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Animated Words: How To Train Your Dragon

Animated Words is a featured column at the Rotoscopersan awesome news site for all things animation.

Welcome to the first edition of my article series entitled “Animated Words,” which will be an exclusive look at books that inspired the creation of animated movies. I’m sure you have heard someone spout the phrase “the book was better than the movie” before and I have been known to say it on more than one occasion. Growing up, I was the child who always read the original novel before watching the movie. I read the book first because it was usually how I got to connect with the movie before it was even out in theaters.

From a young age, whenever a Disney teaser trailer aired on TV, I was overcome with eagerness to see the new movie and frustrated that I would have to wait for the VHS release because my parents preferred to take me on outdoor outings rather than to a darkened theater. For hours, I anxiously paced in my room wanting to know the intricate plot points and character relationships for my beloved animated cartoons. My friends would spill spoilers left and right, while singing the newest Disney Renaissance single. It drove me up a beanstalk, until I discovered something called ‘the junior novelization.’9780736429832.jpg.172x250_q85

As part of the merchandising campaign with a new movie, Disney released toys, clothing, and books smeared with the characters. Books have and will probably always be an easy tie-in for feature films, because they are easy to make, quick to produce multiples, and have that educational factor with reading. While my parents weren’t too keen on taking me to the movies, they were big fans of the library and one day I found The Little Mermaid junior novelization. The junior novelization not only told the entire story, but it even included a few extra details hinted at but not included in the movie. From that point on, I scouted out Disney books that were “based on the motion picture” and they tided me over until I saw the actual movie. The junior novelizations were actually published before the movie even played in theaters, so I soon became the one who knew all the spoilers (take note that in the 1990s, however, the word “spoilers” didn’t exist).

I would also discover that Disney and other animated films were based on original novels, not just fairytales. I swallowed these novels in one large gulp and was extremely thrilled when there turned out to be a series with even more adventures starring the characters.

This brings me around to why I want to write “Animated Words”: I love to read books, I love writing about books, and I also want people to be more aware about movies that are based off original novels. Why? Because I want them to read more. Without further ado, let’s dive into a one of today’s popular movie franchises: How to Train Your Dragon.How_to_Train_Your_Dragon_(2003_book_cover)

How to Train Your Dragon is by British children’s author Cressida Cowell. Britain has a penchant for exporting some of the best children’s fantasy literature. I’ve never understood why the island nation is a hotbed for imaginative stories aimed at younger audiences, but it will probably continue (I hope) for years to come. How to Train Your Dragon is the first book in, as of writing this article, an eleven novel series and there doesn’t appear to be an end in sight. First published in 2003, How to Train Your Dragon combines two popular genres: fantasy and pretend journals of fictional characters. One could argue it falls into the hybrid graphic novel category (a hybrid is a book that is part comic book or has a major visual aspect/part prose novel. like The Diary of Wimpy Kid and Hugo Cabret), but the drawings only augment he text rather than having the story rely heavily on them.

Another popular literary ploy that How to Train Your Dragon uses is to treat the story as if it were real and the author just so happens to be the lucky channel with which it is shared. This is a very popular and old literary ploy. Some notable examples include L. Frank Baum, who is dubbed the Royal Historian of Oz, and his many Oz books and Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. The device is primarily used in children’s literature, because it fosters a child’s sense of belief and kids are more likely to read a book if they think it’s real. (Admit it, as an adult you think it’s more fun too.) DreamWorks borrowed from the book’s journal narrative by using the main character’s voice-over narration in the 2010 film’s beginning and end (not to mention that is a common trope for many animated movies these days). I digress.

Movies have the tendency to stray from the source material. For many fans of the written word, this is an abomination and in some cases it is. Hollywood, like the publishing industry, is out to make money and so they alter a book’s plot to appeal to a wider audience. When authors sell the movie rights to their books, they often relinquish any form of creative control. Some authors are unhappy with the final product and others don’t really care because they got a paycheck. New York Best Selling Author Meg Cabot once told me (at an author signing) that the best way to work with Hollywood was to drop your book over the California border, take the check, and let it go.how_to_be_a_pirate_large_cover
It isn’t necessarily a bad thing for the Hollywood machine to re-imagine a book. If Peter Jackson kept every single detail from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings cycle, the trilogy would have moved slower than production on Richard Williams’ The Thief and the Cobbler (or Arabian Knight or The Princess and the Cobbler, take your pick) and it would have been extremely boring (or more boring if you fall into the minority that fell asleep during viewing). Sometimes removal of some details, adding new characters, or rewriting events strengthens the original story or takes it in an entirely new direction, which is what happened with Cowell’s How to Train Your Dragon.

