Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Split the Ice Apart - Frozen

I already talked quite a bit about Disney's Frozen (2013) in my Response to Stefan Molyneux's The Truth About Frozen but I feel this movie deserves some more elaboration outside the context of weird YouTube pseulosophers (if that's not a word, I'm claiming it) over-analyzing things they clearly don't understand just to ruin it for their daughters. As such, here are some of my thoughts on Disney's Frozen, primarily I'd like to dig into the cliche of True Love's Kiss around which the final act is centered.

There will be spoilers for Frozen (and some for older Disney animated movies).

Split The Ice Apart
Disney's Frozen

The story is about two sisters: princesses Anna and Elsa of Arendelle, the latter of whom was born with ice powers. After accidentally blasting her sister with ice, Elsa gets isolated until she learns how to properly control her powers and Anna's memories of Elsa's powers are wiped. Unfortunately Elsa's isolation and anxiety only causes her growing powers to become even more uncontrollable as she grows up. Then during her coronation as Queen of Arendelle, in front of her entire kingdom, she loses control and in her panic she accidentally freezes the entire kingdom, after which she exiles herself. Anna then takes it upon herself to go into the mountains to find her sister, repair the relationship that was broken for 13 years and find a way to unfreeze their kingdom.

First of all, I love the movie. I don't think it quite deserves its spot as the highest-grossing animated film of all time but I still think it's a great movie (although number 2 on the highest-grossing list is Minions so at least Frozen prevented worse). My main issues are that Anna, although a very fun character, lacks the appeal to make her iconic on the level of a Disney Princess as well as a number of questionable story decisions that were likely the result of having to rewrite the movie without Elsa in the villain role. There's also the trolls and especially Olaf that feel like they were added primarily to sell toys to kids (only for it to be the Elsa dolls that were consistently sold out). While it is certainly a good movie, I don't think it quite reaches the level of quality of the princess movies preceding it.

True Love's Kiss, The Cliche That Wasn't One

During the final act an accidental ice blast to Anna's heart is causing her to slowly freeze to death from the inside. Advice from the wise troll leader Pabbie reveals that an act of true love will thaw a frozen heart. Immediately another troll jumps in and assumes that it must be a true love's kiss, causing Kristoff to storm Anna back to Arendelle so she can get a kiss from Prince Hans. Ultimately Hans proves to be a deceptive manipulator who sees this situation as an opportunity to claim Arendelle for himself by letting Anna die and then ordering the execution of the 'traitor' Queen Elsa. The real act of true love then comes in the form of Anna sacrificing herself to protect her sister Elsa from Hans' sword. 
-"But only an act of true love can thaw a frozen heart." -"A true love's kiss perhaps?"
My problem with this entire scenario is that it feels incredibly forced and tries to subvert a cliche that isn't a cliche at all, at least not in the Disney Animated Canon. It's one thing to play on audience expectations, but the fact that they obviously twist Pabbie's words to force a scenario that the movie prior to this moment has already beaten down as Anna being incredibly naive just makes it a mess. Furthermore the trolls were just a minute ago trying to get their Kristoff hitched with a girl who was already engaged, evidently just for the sake of him getting hitched, but suddenly they start having overly romantic notions about true love? Why doesn't Pabbie interject to clarify his own advice anyway? He's right there! (To be fair Anna's condition suddenly worsens significantly while they're talking so urgency became a factor, but still)

It is the expectation that the troll's assumption is also the audience's assumption that, I feel, dates the movie horribly. It's an overly transparent attempt at subverting and thus falls flat. The thing with the True Love's Kiss cliche is ... that it really hasn't been a thing in ages at all. In Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), a princess under a sleeping curse is awoken when the prince she's in love with finally finds her and kisses her. However even there the curse specifies that it is Love's First Kiss, not True Love's Kiss, which is already a significantly lower barrier. A similar situations happens 21 years later in Sleeping Beauty (1959), where it is indeed specified that the kiss must be true love's kiss. And then ... what? In just a few years time we've had several Disney properties, such as Once Upon a Time (2011), Maleficent (2014) and Frozen (2013), struggling at subverting the cliche when the subversion itself is now a better represented cliche.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
Let's run down the traditional Disney Princess movies where, according to expectation, the cliche could show up. At the start of the Disney Renaissance with The Little Mermaid (1989) the concept of a true love's kiss is already being more subtly subverted. Ariel requiring a true love's kiss from prince Eric is explicitly an unreasonable demand from the sea witch Ursula, with which she intends to trap Ariel as leverage over King Triton. In the end that kiss never happens. The Beast's curse in Beauty and the Beast (1991) is lifted because he and Belle simply got to know each other and fell in love; no kissing required (my personal interpretation is that by accepting his own death, he had truly set Belle free and thus proved he understood how to love. Also for your accusations of Stockholm syndrome, please go [here]). 
Princess and the Frog (2009) once again plays around with it, in that prince Naveen just requires a kiss from a princess as an unreasonable constraint by Doctor Facilier. When he kisses Tiana early in the movie, ostensibly his true love by the end of it, instead she is turned into a frog for not meeting the requirements. Then in Tangled/Rapunzel (2010) there is once again no magic kissing, instead the solution comes from residual healing magic still inside Rapunzel healing Flynn's wounds through her tears (okay that sounds weird out of context).
Cinderella (1950), Aladdin (1992), Pocahontas (1995), Mulan (1998) had no curses requiring kisses. In the periphery of these movies (the unofficial Disney Princesses), Alice in Wonderland (1951), Peter Pan (1953), The Black Cauldron (1985), The Lion King (1994), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996), Hercules (1997) or Tarzan (1999) didn't have magic true love's kisses either.

So that puts the grand total of straight-up True Love's Kiss movies at ... two, if we're being generous. The last movie of which, and the only one that really qualifies at all, having been released well over 50 years ago. This is like "The Butler Did It" of modern fairy tales: It's only a cliche because people mistake it for being more prevalent than it really is. Disney movies have been subverting the cliche for 30 years and have done it way more subtly and effectively than Frozen did. Reverting all that and attempting to forcefully subvert a cliche that was barely relevant in the first place dates the story and makes it awkward to take seriously.

Queen Elsa, Unwilling Villain

During the early stages of the movie's production it was always the intention to make Elsa the actual villain of the movie. That changed when the crew started to really feel for her and realized that up until her transformation into the Snow Queen, she hadn't done anything wrong. Rewrites to accommodate Good Elsa is probably why certain plot elements from the second half feel so messy, but I feel the changes to Elsa herself do make her into a more compelling character than she would likely otherwise be. Throughout the entire movie there's still an undercurrent of the intention to make her a villain, but the fact that she then doesn't end up as one is actually touching.

The name 'Elsa' does not sound villainous like how 'Maleficent' sounds like a synonym for- or a misspelling of 'malevolent' (which is also why it was stupid to base an entire movie on how Maleficent wasn't just a tragic villain, but an actual hero who just had a really bad day that one time). Still, Elsa's name has a certain synesthetic sharpness to it (See The Bouba/Kiki Effect). This already differentiates her from the other Disney princesses, most of whom have names with more rolling r or l sounds. Consider the most similar name among the princesses: Ella, Cinderella's birth name in the live action adaption. 'Ella' rolls. 'Elsa' feels like there's a sudden stop in the middle. As such her name alone already makes her sound somewhat harsh.

The first 30 minutes of the movie leading up to Let It Go sets up the perfect environment for Elsa to eventually snap and put her into an anti-villainous role. Let It Go itself is the breaking point where she finally lets go of her good girl persona and embraces pure selfishness. However it is quickly revealed that the song was just Elsa lying to herself in a moment of ecstatic relief that she finally got to express herself through her powers. She wasn't actually descending into villainy at all. Despite having all the mental baggage to justify it, Elsa never crosses the line. The only time she ever comes close to crossing the line is in self defense against people who are actively attempting to kill her.

In the end it is what makes Elsa so engaging: it would be perfectly understandable for her to have gone evil, but her strong moral center prevents her from crossing that barrier. She is one of the most powerful heroes Disney has ever created, yet she evokes sympathy by also visibly suffering from anxiety and depression over what her powers have put her through and what they could potentially do to others. In that sense you could say she's an even more emotionally-charged version of the Genie from Aladdin, who despite his phenomenal, cosmic powers only wanted to be free (itty-bitty living space).

