” imprint, it was time to tell an ongoing story with Great Warrior and her buddies. So enter Hadiyah, the High Chancellor, who tasks Great Warrior with dealing with the sudden influx of demons in their world. Unfortunately, Great Warrior does not want to go a demon-hunting, especially when there’s a party in her village. But eventually, Hadiyah convinces (or just straight up tricks) Great Warrior and her best warrior buddy Leo to help. Which is how they discover a big secret about Great Warrior…
2016 • 108 minutes • Walt Disney Studios
As an Aunt to Werewolves, I get excited whenever I see something amazing happen that, to them, will be just a part of their childhood and the way the world works. My nieflings will never know an America without marriage equality or a Star Wars without women and people of color. (Sidebar: if you haven’t seen the Rogue One trailer, what you are doing reading this review go watch it immediately.) And they’ll always have had Zootopia to introduce them to complex concepts like bigotry and internalized bias, something I never expected of this movie when we first began hearing about it.
Addams Family Values
based on the comics by Charles Addams
1993 • 94 minutes • Paramount Pictures
Bowie among us, you could not make Addams Family Values these days. You can’t put a baby in constant, mortal danger for laughs in anything but the blackest of comedies these days, and Addams Family Values does so in a dark but ultimately lighthearted family film. A family film which also includes a joke about a stripper being baked to death in a cake by one of our heroes. This all seems a little weird in the context of 2015, but Matilda got pretty cartoonishly violent three years after this hit screens.
The nineties—apparently, the self-esteem of a Bill Clinton presidency and a booming economy means that the idea of children in mortal danger is so outlandish that it’s funny. The past is another country indeed.
Of the two theatrically released Addams Family films (the third film, Addams Family Reunion, was a direct to video release, even though it technically debuted on Fox Family—LONG MAY YOU RUN, BELOVED CHANNEL OF MY YOUTH), Addams Family Values seems to be the more fondly remembered. It boasts most of the charms of the first film while having a plot that’s more interesting and much bettered structured than the meandering question of whether or not Fester is or isn’t really Fester.
Addams Family Values pits the Addamses against some worthier rivals—the elder Addamses become the latest target of black widow serial killer Debbie Jellinsky and the younger Addamses are, after Debbie gets them out of her hair, pitted against the privileged excesses of an uber-WASPy camp.
The Addams Family
based on the comics by Charles Addams
1991 • 99 minutes • Paramount Pictures
As a very young and very sheltered military brat in the late nineties and early aughts, my understanding of the pop cultural landscape around me was limited to what my mother watched, my brother played, and scraps of whatever mainstream anime I could get my hands on. But I could still largely match characters to their text of origin. You found Skywalkers in Star Wars, there were Borgs in Star Trek, and Pikachu in Pokemon.
But where did you find Addamses? That was a tougher question to answer, largely because we didn’t have Wikipedia in the nineties. They were definitely in the water, but where did they come from? Much like the Muppets, they appeared, to my sharky little eyes, to be a free-floating creative entity, untethered to any specific show. I mean, there were shows. There was The Addams Family: The Animated Series and The New Addams Family, which I caught glimpses of during my fanatical childhood devotion to Fox Family (rest in peace, you beautiful monster!). And then there were the movies—The Addams Family and Addams Family Values—which I never saw, but knew that they existed. But I’d never heard of the original television show or the original cartoons until college. I think this unsettles me a little bit because I’m otherwise so inured to extensive multimedia franchises, but it’s not like the Addams Family has a coherent story or continuity attached to it like, say, Star Wars.
The Addams Family boom of the nineties began with today’s film, 1991’s The Addams Family. We might complain about unnecessary film reboots these days (Memento? Seriously?), but the nineties hosted their own veritable cornucopia of rebooted sixties television shows—The Avengers, anyone? The Addams Family is no exception: its genesis is a crew of studio executives singing the theme song and realizing that there was still a lot of recognition value in that brand.
Masters of the Universe
1987 • 106 minutes • Cannon Films
As a connoisseur of bad movies, I am also a connoisseur of bad movie podcasts. (I am, at some point, going to do a podcast roundup, now that I listen to even more of them. I just need to blast through one or two backlogs first.) The best and popular two are The Flop House and How Did This Get Made? I prefer The Flop House (sample episode: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Live!), due to its charming hosts, focus on studio movies, and some kind of East Coast allegiance. Or it could just be that blasting through their backlog got me through the first few months of my current day job. I look forward to every episode. But I do listen to its West Coast sibling/rival, How Did This Get Made? on occasion, if they cover a movie I’ve seen (sample episode: Xanadu, with a great riff on how it could possibly be as over budget as it was). I like it, but I haven’t ever been so excited for an episode that I went out and watched the film in question.
Until How Did This Get Made? covered Masters of the Universe with guest host Tatiana Maslany. Swoon. I’ve been meaning to watch Masters of the Universe since forever—because have you met me?—and this was just the swift kick in the rear I needed to finally sit down and watch it.