I imagine the book and the movie were walking along a straight road together, when they came to a fork in the road and then went their separate directions and created two separate canons or universes. In superhero comics, namely DC and Marvel titles, it’s common for there to be parallel universes in which familiar characters live alternate storylines. It keeps the stories fresh and answers the inevitable “what if” questions that are sprinkled in series. The movie uses the same character names, takes place on the isle of Berk, and there are dragons and Vikings in it. That is pretty much where the similarities end.how-to-train-your-dragon-poster-1

The How to Train Your Dragon book features young Viking Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III, who goes by Hiccup, and is the heir Stoick the Vast, chief of the Hairy Hooligans. Hiccup has the unfortunate distinction of being small, thin, tends to look before he leaps, and has a higher intellect than his fellow Vikings. While his friends and family smash items and don’t bother to ask any questions, Hiccup ponders all the questions and investigates the answers. It’s not the type of personality one expects of a future Viking chief and the Hairy Hooligans are unsure of what to do with Hiccup. Hiccup has a best friend named Fishlegs, who has several maladies including asthma and eye problems (not to mention he’s kind of a wimp). Fishlegs shares the wimp characteristic, but his movie counterpart is much, much bigger. Snotlout isn’t that different from his movie counterpart, still a bull-headed, brash bully, except he is Hiccup’s cousin. That last bit adds some interesting familiar tension in the series. Ruffnut, Tuffnut, and Astrid don’t make any appearances, although in the third novel a girl named Camicazi from an Amazon-like tribe shares similar characteristics – she’s sword-fighting, tough, and had a dragon named Stormfly – with Astrid.

The Hairy Hooligans live on the isle of Berk and all young Vikings must go through a right of passage to become an adult. Led by Gobber the Belch, all young Viking initiates must prove their bravery by catching a dragon and training it…wait, what? Yes, you read correctly. The Vikings don’t hate dragons, instead they capture and raise them as their companions. It’s quite the big difference, isn’t it? In the book Hiccup and his friends like dragons and it’s expected that they capture one to prove their worthiness as a Viking warrior. But, in the movie, they make the extreme change to hating and murdering dragons at every chance they get. It’s an all out war in the movie! Viking against dragon, with the “none shall rest while the other exists” kind of mythos.

831621-how-to-train-your-dragonIt gets even better! Toothless does exist in the books, but instead of being an awesome, powerful, and cute Night Fury he’s a small dragon that the book identifies as either a common or a garden dragon. There really isn’t anything spectacular or even cute about Toothless, except he can talk…scratch that, he complains a lot. Actually, all the dragons can talk and Hiccup can speak Dragonese, which proves to be a very valuable gift.

Already one can see how the movie branches away from Cowell’s work and follows a traditional coming-of-age story with a misfit hero. While the book has its coming-of-age moments, it happens as the series progresses (like an adventure serial and rather than having Hiccup fight against the world around him, like movie Hiccup). Book Hiccup goes with the flow, assesses a situation, and then reacts.

Hiccup’s gentle spirit is adapted from the book. During the initiation dragon hunt, all young Vikings must return with a dragon or be exiled from the tribe. Fishlegs fails to retrieve a dragon, so Hiccup gives him the one he captured and risks expulsion. He’s also frustrated about the extreme lack of knowledge about dragons. There is a training manual entitled How to Train Your Dragon within the book of the same name, but it consists of only one chapter with one page and shares the Viking wisdom: “the golden rule of dragon-training is to yell at it! The louder the better.” Hiccup’s curiosity about dragons is a major personality aspect that is expressed well in both the books and the movie. In the movie, audiences are treated to a montage of him learning dragon lore with a the wounded Night Fury, Toothless. Book Hiccup, instead, takes his dragon education a bit slower and is fo_76195203_97924551rced to placate Toothless during the process.

This brings us to another major aspect: how the dragons act. Dragons are mythical beasts and fantasy authors handle them according to their own fancies. DreamWorks decided to make the movie dragons intelligent, non-talking creatures that can be trained and become loyal human companions. Cowell’s dragons aren’t so nice. Toothless, in the book, goes even so far as to say that dragons are self-serving creatures and only listen to humans because they have food and are bigger. Book Toothless is noted as being extremely adorable, but lacking any morals whatsoever.   As the series progresses, Cowell changes the way humans and dragons interact, although they remain wild, scrappy creatures. Changing the way humans and dragons interact is a vital part of both movie and book, because it sets the stage for later conflict.