It also makes Elsa a foil for Rapunzel. Both characters have incredible powers, but they differ in that Rapunzel has beneficial healing magic that requires effort to bring out while Elsa has (until she learns control) destructive ice powers that she's unable to restrain. They were both locked away and have significant anxieties regarding their powers, but Rapunzel was taught to be scared of people who would abuse her gift by an abusive adoptive mother while Elsa is afraid to hurt her loving family. In personality Rapunzel is outgoing while Elsa is restrained, which translates into Rapunzel wanting to escape her tower but being afraid to go while Elsa voluntarily exiles herself into her ice palace. Both characters are primarily imprisoned by their anxieties and insecurities. Frozen and Tangled are thus exercises in how a character archetype (the classic Disney Princess) would grow if you add a specific power into their development.

Crossover Theories

Movies in the Disney Animated Canon tend to have very little overlap between each other. Still many of the movies have cameos or references that can reasonably link some of them together, although often just as a joke (there being a Beast toy in the Sultan's collection probably doesn't mean Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast are related). For example, there's a scene in The Hunchback of Notre Dame where Belle is visible in a shot of Paris. Since both movies are set in France, there's the possibility that Belle and her father lived in Paris until they had to flee Frollo burning Paris in his search for Esmeralda, ending up in the little town near Beast's castle.
Belle in The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
Possible the most obvious example of crossovers happens in the episode Hercules and the Arabian Night of Disney's Hercules: The Animated Series (1998). Jafar, having been defeated and killed in The Return of Jafar (1994), ends up in the Underworld and meets up with Hades. First they make a bet that they can get rid of their rival's arch enemy, which they both fail to do. Ultimately they devise a plan where they attempt to get rid of their respective hero problems by setting Hercules up to fight Aladdin, revealing that at least the adult section of the Hercules (1997) movie takes place long after Aladdin and the King of Thieves (1996) has already concluded.

For Frozen there's a fan theory that it is linked with both Tangled (2010) and The Little Mermaid (1989). Linked with Tangled because Rapunzel and Flynn Rider have an actual cameo when the gates are opened near the start of the movie and with The Little Mermaid because the ship Ariel investigates at the start of her movie might be the sunken ship of the king and queen of Arendelle. Arendelle is Norwegian-inspired while Eric's castle would be on the shores of Disney's equivalent of Denmark, so there's definitely some geographic proximity to back that argument (I've also heard an extension where it is theorized the king and queen survived the sinking and ended up becoming Tarzan's parents, but that sounds a bit too far out there).

Top: Frozen (2013)
Bottom: The Little Mermaid (1989)
So if we're to link it all up, Rapunzel and Elsa would be roughly the same age, with Rapunzel likely being older depending on how long after her eighteenth birthday she and Flynn got married. Tangled would take place first with the Rapunzel's marriage (which Anna and Elsa's parents were allegedly on their way to) being the indirect cause of Elsa's parents being lost at sea, setting up the events of Frozen three years later. Then an indeterminate amount of time later the royal family's sunken ship gets looted by an inquisitive mermaid at the start of The Little Mermaid.

I mean it's not exactly some great insight since it's just a fan theory but it is kind of cool I can watch three of my favorite Disney Princess movies as sort of a pseudo-trilogy. I would call it Disney's Scandinavia Trilogy except Tangled's Corona being in either Germany or Poland might make that a bit of a geographic stretch.


Friday, 29 September 2017

Vicsor Plays Cuphead - First 27 minutes

In the wake of Dean Takahashi's embarassing demo of Cuphead (Uploaded by VentureBeat as "Cuphead Gamescom Demo: Dean's Shameful 26 Minutes Of Gameplay") I decided I'd record my own first 26 minutes of gameplay once the game actually got released. I also purposely avoided actually watching any gameplay videos so I could go in blind.

So here it is:

It's indeed a difficult game, but it's also very fair in its challenge. If you fail, you can always learn something from it to do better next time and you'll get a sense of achievement out of it. As for my initial impressions, I can definitely recommend it.

Get Cuphead by StudioMDHR Entertainment Inc on Steam [Here].

Thursday, 20 July 2017

The Initial - Character Models

Earlier today I discovered a game called "The Initial" in the Newly Released tab on Steam. This game instantly caught my eye because the main character bore an uncanny resemblance to Dead or Alive's Honoka. Digging into the community hub and some reviews, I discovered other people who had come to the conclusion that the character model was indeed stolen from Dead or Alive (although they said Marie Rose. Likely because of the hair).

The Initial - Character Models

The Initial is an indie hack and slash game that that on the surface looks very similar in gameplay style to Mitsurugi Kamui Hikae (the indie side of the spectacle fighter, if you will). I haven't played nearly enough of it to do any kind of review, I literally only played long enough to take screenshots for this investigation, but so far it seems surprisingly playable, just heavily in need of someone to check their English translations. 

However, to get back to the question of whether the main character's model was lifted from external sources. So far it was just a single thread and a single review where this was discussed so it hardly counts as a controversy, but I was wondering about it myself, so I went into my Dead or Alive screenshot folder and I did science to it!

vs. Honoka

vs. Marie Rose
So yeah, I think there's definitely a chance that the developers of The Initial were inspired by the girls from Dead or Alive, but I don't think there's enough evidence to assume the main character's model was ripped from it. The characters' faces have a different shape. Honoka has a larger chin, smaller eyes, a smaller forehead, smaller ears (that are located differently) and a way thicker neck. Marie Rose has the same hairstyle, but it also doesn't look at all like the same model. Dead or Alive's character models are more highly detailed and their bodies have an overall bulkier frame. Not to mention, the textures are entirely different (my only doubts are in that Ruri's and Honoka's eyebrows are remarkably similar).

In short, I don't think there's any need to cry foul. 

If you want to check the game out for yourself, you can find it here: [The Initial on Steam]

Yeah, I'm not sure what that means.

Links & References

Images from:
- The Initial (Steam)
- Dead or Alive 5: Last Round (Steam & PS4)

Monday, 17 July 2017

A Response to The Truth About Maleficent

Once again I indulged myself into another one of Stefan Molyneux' 'The Truth About' series in regards to the movie Maleficent because apparently people think my bewilderment on Twitter about these videos is funny. Long story short: this man should not be allowed near movies because holy crap. In The Truth About Frozen there's an obvious undercurrent of his disdain for these women, in The Truth About Maleficent he goes into outright rape apologia and takes personal jabs at Angelina Jolie. Hence, I'm less patient with him than last time.

Note that this movie has a main character named Stefan, so to differentiate him from the maker of this video I will refer to this character as "King Stefan" or variations thereof and I will refer to Stefan Molyneux mostly as "Molyneux".

And of course, there will be spoilers for Maleficent.

The Spindle of a Spinning Wheel
Or A Response to Stefan Molyneux' The Truth About Maleficent
Full text [Here]

1. Introduction

Whereas I think Frozen is a good movie that has flaws, I think Maleficent is a bad movie with enjoyable aspects. It's obvious Angelina Jolie (Maleficent) and Sam Riley (Diaval) had fun with the roles and it absolutely shows. Their scenes are often delightful. Where it turns me off is that, rather than just turning Maleficent into a more complex character with deeper motivations than mere pettiness, it turns her into an outright hero who was just having a particularly bad day when she cursed princess Aurora. It was really King Stefan, a benevolent character in the original movie, who is now the true villain. Here we have the most iconic villain in the Disney animated canon (depending on where you stand with Fantasia's Chernabog) who even has a name that sounds like an alternative spelling of "malevolent", but somehow she was actually good all along. Those parents must have really hated their child when they named her.
In the end, Maleficent is not a more modernized remake of Sleeping Beauty. It's a completely different story that only really shares its basic characters and the cursing scene with its original incarnation. Then the movie ends by confirming this is the real story because the narrator is revealed to have been Aurora: a character not born for roughly half the movie, and asleep for a portion of the latter half.

After having done Frozen, it was interesting to me how Molyneux would react to Maleficent. As I said last time: Stefan dislikes representations of the state and he disproportionately blames female characters for slights he either imagines or unfairly subscribes to them. Whereas in Frozen those two aspects were centralized into a single person, namely Queen Elsa of Arendelle, here we have a situation where it's a woman, Maleficent, against a kingdom.
Unsurprisingly, he still shifts blame primarily to the female characters, but this time he somehow almost completely absolves the male characters. Because when a male villain does something despicable, it's either not actually despicable, or it's the writers inserting "[0:52] Nazi-levels of anti-male propaganda". Yes, really.

He then ends it by chastising women for demonizing men, including a graphic of how children are harmed when there's no father figure present in the life of a child. This might all be true in a real life context, but it's once again Molyneux being offended because he's reading his own conspiracy theories into a Disney fairy tale movie that happens to be about a man that grievously harmed a woman. Yes, both kings in the movie are shown to be overly ambitious monsters, but just like in Frozen, it is not maleness that is vilified, but reckless ambition. By contrast Frozen's Kristoff might be anti-social and cynical about people, but he's also a hard worker who understands sacrifice and has a deep moral center. He might not have a beard but he's nonetheless manly. Diaval in Maleficent leans closer to a pretty boy stereotype thanks to being portrayed by Sam Riley and his raven features giving him more of a goth look, but he's nevertheless a man with a deep moral center. Apparently it's the beard that's the defining characteristic of being male.