Sailor Moon S
based on the manga by Naoko Takeuchi
1994-1995 • 38 episodes • Toei Animation/Viz Media
Sailor Moon S had an odd journey to North America. You see, after the first two seasons of DiC’s dub performed so poorly in syndication, DiC just kind of dropped it. In fact, it kind of dropped it towards the end of Sailor Moon R, never finishing the season. But after Cartoon Network made Sailor Moon and Sailor Moon R a key part of Toonami, the show became more and more popular. DiC eventually bought and released the remaining episodes of Sailor Moon R, but it was Cloverway, the then American branch of the show’s production company Toei Animation, that produced the dubs of Sailor Moon S and Sailor Moon Super S, which ran on Cartoon Network. Sailor Moon Sailor Stars was never picked up for North American distribution, largely because of that season’s gender trouble.
I tend to think of Sailor Moon as a very cohesive whole, like a lot of manga and anime franchises, so it’s a little jarring to realize just how it trickled into North America, where it had such a sizable impact. As much as I’m mildly playing at revisiting my childhood by watching Sailor Moon at god awful in the morning while I get ready for work, I’m experiencing Sailor Moon in a way most English-speaking fans did not; I mean, I’ll actually get to watch an official subtitled version of Sailor Moon Sailor Stars.
The Promise: Part One
by Gene Luen Yang and Studio Gurihiru
2012 • 80 pages • Dark Horse Books
Was there ever a dreamier team better suited to writing and illustrating Avatar: The Last Airbender comics as Gene Luen Yang and Studio Gurihiru? Yang, the amazing Chinese-American comics writer, has written eloquently in support of boycotting the heinously whitewashed The Last Airbender movie and in glowing praise of the original show drawing on actual Asian history in a respectful way for its stories in the same comic. And Studio Gurihiru (composed of Japanese artists Chifuyu Sasaki and Naoko Kawano) is known for its endearing, lyrical, and slightly cartoonish art style, making it the perfect choice to translate the stunning gorgeous and dynamic animation of the original cartoon series. Fittingly, the two have remained joined at the hip throughout the run of Avatar: The Last Airbender comics, from “The Promise” to “The Search.”
The Promise: Part One picks up where Avatar: The Last Airbender leaves off—with the Fire Nation safely out of the hands of the tyrannical Lord Ozai and in the hands of his son, Lord Zuko. Terrified that he’ll repeat the mistakes his father did, Zuko makes Avatar Aang promise to kill him if he shows signs of repeating the past. Aang promises, of course. A year later, Aang, the Earth King, and Zuko are working towards the peaceful repatriation of the Fire Nation colonies in the Earth Kingdom. But repairing the damage the Fire Nation’s century long war against the rest of the world has caused is more complex than any of them thought.
Sailor Moon R
based on the manga by Naoko Takeuchi
1993-1994 • 43 episodes • Toei Animation/Viz Media
When Toei Animation asked Sailor Moon author Naoko Takeuchi to adapt her manga into a one season anime series, neither of them knew how successful it would be. Toei, not one to miss an opportunity, asked Takeuchi to keep working on the manga. Eventually, the manga and the anime found a rhythm that worked, with the anime following the manga closely enough that only the production time created a month or so long lag.
But, at first, the anime demand exceeded the manga supply, necessitating two filler arcs before Takeuchi and her editor hit upon the main idea for the Black Moon arc. The first is the delightful Makaiju arc, where two aliens, Ail and Ann, infiltrate Tokyo to feed human energy to the alien tree that sustains them. And the second is the infuriating subplot where Mamoru breaks up with Usagi due to a prophecy, never mentions that to her, and she spends most of her energy tearfully trying to win him back. It’s a hard side to see to the normally brash Usagi, especially when she’s only dealt this crap hand in the anime for the flimsiest of reasons. (Oh, and he’s a college student dating a fourteen year old. This kind of stuff doesn’t make me like you, Mamoru. Step it up.)
based on the 1950 motion picture and the fairy tale by Charles Perrault
2015 • 112 minutes • Walt Disney Pictures
Despite my fervently fevered hopes, there was never any real chance that Kenneth Branagh’s live-action adaptation of Disney’s Cinderella would follow in the radically feminist footsteps of Maleficent. While Sleeping Beauty is widely considered one of the best Disney films, Cinderella is the film that saved Walt Disney Animation from shutting down in the early fifties. The film and the character are so intertwined with the company that Walt Disney World is crowned by her castle. Letting Linda Woolverton turn in a script that is literally about destroying the patriarchy for Maleficent is one thing; letting Christ Weitz radically change what Jess Plummer calls the “ur-Disney movie” is quite another.
So Branagh’s Cinderella doesn’t make many changes to the original film. We do get a bit more of Ella’s childhood (including a kind turn by Hayley Atwell as Ella’s mother), an adorable meet-cute in the forest between Ella and the Prince, a more fleshed out relationship between the Prince and his father, and some half-hearted court intrigue involving the Grand Duke. Any commentary on the original text is largely kept to Ella’s characterization. The film deepens her already established compassion, best expressed in the scene where Lady Tremaine is horrified to discover that Ella pities her. She questions why things are the way they are, but the most radical implication of that is that Ella is a vegetarian. Lady Tremaine gets a sympathetic backstory in one brief scene, but a pointedly feminist retelling it is not.