If you’re interested in becoming a writer, especially of children’s books, change is very important for your fictional world and characters. With more mature fiction it can be subtler and weighed down with fancy metaphors, but children’s literature needs to have more apparent character/environment growth. Younger readers need their change to be less complicated, but not pandering. One folly that many novice writers make is that they create a world or situation that is too “easy” for their characters or where things happen “at” their characters (meaning they’re very passive). Book characters do stuff!

The huge conflict in both the movie and book is the arrival/discovery of a giant dragon that devours everything. In the book it’s called the Green Death; he talks and enjoys intellectual conversation, while the movie has the Red Death dragon and it just eats and destroys. Action-adventure movies wouldn’t be dubbed a thrilling drama if there wasn’t a climatic battle with near death, destruction, and a huge battle. It happens in the movie and is handled very well given that it’s a movie formula used way too often.

Cowell relies on a more cunning, sheer dumb luck route to defeat the Green Death. Another dragon named the Purple Death arrives at Berk to eat the Vikings, but Hiccup forms a plan to pit the two dragons against each other. It works and all seems well, until Hiccup is eaten. The sheer, dumb luck sets in when – by accident – Hiccup figures out how to stop the Green Death’s fire. As in the movie (or vice versa since the book came first), Toothless saves Hiccup, the Vikings accept Hiccup’s strangeness, and everyone lives happily until the next book or movie sequel.

2015020310382037028How to Train Your Dragon 2 borrows some elements from the novels, but it veers off into a whole new direction. Hiccup is decidedly much older, the plot is much darker, his mom comes back, etc. It was made to continue the movie’s canon, rather than adapt preexisting work. The novels, however, retain their more humorous, episodic storytelling as each novel adds a new piece to the great puzzle Cowell writes. The characters do mature throughout the series, but they are still written for a young target audience (rather than the writing maturing as well).

Despite the differences between the book and movie, both How to Train Your Dragon incarnates remain separate, distinct works that are appealing for their own reasons. The books are a fun series with a none-too-serious approach to adventure stories, while DreamWorks is working on turning How to Train Your Dragon into an epic franchise. Cowell mentioned she is pleased with the film adaptations and who wouldn’t be? DreamWorks took a comedic, adventure story for young readers and is transforming it into an awesome animated franchise. The studio puts effort into creating a good story, rather than pasting stereotypical plot elements together. Neither is better than the other, although I am partial to DreamWorks’s version of Toothless. I REALLY want a Night Fury to fly me places, torch my taxes, and be my best friend.

 

The World of Muppet Crap: The Beaker Bra

The World of Muppet Crap is a feature article series on ToughPigs, your ultimate fan site for all things related to Jim Henson, the Muppets, Sesame Street, and more!

Welcome to the wonderful World of Muppet Crap!  Through my Web surfing, I have discovered that some of the best Muppet crap is made by crafters with a bandoleer of crochet hooks and a glue gun holstered to their waist.  Some of these crafters make a product Miss Piggy would call “très magnifique,” while others concoct an item so “original” that it instills this type of reaction in people:

Kermit scrunch sheesh

Frog-lets and piggies, I present to you the Beaker bra!

Beaker Bra
Yes, dear readers, someone took a women’s supportive undergarment and decided to spice it up with felt eyes and a foam nose (it probably chafes too).

The Beaker Bra is a handmade item sold on Etsy.  When I first saw it, I didn’t realize it was a brassiere and my thoughts were, “What an astonishing Beaker likeness.”  Then I clicked on the link and I practiced my best Snowth impression (the metaphor being my mouth rounded and my eyes were caught in that surprised, confused expression).  Do-do-de-do-doo!

Snowths
It’s not hard to make a Beaker replica.  All you need to do is stick a tuft of red fur, an orange foam nose, and eyes on practically anything, and ta-da!  Instant Beaker.

After my initial astonishment, I imagined wearing the bra.  It would create a disproportional third lump and make people raise an eyebrow.

Deanna_Troi_2365Have any of you ever watched Star Trek: The Next Generation?  When Gene Roddenberry created the character of Deanna Troi, the Enterprise’s empathic and half-human counselor, he conceptualized her with three breasts.

This quote by Dorothy Fontana, an original series write and associate producer on TNG, to Entertainment Weekly sums up my feelings about Beaker’s nose:

“I objected to Troi having three breasts. I felt women have enough trouble with two. And how are you going to line them up? Vertically, horizontally, or what? I was like, please, don’t go there. And they didn’t, fortunately.”

I won’t go any further than that.  All other questions can be routed to Miss Piggy, who we know wears a girdle to control her…um…on second thought, I don’t know anything about that.  (Secretly, I am fearful the pig is going to come after me with a pork chop [pun intended]).  Here is a hint of advice: it is always wise to fear and love the pig.  Fear first, though.