2. Oh, Magic is no Longer Madness

Oddly missing is his previous assertion that all magic in all of fiction is always a metaphor for madness. This despite the fact that the movie is about a young boy who enters a magic kingdom where mankind isn't allowed to go, befriends a fairy who he then betrays, and later actually goes completely mad with paranoia attempting to kill that fairy who threatens his power.
From this lens where magic is always madness, it can thus be argued that Maleficent herself is not real, but merely a metaphor for King Stefan's growing insanity and paranoia as he gains and then tries to protect his political power, projected onto an external tormentor. Not really of course, it's just telling that Molyneux foregoes his own framework fully because otherwise he couldn't be blaming women for being everything wrong with the world.
Last time when Queen Elsa's accidental ice powers got out of control and she exiled herself to keep her subjects safe, Molyneux deemed her a mad queen who would subject the kingdom to tyranny. When King Stefan actually does go insane for 16 years and redirects all his kingdom's wealth into a war with a woman he himself mutilated for personal gain ... well, it's her fault because she demanded he give back a gemstone he stole as a child.

The further absence of this argument is interesting in that there is a dichotomy of good and evil (mad) magic in the movie itself. When Maleficent is using benevolent magic, such as when healing trees, her magic is a golden yellow. When she's using malevolent magic, most notably when she casts the curse, it's green. The difference between the two is most clear when Maleficent tries and fails to undo her own curse before it comes to pass. The scene shows her benevolent magic clashing with the malevolent curse. Hence the color of her magic is a rather convenient method of telling what state of mind Maleficent is in. Humorously enough the color of her magic is also golden-yellow when she's merely playing pranks on the three fairies.

Maleficent, when in a state of destructive anti-societal anger, or in other words 'mad', is conveniently color coded green. The fact that there's a difference between the two types of magic is however evidence that magic is not always and forever a metaphor for madness, as one type is clearly based around benevolence and healing.

3. Protecting Your Property is Theft

[1:23] This interaction is completely insane – and immoral. A starving boy picks up an unowned gem so that he can eat, we assume, and the little witch takes it – just to throw it away. She does not offer him food, or gold, or anything else - she just takes away his treasure and trashes it. Can you imagine meeting a starving, orphaned child who is about to eat a banana, ripping that banana out of his hands, and grinding it underfoot? [24:24] However, it seems to have crossed no one’s mind but mine that Maleficent did the boy an enormous wrong, and sent him down a very dark path through her imperious theft. 
The future King Stefan enters a land his kingdom is explicitly at war with, only to rob its precious stones. It's never mentioned that he's starving, only that he's poor and intends to move up in the world, which he does in spite of not having stolen the gem. However Maleficent is somehow in the wrong because she didn't allow an invader to steal from her land and returned the gem to where it came from. Not to mention young King Stefan got a powerful sorceress as his best friend out of the deal. A relationship which he then squanders for personal gain until he once again needs her.

The very fact that he stole a gem and not food shows in the narrative sense that it was greed, not hunger, that inspired him to steal. Compare to the movie Aladdin (1992) where the titular character steals a loaf of bread, but then gives it to other hungry children in spite of his own needs. This shows Aladdin is a moral character despite being a thief who puts the needs of others before his own and only steals what he needs to survive. By contrast King Stefan already starts out in a more gray area because he sought riches in a place he wasn't even supposed to go. Maleficent only "throws the gem away" in the sense that there's no visible treasury the boy took it from because this is fairyland.

The fact that it crossed no one's mind but Molyneux' that this is an enormous wrong on Maleficent's part is that it's an insane conclusion to begin with. Once again Molyneux places disproportionate blame on women for slights only he imagines.
[1:55] Also, I don’t know if you have been to a mall lately, but if I recall rightly, women don’t seem to be particularly partial to taking expensive gems, and throwing them in a river. It is women who are responsible for the rape of the earth called diamond, mineral and gold-mining – not men. Angelina Jolie had a quarter of a million dollar engagement ring made for her, for a year, by Brad Pitt.
What amazes me about this bit is that it's so obviously a lie just to take another jab at women in general and Angelina Jolie in particular. It's not like we're mining the Earth exclusively to provide women with jewelry. What are all your fancy electronics made of? If you haven't upgraded to electric yet, where does the fuel in your car come from? 80 percent of mined diamonds are unsuitable for jewelry and is instead used industrially anyway. Only half of newly produced gold is put into jewelry. What a brazen lie or profound ignorance to pretend we only maintain the mining industry to provide women with precious jewelry.

However it seems Molyneux can't decide which one is the moral position here. Was King Stefan raping the Earth by taking the gem or was Maleficent doing the boy an enormous wrong for taking the gem back? Are we supposed to show women how they should react 'morally' or are we supposed to show them as they really are according to Molyneux? What exactly are we supposed to take away from his contradictory statements? He just places contradictory standards upon fictional women which they can never meet.

4. Being Raped is the Woman's Fault

[10:37] Taking advantage of their former friendship, Stefan drugs Maleficent, but finds he cannot bring himself to kill her, and so instead burns off her wings with iron – a substance deadly to fairies – and returns them to the king as proof of his victory. It is essential to remember that, on the King’s orders, someone from the castle is going to kill Maleficent – Stefan in fact actually saves her life by only taking her wings.
Molyneux takes it as a given that someone is definitely going to kill Maleficent, a powerful sorceress and protector of a magic kingdom who was just seen demolishing the king's invading army with ease. The fact that the future King Stefan was the only person Maleficent would even allow near the Moors to betray her trust in the first place is apparently an irrelevance. No, she should be grateful he merely drugged and mutilated her for his own benefit.

It's a running trend that when Molyneux calls something a "jaw-dropping sequence" or something similar, that usually means he's working overtime misinterpreting the events that are happening on the screen to fit his biases. So better prepare yourselves because we're now truly going off the deep end.
[11:04] Next comes the most important moral dichotomy in the movie. Immediately after Stefan effectively saves Maleficent’s life by taking her wings, Maleficent comes across a crow in a net about to be beaten to death by a farmer, who is tired of the crow eating his seeds. Maleficent turns him into a man – thus taking his wings!  [11:40] Maleficent replies, “Would you rather I let them beat you to death?”. Diaval mournfully regards his missing wings, and then replies, “I’m not certain.” Maleficent says scornfully, “Stop complaining! I saved your life!” Diaval lowers his eyes and murmurs, “Forgive me… In return for saving my life, I am your servant.” I am so susceptible to propaganda that I did not even notice this until watching the movie for the second time, but it is truly a jaw-dropping sequence.
These two events are apparently equal to Molyneux:
1. An overly-ambitious man betrays the trust of the woman who loves him by drugging her and painfully burning off her wings, and visibly contemplated killing her outright, forcing her to have to relearn how to walk because she no longer carries her wings as ballast.
2. A woman saves a raven from death by turning him into an intelligent shapeshifter.

The next line after Diaval says "I am your servant. Whatever you need." is "Wings, I need you to be my wings". So Maleficent did not in fact take his wings, as made abundantly clear by the one line Molyneux omitted from his reproduction of the script. She needed him to be her wings. As shown on screen when 4 seconds later he transforms back into a raven and flies off. How is this in any way, shape or form supposed to be a moral equivalent? What was done to Maleficent was clearly an act of mutilation, whereas what was done to Diaval was an act of empowerment, which is also why she told him to stop complaining: he didn't lose anything in the first place!

[14:52] Watching the movie, I understood that Maleficent’s “wings” were a metaphor for her breasts, and watching Angelina Jolie – who recently underwent a double mastectomy – awaken from a drugged sleep and howl in agony at the surgical removal of her “wings" made me pretty uncomfortable. I prefer a bit more acting in my movies.
Seriously, what is wrong with this guy? Not only is he making up once again what is a metaphor for what, but he's using it as a personal attack on Angelina Jolie for having underwent a preventative medical procedure. What. The. Hell! It doesn't even make sense as the story would have certainly been written long before Jolie underwent the procedure in 2013. Even if Jolie brought some of those emotions to the forefront during these scenes, why in the world would Stefan then take a jab at her for that? She's still acting! They didn't film her waking up from a mastectomy and then CGI'd a fairy tale landscape around her! God.

At the end of the video, he does confirm that it's an 'interpretation' that the mutilation scene is analogous to rape, however not only does he fail to mention that this was actually the intention of the scene by the filmmakers themselves and not just an interpretation, he also dismisses it.
[23:31] I have some problems with this interpretation – not least of which is that Stefan’s supposed rape is considered a crime, but not one commentator has mentioned anything about Maleficent’s theft of Stefan’s gem, which really set the whole story in motion. If the young Maleficent had not stolen the boy’s gem, he would never have had to go and work in the Castle, and never would have been infected with the desire to become King, and therefore would never have cut off her wings.
In other words ... Maleficent's rape was justified. Young King Stefan trespasses into a place where he's not supposed to be, steals a gem that doesn't belong to him and gets caught by Maleficent, who demands he gives it back. To Molyneux this somehow means she stole the gem and that she's now fair game to be raped. Absolutely incredible.

He's not even correct that this event is the reason why the future King Stefan has to go work in the castle. His intentions were to get there from the start. We know this because he tells Maleficent when they first meet. His greed was always there, it was just more subdued in his childhood.


5. Metaphors are a Metaphor for Metaphors.

[15:42] If we understand that Maleficent is the King’s mistress who gives birth to a child, the rest of the movie makes a whole lot more sense.
And this is why I feel this man is unfit to analyse media of this kind. He's absolutely incapable of interpreting the events on screen and instead goes into rewriting the script under the guise of explaining "the truth" so that he can spin his moral outrage into it later. Somehow the child of the king and queen is actually the bastard backup child of the king and Maleficent in case the queen proves infertile ... which she isn't because she just gave birth to this very child. Evidently Molyneux is petty enough to use the character Maleficent to mock Angelina Jolie for having a mastectomy but the idea that she could love children she didn't give birth to is too unbelievable.

That's about all I can take from this madness, however there's one last bit I want to include to show just how far he takes all this made-up nonsense.
[18:18] Historically, a spinning wheel was a dowry present for a woman getting married, so this curse is basically for Aurora to die giving birth to a child when she is 16. ("Prick" is slang for “penis,” of course; a finger is a metaphor for a penis, which enters the woman on her wedding night and makes her bleed.) [18:57] So the curse means a continuation of the sexual disasters and dysfunctions of the bloodline – Aurora will get pregnant, just as Maleficent got pregnant, and these disasters will just repeat, over and over again, because Aurora will never wake up to reality, to the truth, which is withheld from her.
Pure. Unadulterated. Fan fiction. If a woman weighs as much as a duck, she's made of wood and therefore a witch: a woman who was pregnant but never actually was pregnant curses a child who was born from a woman who couldn't get pregnant to die in childbirth while also never having been pregnant because the only man she ever knew growing up was a raven who lost his wings because of Maleficent despite being shown flying with his wings intact four seconds later. This is the truth about Maleficent and this is why women hate men because they grow up without father figures. Or something.

6. Conclusion

Just like last time there's a lot more to cover, but I feel I've hit on most of his basic points where it actually interjects with the movie. What I didn't cover is mostly a repeat of the same things he chastised Frozen for (such as Maleficent's supposed unearned expertise in magic, despite the film opening on her practicing it), manosphere talk regarding Maleficent's beta male tree guards and how Maleficent's value lies in how sexually attractive she is or isn't.

In the end this "philosophical review" is just another vehicle for Stefan Molyneux to project his own damage onto a movie. Unlike his review of Frozen however, this time he just completely lets his disdain for women snowball into personally attacking even the main actress. He doesn't actually unpack any truths, he's just feeding the portion of his audience that throws hissy fits on Twitter when a movie has a female protagonist using bile wrapped in pseudo-intellectual nonsense and an intentional misreading of the movie's scenes.

While I disagree with the direction they took with this movie, at its core Maleficent is a movie about an abused person who becomes an abuser herself. Certainly the filmmakers lacked the spine to then take the story to where it was supposed to go (an actual re-imagining of Sleeping Beauty), but that doesn't exactly make it a Nazi-level anti-male conspiracy just because the villain had a beard.

A Note on Spelling:
Last time someone asked me if spelling it "Molyneux'" (apostrophe, no s) rather than "Molyneux's" (apostrophe, with s) was a deliberate choice. My reason for doing so is that I would pronounce it "Molyneus", rather than "Molyneuxes".

Links & References

Stefan Molyneux - The Truth About Maleficent

Images from
- Maleficent (2014)

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

A Response to The Truth About Frozen

I have my own problems with Frozen which I will delve deeper into someday (it boils down to that it tries to be clever by forcefully subverting cliches that haven't been cliches in Disney movies since the 1950's, and thus ironically dating the movie to that time period). However Stefan Molyneux' The Truth About Frozen struck me as both so far off the ball and oddly popular enough that I feel compelled to respond to it. Now I don't have any personal problems with Stefan Molyneux, I never met or talked to the gentleman, his style of presentation is also rather entertaining despite it just being him in front of a blank wall, but some of his views stand in such stark opposition to my own that some of my responses will regretfully come off as being less than polite. I will endeavor my best not to misrepresent his arguments, but I will only reproduce his words here when I feel they are emblematic of his arguments rather than post his entire script (that would be too long anyway) and I will attempt to summarize his points otherwise. I will also not talk about everything he talks about, as that would make this response a massive project. Still, it's going to be a long one because his video is somehow over an hour long and he packs in a lot of weirdness.

And of course, there will be spoilers for Frozen.

I've Started Talking to the Pictures on the Walls
Or A Response to Stefan Molyneux' The Truth About Frozen
Full text [Here]

1. Introduction

Literary analysis is almost inherently peppered with the speaker's personal biases because the process of analysis usually involves placing the work into a larger context and thus mirroring it to the speaker's experience. I do this myself and am quite open about the fact that my intention is to put a more positive spin on stories in the cultural zeitgeist as I believe that to be a way forwards (although without making up that this is how I see the particular work). As such it is perfectly understandable that Molyneux' analysis contains his personal biases, however I feel this video steers so far into Molyneux' biases, away from the text of the movie itself, that I hardly feel it is appropriate for it to have the title "The Truth About Frozen". In the end his video isn't about Frozen, it's about Stefan Molyneux. The movie is merely a mirror upon which he reflects his anti-state, anti-woman and kinda anti-family-of-origins values.

Stefan Molyneux' entire analysis can be boiled down to these points: he hates the royal family of Arendelle because they represent the state, he disproportionately blames the female characters for slights he either imagines or unfairly subscribes to them and he presents the same tired criticisms regarding the lack of realism in a Disney animated feature. Furthermore he buries the text of the movie beneath a nonsensical reading where magic is really just code for madness. His argumentation style is like a YouTube version of Alan Wake's Dark Presence, in that he fills up holes in world building (as in, the elements that often aren't necessary for the story to work anyway) with his own interpretations, which he then uses as a springboard for his political agenda.

If it's not explicitly explained in the movie, he'll make something up. If it is explicitly explained in the movie, it doesn't matter because it's a metaphor for something else anyway. As such his movie analysis is little more than him taking a Rorschach test in public.

2. Magic as a Metaphor for Madness / Magic isn't real

A running theme throughout Stefan Molyneux's analysis is his assertion that magic in all of fiction, from Harry Potter to the Force in Star Wars, is merely a metaphor for madness. He then rejects the events and explanations on the screen and instead applies his own rationalization to the events, regardless of whether or not they make sense, they then become further evidence for it being due to "madness". It is in fact a totalizing system which allows him to demean the characters and ignore the actual messages and instead insert his own.
 [2:15] Magic by definition is irrational, and thus cannot exist in the objective, empirical universe. Therefore it must exist within the mind, which unlike reality is capable of error, delusion, fantasy and superstition.  [3:25] Magic in stories is always and forever a metaphor for madness.
He goes on about how Elsa doesn't actually have ice powers, but her hurting Anna is in fact a metaphor for abuse. Elsa's madness being the result of having been brought up in a dull environment with an abusive father. The rational being that because there is no magic in the author's world, that means there's no magic in the fictional world and thus this is all metaphor.
To be sure, Elsa's struggle with her ice powers can be metaphorical for a lot of things. After all her life is made a living hell because she is forced to deny an intrinsic part of herself, then when she finally gets to express herself fully (the Let It Go sequence) she overindulges regardless and clueless of what it does to anyone else, ultimately guilt-catapulting her back to the denial phase. Take your pick of a personal secret, Elsa's ice magic is probably applicable as a metaphor. There is thus indeed a framework based in reality upon which Frozen's fantastical story can be built.