Mind you, it has become a popular trend for geek girls to express their fandom with lingerie that bears (pun not intended) motifs from their part of the fandom.  My thoughts are if a grown man can wear Spider-Man underwear, a woman can show her geek pride with her own set of Web crawler under drawers.

Many companies have specialized geek underwear lines, including ThinkGeekBunny JumpJinx, and the Fashionably Geek blog has a compiled a decent list of sellers.

Disney even licensed their trademark Princess line for women who want to feel like a Disney heroine underneath their T-shirt or business suit.

disney-princess-lingerie
Some have questioned the appropriateness of lingerie based on the Disney princesses, but they’re printed already on children’s underclothes.  The argument is that it sexualizes children’s characters, promotes the seduction of the innocent, etc.  These people clearly have never hopped on Deviantart or 4chan (if you haven’t either, be aware that Deviantart has a filter, 4chan doesn’t).

What does that say about the Muppets, then?  Muppets are not children’s characters.  All Muppet fans know this, so why are we even bringing it up in conversation?  I guess this as good as spot as any to insert the Muppet history bit.

Title.sexThe original pilot for The Muppet Showwas called Sex and Violence.  Sex is even mentioned in the title!  It was a half-hour program for primetime television following the popular variety show format.  The Muppet Show, in fact, was a quality evening program that appealed to both adults and children, but Jim Henson strove to create entertainment for a mature audience and not just offspring.  He got irrevocably tied to children’s programming with Sesame Street and the rest is history.

The Muppets, in fact, have appeared on unmentionables for years.

Don’t believe me?

Exhibit A:

Exhibit A

Exhibit B:

Exhibit B

Exhibit C:

Exhibit C

Exhibit D:

Exhibit D

Exhibit E:

Funpals briefs ad

Some of these images make me cringe.  Imagine taking off your pants and there’s Animal saying, “Hello!” to you.  It would scare me to think that a Muppet had been with me all day and, knowing myself, I would have forgotten about what I was wearing.  All day the Muppet would be spying on me.  The thought makes me shudder.

I also can’t help but imagine sound boxes being sewed into the lining of some of the underwear so the Muppets’ voices speak to you when you change clothes.  Kermit’s “Hi ho!,”  Miss Piggy’s laugh, Fozzie’s “wocka-wocka,” and Animal’s “Woman!” yell take on an entirely new meaning.

The psychological damage would be devastating!

What is even scarier is the alarming rate of Animal on underpants.  Why do people like sporting this crazed individual on their under things?

This brings up another interesting topic: Animal’s treatment of women.  Whenever he sees a female he likes, he chases after her, and shouts “Woman!  Woman!” at the top of his lungs.  Has Animal ever been sued by one of these harassed women?  In today’s politically correct world, he would need to attend sensitivity training.  If we want to talk about sexualizing, that is exactly what Animal is doing and he is being a bad role model for children.  We should petition Disney to stop mass-producing plushies of one of the most popular Muppet characters.

Back to the bra… I honestly don’t think any woman would dare to wear it, unless it was a joke.  It makes things too complicated.  The seller does makes cute and * ahem* less noticeable geek underwear.  Probably stick with some of those.

The World of Muppet Crap: Skeksis Fashion

This is a repost of an article Whitney originally wrote for the awesome Muppet fan site Tough Pigs.

‘Tis the start of a blessed New Year, where all Muppet fans alike can start afresh and work on their New Year’s resolutions. Instead of the usual getting into shape or writing a novel, I have decided that Muppet fans need to take on the tried and true mission of cleaning out their closets. The goal is to get rid of some of that really weird and shameful Muppet merchandise that has been burning a hole in your closet since the Swedish Chef blew the first hole in Muppet Vision 3D.

What is the point of cleaning out the closet? You get a feeling of accomplishment, a sense of less clutter in your life, and lots of more room for BIGGER AND BETTER Muppet stuff. As Kermit would say, “Yeeaahh!”

Since Jim Henson was swayed to license his characters for mass merchandising, there has been a plethora of Muppet goodies. Some fit the requirements of A+ standards like the Muppet Master Replicas dolls, but a lot of it also crap best exemplified by Tough Pigs’ annual Ugly Muppet Toys Pageant. This is where I come in. Hi ho! My name is Whitney Grace and I am a Muppet crap addict, meaning I spend a little bit of my precious time each week scouring the Internet for Muppet stuff. I am on the hunt for rare, quality merchandise that I can add to my museum instead of paying my mortgage.