However Stefan continues the video insisting the events on screen are merely our lying eyes telling the story through Elsa's delusions, where she was driven insane by a dull environment which escalated and eventually caused her to murder her parents and rationalize it with a storm at sea. Her absence at the funeral being evidence she might have been under suspicion.
I mean ... that might be a good surprise twist for a movie, but this is still Disney's Frozen, not Fight Club or Sucker Punch. It's not even Alice in Wonderland. On some level you have to stop forcefully rejecting the willing suspense of disbelief and accept that within the text of the movie, there's a kingdom called Arendelle where the queen was born with ice powers or else you're just making stuff up.

The assertion that magic, always and forever, is a metaphoric stand-in for madness might superficially look like a compelling lens to analyze media with, but in reality it doesn't hold much water. It is merely creative interpretation that at first glance might resemble profound insight, but in the end is meaningless. Similar to how the Pokémon anime series has been interpreted as Ash's coma fantasy: it's a fun thought experiment, but it's not profound insight and actually hinders the critic in engaging with the text. It is, to steal a phrase, not an argument. As is the case with the Truth About Frozen.

Because I watched Stefan's The Truth About Frozen, YouTube helpfully linked me to another relevant video of his: Harry Potter, Star Wars and the Violent Fantasies of Crushed Souls. In this video he reads a post he came across that interpreted the Harry Potter franchise as a metaphor for a child being carted off to an insane asylum, which he called a 'brilliant theory' and which in turn I suspect gave him the idea that all stories about magic are metaphors for madness.
Again, where this idea fails is that it doesn't actually engage with the text of the movie. Instead it starts from a conclusion (magic = madness) and then tries to find facts in the text to support it, which of course will be found because magic is being used, thus allowing the critic to bypass the actual events on screen.

As an example to how it doesn't make sense:
[27:02] When the merchant complains that Elsa tried to kill him, Hans replies 'You slipped on ice'. This indicates that Hans did not see the ice magic. Another example of its internal nature.
Okay, but then how come there was ice at all when it was a warm summer's day in July? Was the Duke of Weselton (not a merchant, a duke) also mad for having seen the ice magic? He explicitly refers to her sorcery and it being 'her' ice after all. Clearly the answer is that Hans is merely trying to endear himself to Anna by downplaying the situation with Elsa. He's not actually the beacon of sanity that can see through the madness.

Scene from Frozen: Queen Elsa

3. Character Assessments and Stefan Molyneux's Anti-Woman Bias

Before I start this bit, I have to mention that Stefan Molyneux often proclaims that he believes it is sexism not to hold men and women to the same standards, which sounds like a reasonable position. In practice however Stefan has a tendency to shift blame for a large amount of things to women exclusively. It's one of his more well known positions for example that he believes you can rid the world of almost all evil if people could just be nice to babies for five years straight. Which he then elaborates that child-raising is an industry ran by women. Furthermore male jerks exist because women keep having babies with them at the expense of better men. Also he blames women for being vain as they base their worth on their looks, rather than personality or expertise. Little mention of men's responsibility in furthering any of those scenarios however, it's just women that all need to get together and fix their issues collectively. This philosophy to my estimation, which also seeps into his criticism here, makes Stefan's analysis fundamentally anti-woman. The only times he'll chastise a male character is when Stefan can use him as a proxy to demean the state (or kingdom).

At its core, Frozen is a movie about two deeply broken women who after years of loneliness have to mend their equally broken relationship. As such it's a rather dark psychological story. However every time Stefan attempts to analyze the place these women mentally occupy, he instead comes to a conclusion that runs counter to the evidence on screen and he'll demean these characters because they do not adhere to his worldview (even when ... they do). Even the minor character of Anna and Elsa's mother is not safe from his scorn.
[9:47] As usual, Elsa's mother nods in a scared, stupid, sheepish way as her husband proceeds to outline his plans to do exactly the opposite of what the healer he respects recommends. She has no voice, she married the ultimate alpha male, and so cannot contradict or instruct him, because there is no one for her to trade up to. [...] Her natural hypergamy - the female desire to "mate up" - has tragic consequences for her youngest daughter Anna, who almost gets murdered pursuing the same estrogen-fuelled ambitions.
To be sure, he places plenty of blame on the king, not because of his well-intentioned worry for his daughter however. Rather, according to Molyneux, his mistake was due to being afraid of his witch-daughter losing him his political power. So there's that anti-state thing. If it wasn't for his being a powerful politician, presumably he would have made the right choice in raising his daughter. However in the end even the king's misguided plan to help his daughter Elsa eventually gets blamed on a character who has exactly three words and a contraction worth of dialog in the entire movie. Here we have a character who essentially exists as visual padding and to provide a voice cameo for co-director Jennifer Lee, yet Stefan can't help but to put her in a manospherian context of alpha males and hypergamy.
Furthermore if we go by the explanation in Once Upon A Time Season 4 Episode 7 (which we probably shouldn't take seriously as even the show itself runs on the premise that it isn't canon with its source movies), the queen was understandably wary of her daughter's powers because she had already seen them and their disastrous results before: in her own sister, Elsa's aunt, the original Snow Queen Ingrid. Again, this isn't a canon explanation, but it shows a possible reason why the queen would "stupidly, sheepishly" nod along with her husband's plan out of a place of personal agency rather than us having to impose hypergamy on a minor character in a Disney movie.

Elsa's aunt (Snow Queen Ingrid) and mother.
[15:43] Lonely Anna makes her sudden reappearance, alarmingly none the worse for wear after a childhood of crushing isolation and rejection, an imprisoned sister who nearly killed her, and the deaths of both parents. 'What horrors? There might be a pretty boy at the DANCE!'
It seems rather odd to claim the Sandwich Princess grew up fine despite childhood trauma when she's so starved for human contact, she intends to marry the first person she literally bumps into. She's ridiculously naive and outrageously socially awkward despite her overly extroverted nature. Just take a moment to relisten to Love is an Open Door with Hans' motives in mind. Suddenly it becomes a villain song about Hans' duplicity while he's also desperately struggling to keep up with Anna's random mind. This together with her completely reckless actions later reveal her to have remained into a childlike innocence into adulthood that she must now overcome through the trials and tribulations that result from her sister's outburst. I don't know how you can watch the movie and come away with the idea Anna was just fine.
[17:39] When the sisters greet each other for the first time in over a decade, they exchange vapid nothings about how warm it is, how much fun they are having, how pretty each other is, and how much they like chocolate. Dear lord, are they adult women or mentally challenged trivia addicts? 
See, this is where his bias overrides even his sense of analyzing the movie from an overhead realistic viewpoint. Here we have two girls separated for 13 years, one believing the other hates her, the other scared of accidentally committing murder, and both of them having been cut off from society in general, yet Stefan doesn't recognize how this could have resulted in severe social awkwardness between the two. The core story is about two sisters reconnecting after years of separation but he complains when it doesn't happen instantly. Even worse, he denies the sisters having endured psychological hardship (aside from 'the madness') even while he's talking about their obvious psychological scars.
[17:20] The late king did nothing to prepare his daughters for being in charge of a kingdom. There's no evidence of any education, books, parental conversation, the imparting of wisdom and justice and magnanimity in statecraft. This is noticeable only in its absence.
This bit caught me off guard because Elsa's obvious education was something I picked up on during my first viewing. During the Let It Go sequence we see Elsa growing in power as she very rapidly learns to understand how her powers work. When she's creating her ice palace however she suddenly starts singing about fractals, meaning the flawless ice marvel isn't just the result of her magic, but also of her aptitude in mathematics, particularly geometry. This is also why her more natural creations such as Olaf, Marshmallow or her ice statues are very simplistic by comparison: she's not trained as an artist, she's trained as a mathematician. Which is confirmed in the book A Sister More Like Me, where Elsa is also seen surrounded by several books and clearly taking joy in her education.

Scene from Frozen: "My soul is spiraling in frozen fractals all around"

Scan from A Sister More Like Me: Elsa studying
And I'd have loved to have a friend who knew geometry-
I would have, if I could have had a sister more like me.

As for Anna, well she recognized a painting as being one of Joan of Arc (though not a historically accurate one) and seems to really enjoy spending time in the art room. Possibly due to her craving for human contact she has substituted art for people. Hence she has likely gained an appreciation for the arts. Furthermore one of the rooms Anna plays in as a small child is the library and Elsa can be seen practicing keeping "the madness" with the [23:17] penis-and-testicle ball and rod for her coronation in front of several giant bookshelves, so there definitely were books. In fact at the start of the movie the king searches for the map to the trolls on a bookshelf.
[18:00] The grim political reality is that neither of these highly unstable women are even remotely fit to rule the kingdom. They show zero interest in economics, politics, education, literacy, the arts, or even the toiling masses around them that keep them in heels and hair clips.
Continuing from above, and frankly I just put this in here because it reveals Molyneux' disdain for these women. The only bits of Anna and Elsa's childhood we are shown are directly related to their relationship. None of it is focused on how they actually grew up. So little in fact that it's easy to forget (as Stefan apparently did) that there was still a skeleton crew of servants around Anna and Elsa, so they wouldn't have been entirely isolated even after their parents died (the main servants even have names: Kai and Gerda, after the protagonists of the Hans Christian Andersen tale). What I mean is, he has no basis for any of these claims. He's just complaining this musical about the bond between two estranged sisters isn't actually about statesmanship or education.