During the recent holiday mania, I cornered the Tough Pigs boys, hog tied them (using a method taught to me personally by Miss Piggy), sat back in one of their recliners with a mug of eggnog, and basked in the light of their bedecked Muppet ornament Christmas tree. I explained to Joe and Ryan about my idea to write a column about Muppet crap I find on the Internet, and through some hefty threatening, I mean persuasion, I got my way. After I left, I forgot to release them. Whoops! Hopefully, they have gnawed through the industrial grade iron cables by now and will not hold me responsible for their dental bills. Send an invoice to Disney instead — Bob Iger can spare a few thousand to buy each of you some high-grade dentures, or I can find some on eBay (partially used of course).

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the first incarnation of The World of Muppet Crap! And yes, I am using italics, because it is an official thing and italics makes titles sound more important. Whenever I find an amazing piece of Muppet crap or something so truly outrageous that it must be shared to the world, I will be writing about it. This first installment must make a big impression on you, so I present The Dark Crystal dress!

full model
Cue the trumpet fanfare!

Gorgeous isn’t it? It looks like it was stolen right off the emperor’s corpse when he disintegrated into Skesis dust, except this ensemble was handmade to be worn by a 1980s fashion model or whoever felt like purchasing it from the Jim Henson Company.

It is time for the historical context part of the article, where I explain how the item came to be and place it on the Muppet timeline. Usually I will do that myself with research conducted on the Muppet Wiki, but this time I will leave to this lovely video from he Jim Henson Company:

Many movies have inspired fashion lines, Cruella de Vil’s clothing in the live action 101 Dalmatians movies comes to mind, and so The Dark Crystal is hardly alone. The creative team behind the fashion line had everything going for them: Brian Froud to lend inspiration, they worked on the original movie, and it sounds like they had some really kickin’ resumes. But this particular fashion line was not available at any fancy French designers’ boutique. Most likely due to the movie’s less than happy earnings, and it does sound more like a labor of love. Maybe the designers were plagued by Landstriders dressed in their garments and went into hiding. Did you notice that the six designers’ names are not revealed?

Suspicious!

Face it folks! The eighties were not the high point of fashion, with leg warmers, shoulder pads, and more shades of fluorescent pink than Miss Piggy deemed to wear. We only made it into the nineties with Aqua Net holding us together and a streak of neon shoelaces tied together to grasp onto. As the video states, this haute couture fashion line has the best qualities of the present and the future. Ixnay on the last part of that quote, people.

I also love how this video details the fashion line as something people would wear everyday. All right, you can dress as a Podling and not be able to fit into your car! If there is one thing I know from watching The Devil Wears Prada and all four seasons of Ugly Betty, it’s that fashion is about art first and practicality second.

acupuncture model
At 3:28 you can see our lovely dress in question. It is apparently made from an antique wedding veil with seed pearls on the frilly collar. In the background you can see there is more than one, so how many antique wedding veils did they buy? Also the model looks like she has acupuncture needles sticking out of her neck as she sways the gauzy maroon robe back and forth. Take off the robe and it actually looks like a dress that might have withstood the age of time, flounces and all, but then the eBay auction portrays it differently.

Dress Front
In the harsh fluorescent lights of modern photography, this dress does not hold up well. I have been searching the Internet for years for an actual piece of the Dark Crystal fashion line to whip out at conventions and say, “Yes, people I am this cool!” I was hoping for the Jen-inspired tunic or maybe a swanky jacket, but not this number. I bet if I wore this, people would think I was cosplaying as a female version of Ron Weasley at the Yule Ball.

It probably does not smell like Ron’s Great-Aunt Tessy.

The seller is asking a steep $1500 or “best offer.” I was thinking of putting in an offer for five bucks, but then again this really is a rare item and the first time I have ever seen a piece of The Dark Crystal fashion on eBay in the ten years I have looked. I’ll make an offer of ten dollars instead and wear it to the Labyrinth Masquerade this year.

The seller is also peddling an official crystal shard replica cast from the movie prop. It looks nice and shiny, made of glass, and it comes with a pretty white box. I have never seen this item before and there is a name “Elfra Haad” on the back. Google failed in returning any relevant results, so maybe this was a prototype or maybe a fan made crystal plucked from a gelfing’s hand with love.

Shard Box FrontShard Box Back

Muppet fans, take note of the dress and its handmade stitching. Most other Muppet merchandise is mass-produced in a factory in China or Taiwan, unless you go the Etsy route. If you feel like shelling out the dough for this fantastic dress, you will probably be spending your entire Muppet merchandise budget for the year. Think about it though, it really is a rare part of Muppet history and it probably be another ten years before another part of the fashion line appears on eBay.

What other wonders will the Internet yield of Muppet crap?
Dress Tag