The "merchant"
[23:58] When a merchant - i.e. a man who actually works for a living - bows while asking Elsa to dance, the two sisters giggle at him when his toupee flops over. This lofty contempt for and indifference to anyone who works is offensive, but is not noted in the movie because the two girls are so very very pretty.
As I mentioned earlier, the 'merchant' Stefan refers to is actually the Duke of Weselton, which is repeated so often in the movie that I don't understand how Stefan could have missed it even though he took the time to dissect the lyrics of several of the songs line by line. This is a man whose onscreen introduction has him plotting to exploit Arendelle for riches and later intends to have queen Elsa murdered. He's intentionally portrayed as a loathsome villain so he can serve as a red herring for the final act.
In the scene Molyneux describes, he is mocked by the servant Kai who introduces him to queen Elsa as the "Duke of Weaseltown". However once again Stefan displaces his scorn to the women on the scene, who let out a light embarrassed giggle when the Duke's hairpiece suddenly flops over. Their crime being caught off guard by this fussy royal.

[10:30] There are certainly overtones of lesbianism in the story. As a man says about Elsa's sexual availability: no one was getting anywhere with her.
Of course no one was getting anywhere with Elsa. She believed she was an immediate danger to everyone and had to be kept away. Unlike Anna she simply wasn't open to become either physically or emotionally close with anyone. The only hint of lesbianism is one the viewer imposes. Thankfully Stefan himself clarifies that Elsa being closed off could stand for a great many other stigmatized characteristics ([11:20] religious skepticism, scientific advancement, forbidden love of every kind, creativity among dull people, existential boredom, child abuse, contempt for small talk). It's just odd he would include the certain overtones of lesbianism when he himself refutes it. There are no overtones of lesbianism as Elsa has no love interest.

[41:18] It is a horrible form of sexism to pretend to women that they can be just as good as an experienced man without any experience at all - it discourages them from taking the necessary steps to work hard to achieve excellence, condemning them to lives of mediocrity; useless youthful sexual power followed by decaying middle-age resentment.
He makes this statement following two observations: the first is a goofy chase scene where Anna and Kristoff fight off wolves, and the second is Elsa rapidly learning to control her powers when she can finally let loose.
His description of Anna fighting off the wolves is false to begin with. It is Kristoff who first notices the wolves while Anna is clueless to them. It is not Kristoff who falls of the sled while Anna maintains her balance, Kristoff was forcefully dragged out by an attacking wolf. Both her hits on the wolves are clearly presented as being accidental for the sake of comedy, because it is funny when an obviously untrained person shows surprising or accidental aptitude. Contrast to Flynn Rider taking out an entire unit of (hopefully) trained guards by blindly swinging a frying pan in Tangled and then losing to a sword-wielding horse.

Scene from Tangled: Flynn Rider vs Maximus
"You should know that this is the strangest thing I've ever done"
[40:13] Why on earth would they not understand how insulting and limiting it is to tell women they can become experts without working?"
See the only actual 'expertise' that was shown on screen was Elsa using magic, which she didn't even learn to control properly until the very end of the movie (I also don't remember Genie Jafar getting much of a training montage before he started juggling planets). Anna just showed off some reckless dumb luck for the sake of comedy, which is sandwiched between sequences where she shows off a complete lack of expertise also for the sake of comedy. Yet Stefan gets mad because there's no arbitrary training montage in this movie that's not about either of the sisters gaining expertise anyway (aside from figuring out the off switch on Elsa's ice power).

He complains about the lack of such training sequences, with few exceptions in the movies Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Million Dollar Baby, but he lacks the understanding of the Disney Animated Canon that they likely forewent any such sequence in Frozen because it would have been nearly identical to the one in Tangled, where Rapunzel's opening song When Will My Life Begin describes her daily routine growing up locked up in the tower, which consists of honing various skills to stave off boredom.

Furthermore we have girls and women in training sequences and variations thereof in Mulan (I'll Make a Man Out of You), Brave (her princess education + practicing horseback archery in Touch the Sky), Tinker Bell (the entire movie), Tinker Bell and the Pirate Fairy (Zarina in the opening), Wreck-it Ralph (somehow to Rihanna's Shut up and Drive) and Tarzan (Jane for a short time in the latter half of Strangers Like Me). Tiana's entire personality in Princess and the Frog is that of a dedicated workaholic trying to make her dream of owning a business happen (Not to mention later movies Big Hero 6 and Zootopia would also contain training sequences). He mentions none of them and pretends they barely exist, which is my Sassette Principle in action. Besides, Let It Go is a training montage, simply shortened to one moment for narrative and stylistic convenience.
[58:57] The madness of the ending – “I will love you only when you are dead!” – is hard to fathom. The moral of the story – “An act of true love will thaw a frozen heart” – will help breed legions of codependent cannon fodder for sociopaths and narcissists: “If my heart is still frozen, it’s because you do not love me enough!” 
The insanity of this part and the bits before it is that he had to make it up out of whole cloth. He gets to portray Elsa as a violent sociopath only because he projected sociopathy on her due to his baseless assertion that "magic always means madness". "An act of true love will thaw a frozen heart" is not the moral of the story, it is merely a rule of the in-universe nature of magic. The real moral is that a personal burden is lighter to carry together with your loved ones than it is locked away in solitude to fester over years. Meanwhile the real sociopath gets called on his being the only frozen heart, after which he is punched in the face and booted out of the kingdom.

4. Hidden Meaning in Stylistic Choices

I already mentioned several times when Molyneux tries too hard reading hidden messages in what are actually simple elements of visual shorthand, comedy or metaphor (which, again, he ignores because he's reading too much of his own prior conclusions into them). However there's one more sequence he talks about that I'd like to elaborate on.
[37:05] The opening of the movie “Frozen” baffled me for quite some time – why was there an extended and dull sequence of men cutting holes in ice and shipping them down to the city? The music was monotonous and dirge-like, and it seemed to have little to do with the rest of the story, which was about sisters and sex and magic and madness.
The Frozen Heart sequence at the start of the movie foreshadows several story elements and themes and also introduces us to Kristoff and Sven (the workers are the Greek chorus, if you like). The fact that Stefan doesn't recognize the themes of the movie in the introductory song because he's too occupied with sex and madness should probably also have tipped him off that's he's not thinking in the right direction.
The stylistic reason for it being included is likely because Frozen took cues from The Little Mermaid, the other Disney movie based on a Hans Christian Andersen story (as well as inspiration from Dumbo's Roustabouts, according to co-director Jennifer Lee). The Little Mermaid opens on a ship with several working sailors who sing about plot elements before we go deep into the ocean to the more fantastic kingdom of Atlantica inhabited by merpeople¹. It is a way to instantly broaden the movie's universe to majestic scales because we are now aware of both a dull mundane world, which follows relatively realistic rules, and the hidden fantasy world, which runs on magic and is inhabited by mythological creatures. The conflict in both movies partially hinges on the interaction between both worlds.

The mundane world, which leads into...
... the hidden fantasy world
In Frozen we have the mundane world represented by the ice harvesters, which then leads us into Anna and Elsa playing around with magic, representing the hidden fantasy world which Elsa ultimately gets locked into and tries to ignore until adulthood. Unfortunately, no luck in expecting Stefan Molyneux to pick up on artistic direction in a Disney movie. Instead he explains it as yet another hidden metaphor for gender roles.

[37:30] It hit me eventually – men produce ice through dangerous, hard, grueling labor in freezing conditions. Women produce ice through magic.

Women don't produce ice through magic at all. Elsa produces ice through magic, and she doesn't sell it for a living. This isn't the story of a female ice harvester who picks up the skill without trying, it's the story of a future queen who carries an out of control magic talent that prevents her from ruling effectively. There is simply no comparison. The ice harvesters are only there for thematic reasons and to show off the animation studio's fancy new ice rendering software. Besides, if magic is just a metaphor for madness, that would mean even Elsa doesn't produce ice at all.

But this is just emblematic of how Stefan isn't looking for analysis or "the truth" of Frozen. He is merely seeing his own damage reflected in the story. Hence some ice harvesters leading us into a movie about sisters is actually a secret message that keeps women vain and preoccupied with being pretty while their eggs are being used up on abusive alphas.

¹ Incidentally, it has been theorized by fans that The Little Mermaid is a sequel to Frozen, as due to the geographic location where both stories take place, the sunken ship that Ariel explores during her introduction might have been the doomed ship that carried the king and queen of Arendelle.

5. Conclusion

With all this I hope I have been able to show some of the main failings in Stefan Molyneux' argumentation. The madness argument is meaningless as it is the literary equivalent of an unfalsifiable hypothesis. He reserves scorn towards characters who represent the state (except when he ignores that they are part of it) and especially if those characters are women. Furthermore he is confused by stylistic choices and not well-versed enough in the Disney Animated Canon to put Frozen into a larger perspective. As a closing positive, I will say that at least his core philosophy remains more or less consistent throughout all his arguments, unlike certain other popular media critics. It's just a shame he was never really analyzing Frozen in the first place.

Scene from Frozen: Hans and Anna

6. Hans the Alpha Male, Kristoff the Beta Male

The last part of Stefan's analysis is mostly dedicated to the typical 'manosphere' talk about alpha males, beta males, resources and fertility and the like. So let's now do an in-depth analysis about his arguments on that subject.
[53:27] Olaf the snowman is the beta harem male kept around by Anna in case none of her real men marry her.
... That's it, I'm out.

Links & References
Stefan Molyneux - The Truth About Frozen
Stefan Molyneux - Harry Potter, Star Wars and the Violent Fantasies of Crushed Souls

Images from
- Frozen (2013) (Taken from the movie, trailer, the UK sing-along version of Let It Go and Disney Wikia)
- Frozen: A Sister More Like Me (2013)
- The Little Mermaid (1989)
- Once Upon A Time S04E07 (2014)
- Tangled / Rapunzel (2010)

Oh God, there's a The Truth About Zootopia...

Monday, 3 July 2017

Castlevania 64: The Castle of Hell

Castlevania for the Nintendo 64 (commonly known as "Castlevania 64") has in recent times gained the reputation as being somewhat of a black sheep in the Castlevania series. Even official sources flip-flop on whether it still counts as part of the official Castlevania timeline (when Konami still cared about Castlevania anyway). Nevertheless it's one of my favorite games. Yes, it suffers a bit from being an early Nintendo 64 title, and the Nintendo 64 controller doesn't help the game much, but still (a lot of control issues would have been solved if it were just rereleased for Virtual Console).

Important note: this is supposed to be an analysis, not a review. Therefore I will not mind bringing up spoilers if they are relevant. Proceed with caution if you have yet to play this game and do not want to be spoiled.

The Castle of Hell
Castlevania 64 (1999)
0. Personal History
1. Story and Setting 
2. Main Characters
3. Level Select: Stage 3 Villa
4. Castlevania, Vampires and Dualism
5. Links & References

0. Personal History

Back in 1999 I didn't know anything about Castlevania, but it looked interesting and I was convinced to buy it after the store clerk mentioned it was "like Zelda" (which confused me after playing it, but in retrospect he probably just meant that the franchise has been around for about as long and has been similarly acclaimed). At first I didn't like it all that much, mainly because I was 11 and I had just bought my first horror title, but very soon I came to adore the creepy atmosphere, the interesting characters, the epic music that typifies Castlevania and yes, even the gameplay (although as I said, playing it on the actual N64 makes it a struggle against the controller).

I also chose it as the subject for a Nintendo 64 retexture project, which is unfinished but still available at

1. Story and Setting

The story takes place in Wallachia, Transylvania in 1852. Dracula has awoken after a century of being locked away (later releases such as Order of Ecclesia (18??) and Circle of the Moon (1830) would reduce it to mere decades). Two heroes descended from the legendary Belmont and Belnades clans take it on themselves to once again rid the world of Dracula's influence.

The Castlevania series functions as an extended universe to Bram Stoker's novel Dracula 1, which makes its 1852 setting especially interesting as it is a mere 40 years before the count's return in the novel. Unfortunately there's very little to connect this particular game to the novel, except perhaps the Belmont clan having a reduced presence this century due to being split up into clans with different surnames. In that way Reinhardt Schneider might make it more digestible to have the novel's Quincy Morris be part of the Belmont lineage.

Some anachronisms exist within the setting, the most goofy of which is the giant skeleton boss of the first stage being accompanied by two smaller skeletons riding on motorcycles. Certain areas of the Castle Center and the Tower of Science itself reveal Dracula to have access to advanced science for the time period, which doesn't seem all that out of place considering his fast powers and connection to demonic forces.

Also there must be something odd in Wallachia's water anyway because four of the major characters, including Dracula himself, have blue hair.

2. Main Characters

The Character Select screen
We have the option of 2 playable protagonists: Reinhardt Schneider, a descendant of the Belmont clan who dedicated themselves to defeating Dracula, and Carrie Fernandez, a descendant of the witch Sypha Belnades (In Japan they have the same surname) from Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse.
Most of the game is the same no matter which character you pick, except they'll interact differently with certain characters, they'll have a different personal nemesis and 3 of the 10 stages will differ (Reinhardt will visit Tunnel, Duel Tower and Tower of Execution, while Carrie visits Underground Waterway, Tower of Science and Tower of Sorcery).

On the gameplay front I found Reinhardt and his whip rather boring and I never got too far with him. Carrie and her homing magic bullet make combat more manageable, as you can properly focus on evading enemy attacks rather than struggle to aim your whip. Because of that my perspective of the game is heavily skewed towards it being Carrie's game rather than Reinhardt's.

An interesting difference between these two heroes are their attitudes in how they go about their quest. Reinhardt, despite being the classic hero archetype, has clear doubts about his ability to live up to the legacy of his Belmont ancestors. Meanwhile 12-year old Carrie storms Dracula's castle with the full conviction that she has the power to destroy Dracula. This is even reflected in their quotes as the game starts up (and their only pieces of voiced dialogue):  

"Courage, don't leave me."
- Reinhardt Schneider

"Whatever awaits, I have no regrets!"
- Carrie Fernandez

Only a few simple words, but they nevertheless reveal a great deal about their respective speaker. Reinhardt is clearly having doubts about himself, which are feelings Carrie doesn't share. In Carrie's quest it becomes a recurring theme in her dialogue to reflect her absolute conviction that she's powerful enough to defeat Dracula. She even mocks her nemesis for being a mere pawn to delay Carrie from reaching the Count.

Their difference in personality is also reflected in the challenges they face. On top of merely having to deal with the general quest of having to kill the resurrected Dracula, at the various points where their respective storylines differ, the villains start playing on our protagonists' personal doubts and fears. Reinhardt, doubting his ability to live up to his ancestors' legacy, is presented with a damsel in distress whom he can't possibly save. His personal demon is presented in the form of Dracula's right hand and series regular Death. Carrie, having had to deal with losing her family, is forced to put a vampirized relative out of her misery (a cousin, but originally supposed to be Sypha Belnades herself). And while Carrie has lost her loving stepmother who died protecting her, her personal demon comes in the form Actrise, a woman who sacrificed her own child for eternal beauty.

3. Level Select: Stage 3 Villa

It would take far too much effort to analyze all the stages in detail, so for now I'll stick to just one. By far the  best remembered level for most people (including me) is the Villa. After the approach through the Forest of Silence and breaching the Castle Wall, players are immediately attacked by a series of Cerberus enemies (3 headed dogs, some of which can breathe fire) that guard the gates to the Villa. Once inside those gates, you are greeted with nothing but the serene sound of the fountain in the middle of the front garden with the face of the villa behind it  (the outside is supposedly based on the château of Azay-le-Rideau). Before a moment of peace can set in however, you'll soon realize the garden is in fact a graveyard holding the former inhabitants: the Oldrey family. Though a minor nuisance, it turns out their ghosts aren't particularly fond of intruders.

11-year old me says 'eeep'
Once inside you find yourself inside a hall that looks suspiciously similar to the Spencer Mansion from Resident Evil 1. Before you manage to explore anything, a man-sized creature crawls across the walls and jumps right in front of you, revealing the first of the game's many vampires (Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness reveals this one to be Master J.A. Oldrey himself, who has been haunting his residence for 8 years). This was my first experience with a horror game as a child, and this scene left the biggest impression. Every time I played the game after, I dreaded this particular moment. The vampires in this game just look absolutely terrifying.

The previous stages weren't entirely linear, but this one changes things up by requiring exploration and figuring things out based on characters giving clues. Combined with the setting itself, I think it's fairly safe to say the game designers did indeed take notes from Resident Evil. On top of that there's a surprising amount of detail spent on making this place actually feel like a luxurious, though haunted by vampires and demons, villa. The walls are lined with art, including portraits of previous residents and the furniture is surprisingly elaborate for a Nintendo 64 game

This stage introduces us to most of the game's important characters: fellow vampire hunter Charlie Vincent, the noble vampire Rosa, the village child Malus and the demon salesman Renon. All of whom are interesting in their own right.

Charlie Vincent is likely the first non-enemy character you encounter in the entire game (outside of being briefly taunted by Dracula himself at the Castle Wall). He appears unexpectedly when you open a door in the bedroom, waving a cross 2 in your face to determine whether you are one of Dracula's henchmen or not.
He is presented as the self-professed expert vampire hunter who to us comes across as being in way over his head. We are the descendants of the Belmont/Belnades clan after all while this guy is an unknown. He carries around a stake and multiple crosses (including a giant one on his back), so while obviously being prepared, he comes across as rather foolish. This image is not helped by his general look (although with an added mustache) and name 'Charlie Vincent' calling to mind Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall's character) from Fright Night, who is an actor who plays a fictional legendary vampire hunter but freaks out when confronted with actual vampires. It thus comes as a surprise when later it turns out he is in fact instrumental in revealing the true identity of Dracula (in the good ending at least, which can be triggered by spending less than 4 in-game days reaching the Castle Keep).

Following Vincent's clue of spotting a young woman at dawn, you can, at dawn, encounter Rosa who has allegedly come to water the garden's "white" roses. Something is clearly wrong here because the roses are obviously red. Then it turns out the water from her watering pot is actually blood, and there was apparently so much of it that it stained all the white roses red.
Surprise! Rosa is one of the villa's vampires. Unlike any of the other vampires however, she's not at all hostile to the player character and surprisingly compassionate. She urges the player character to leave the castle, but decides to help out when they declare they can't do so until Dracula has been stopped. In Carrie's story, this is the only time we ever encounter her. In Reinhardt's story however, she's a recurring character and becomes his love interest. There we learn that Rosa has managed to maintain her human soul despite being turned. Nevertheless Death uses her as a pawn against Reinhardt and thus she turns into a tragic villain we have to fight as a boss at the end of the Castle Center (the aforementioned damsel in distress Reinhardt can't save).

I mean their similarity is too uncanny
to be a coincidence, right?
Descending down the stair that lead to the maze garden, you find a mysterious scroll on the ground. A man who introduces himself as a demon named Renon (who for some reason bears a striking resemblance to French actor Jean Reno) appears and explains to us that he sells useful items to adventurers such as us because "one needs gold even in hell these days". He's the game's store who can be summoned from scrolls such as the one you've just found.
The one detail he neglects to mention however is that the small print in the contract specifies that spending more than 30,000 gold in his store means he gets to claim your soul as well, meaning abuse of his services punishes you by adding an extra boss in the Castle Keep before you get to face Dracula.

Then comes the maze garden itself, which quickly becomes the most intense part of the game. After wandering around for a bit, you encounter a child abducted from the village named Malus.
After a short introduction where he fails to remember what exactly happened to him to end up in this horrible place, you are suddenly attacked by two stone dogs you may remember as the statues in front of the maze. As Malus runs away in panic and the dogs give chase, you come face to face with the gardener: a giant Frankenstein's monster with a chainsaw for a right arm. Worse of all, he's invincible and can only be temporarily delayed, never defeated. The only thing you can do is try to keep up with Malus while you have to dodge all three enemies at once. Then the little bugger crawls under a hedge too low for us, forcing us to backtrack to find a way around and likely having to directly dodge the gardener coming right for us.

Malus having escaped, there's only one thing left to do: head towards the stage's dual bosses in the crypt. At first the crypt seems empty. Once you investigate the empty coffin at its opposite side, suddenly a corpse drops from the ceiling. Master Oldrey, the vampire we encountered at the start of the stage, was enjoying his meal and has now decided to make you his main dish. He's not all that much harder than previous vampires, he just has more health, dodges a lot quicker and can fire projectiles at you. Once you defeat him however, his previous victim has had enough time to turn herself.

Master Oldrey and his most recent victim

4. Castlevania, Vampires and Dualism

Castlevania as a series based on Bram Stoker's vampire Dracula inherently introduces Christian elements and imagery into the game world, superficial as they may be. Traditionally it is thought vampires do not cast a reflection because they lack a soul. Indeed in the Villa stage we have a cutscene where a seemingly ordinary, though clearly deranged, villager is revealed to be a vampire in disguise because he doesn't appear in a nearby mirror. It's even a rather effective jump-scare, even though we can see it coming from miles away.
We also have several characters, especially demonic villains who are likely authorities on the subject, who comment on souls and the harvesting thereof. Like a lot of vampire fiction, Castlevania thus maintains a view of the mind-body that is dualistic in nature.
Dualism is essentially the idea that there's a difference between the mind and the brain, or the soul and our bodies. It is an idea closely associated with René Descartes (1596-1650), who believed the mind has a two-way relationship with the body through the pineal gland in the brain, but has since fallen out of style, largely because it is essentially the 'God did it' of neurobiology and thus a scientific stopping point of investigation. Finding an explanation of what consciousness is and how it came about is to this day an enormous mindscrew (excuse the pun), but it is a fairly safe assumption that 'we' aren't a metaphorical homunculus operating a body from inside the brain (or, a metaphysical player operating a real world player character).
Phineas Gage
An often-cited example that cast doubt over dualism is the case of Phineas Gage (1823-1860), an American railroad construction foreman who because of an accident in 1848 had a large iron rod driven through his skull, destroying parts of his brain. Gage amazingly survived but his personality and behavior saw drastic changes. This is of course odd if the self is immaterial to the brain. It should be noted however that the body of facts regarding the "American Crowbar Case" is surprisingly slim for one so noteworthy in neurology. Later evidence (such as the pictures of him discovered in 2009 and 2010) revealed that Gage's sudden personality change did in fact level out and he recovered his social abilities later in life (which on the surface to me sounds like he makes an amazing example of neuroplasticity in action).

Back to Castlevania. The existence of Rosa makes things interesting. Here we have a vampire who has somehow maintained her human soul despite having been turned. This raises a couple of questions. Would she appear in a mirror despite being a vampire? What gives the other scheming and articulate vampires their intelligence? Perhaps the lesser enemies are simply driven by basal desires while Dracula's inner circle consists of turned humans who like Rosa have their souls intact but who simply were just that evil. Carrie's nemesis Actrise murdering 100 children, including her own, to attain his favor certainly makes a case for that possibility. Where this doesn't hold up is with Master J.A. Oldrey in the Legacy of Darkness version of the game, who was described by his wife as a good man before he was turned into a decidedly evil vampire but who retains his intelligence.
What then of the count himself? In the usual Castlevania game, he is merely resurrected after having been slain by the previous Belmont. This game however has it as an actual plot twist that he hasn't been resurrected, but has been outright reincarnated 3. On the duality scale, clearly he must still have his soul intact (though warped due to the events of Lament of Innocence and Symphony of the Night) if he is subjected to reincarnation.
In this game it is actually possible for the player characters themselves to be turned into vampires. One of the tactics enemy vampires will employ is that they will try to get close in order to suck Reinhardt or Carrie's blood. If not fought off rapidly enough, their status will change from 'Good' to 'Vamp'. This status effect will disable the character's main attack and unless cured by an item known as 'Purifying', at the stroke of midnight the character will turn into a vampire themselves (unless bitten less than an hour before midnight, then you are afforded an extra day). At this point the screen goes black and the player is booted to the Game Over screen. In a meta sense, you could argue this means the player is the character's "soul" and the process of turning into a vampire severs that connection. Without our moral guidance, Reinhardt or Carrie are now just mindless monsters themselves.

But that's getting a bit too deep into a goofy horror game about blue-haired anime vampires. 

1. Quincy Morris from Bram Stoker's Dracula is stated in the Castlevania games to be a relative of the Belmont clan. His son (John Morris) and grandson (Jonathan Morris) are playable characters in Bloodlines and Portrait of Ruin respectively.
2. I wrote this entire paragraph with "crucifix" in place of "cross" before I learned it's technically only a crucifix when it consists of a cross and a corpus (the body of Jesus Christ). (

3. He is reincarnated again as Soma Cruz in the games Aria of Sorrow (2003) and Dawn of Sorrow (2005), perhaps one of the reasons why Castlevania 64 has a dubious place in the timeline, as it rather conflicts with the nature of reincarnation in those games.

5. Links & References
Dennett, Daniel - Consciousness Explained (1991)
Doidge, Norman - The Brain That Changes Itself (2007)
Kaku, Michio - The Future of the Mind (2014)

Images from:
Castlevania, Konami (1999)
Wikimedia Commons