I’ve got a separate post going for all the Christmas movies I manage to watch this season. There are three so far, and I figured it would make kindof a nice log to have them all together in the same place. Though that’s assuming I do watch any more than just those three. I’ll wait until the end of my Christmas break from work to post it, since I often get in a few more movies during that time. Anyway.

Sillage by Emirael — Having, as I’ve mentioned, some issues with Frozen (which I did otherwise like), I enjoy reading AU fics of it because they often avoid those issues. This story did pretty much that, and I really loved it.

One of the things I thought Frozen suffered from was what I tend to call “Situational Characterization:” the situation a character finds herself in during the course of the story is so engrossing/overwhelming that the only characterization she receives is in specific relation to that situation. We can extrapolate what she’s like and how she would behave extraneous to that situation, but in the end it’s only a guess.

In this case, we know very little about Elsa and what’s she’s like in general; we only know how she responds to the upheaval in her life during the course of Frozen (which, yes, gives us hints about her character in general, but doesn’t really establish it). I don’t think the story necessarily suffers from this — it’s perfectly fine to have characters that are not fully fleshed out when that very Situational Characterization is what’s specifically important — but the cultural phenomenon, the franchise, absolutely does.

It’s difficult to separate Elsa from her circumstances in Frozen, because there’s not much left to her when you remove her from that Situation. And in merchandising, guess what. She’s completely removed from that Situation. The Elsa you see on t-shirts and boxes of fruit snacks, the one all the kids (and maybe I) want to dress up as, is little more than a(n incredibly) pretty face and (very attractive) sparkly dress.

We get a tiny further look into her personality in Frozen Fever, but that’s seven minutes long. This is why I’m so anticipating the true sequel (I’m really, really hoping it won’t be called Frozen 2, but I’m afraid that’s not a very realistic hope), because I so want to get to know Elsa further.

And for that same reason (to get back on track here), AU fanfiction is awesome. Because fanfiction authors can do that extrapolation aforementioned and assign characteristics to Elsa that flesh her out and make her as interesting as her face and sparkly dress and show-stopping number promise in the film.

This author, for example, gives us an Elsa that is (as suggested by movie Elsa’s almost immediate impulse to build a freaking ice castle when she starts to explore her freedom) interested in architecture as a career; has an anxiety disorder such as movie Elsa could possibly actually have but mostly just exhibits Situational symptoms of (For the First Time In Forever (Reprise) comes specifically to mind); and is (as hinted in Frozen Fever) a perfectionist and an obsessively hard and meticulous worker. It makes for a compelling and adorable Elsa that, when I picture her with the hot hot looks from the movie (during her young adult and adult years, I mean), I really love to read about.

Anna, on the other hand (ironically since she’s the best-fleshed-out character in the film), kinda gets the short end of the characterization stick in this fic. She doesn’t really feel like herself as I know her — her super cute awkwardness and manic energy are largely absent, or at least altered. I didn’t mind this, however, because what the author has altered her into is acceptable. She and Elsa have good chemistry and beautiful relationship development, and that’s what I went into the story looking for.

Meanwhile, Adgar and Idunn are fantastic. Taking the idea from canon of “loving parents that genuinely want what’s best for their daughter(s) but really haven’t the faintest idea how to accomplish that wish, and strike out in disastrously misguided directions,” the author gives us a pair of poignantly realistic characters that are a delight to read about and whose interactions with (and reactions to the choices of) Elsa and Anna are easily as interesting as the drama between the two leading ladies themselves.

Idunn in particular, specifically as the character from whom the reader expects the most dissonance (very understandably, considering her situation), is wonderful. I loved the coldness that is natural to her personality and puts a damper on, but never completely eradicates, her sympathy and familial instincts. The author did an excellent job writing her as someone that could very believably have passed on some of her traits to Elsa — including one that drops concisely like a bomb near the end of the story and ties certain aspects of plot and characterization together with fascinating incisiveness.

My feelings toward Adgar were constantly divided. Watching his family spend years struggling to deal with the fallout of his poor choices made me angry at him, but his honest desire to make things right (and his complete inability to do so) made me pity him deeply (with maybe a touch of fondness in response to his incompetence in certain areas thrown in). It felt very poignant and real, sometimes even pathetically funny, and, no matter how I felt about him at any given point, I was always very happy with the way the author wrote him.

I feel that the best thing about this fic is its expansion of ideas from the movie, its formation of a story from elements of Frozen rearranged and augmented for optimal emotional impact. Without any ice/dressmaking magic, without a single reindeer in sight (Sven is a dog), and while keeping Adgar and Idunn very firmly alive throughout, the author nevertheless manages to evoke the feeling of Frozen to perfection — the sisterly support and devotion, the “Now make out” reaction I always have to Elsa and Anna’s interactions, the questioning of self and growing-up stress and progress toward self-actualization, the friendship and love… it’s a wonderful story.

In a move that was a surprise at first but soon became comfortably normalized, the author chose to include a number of other Disney characters. Merida giving Adgar hell over his parental shortcomings was great, and it somehow seemed so perfect that Aurora was the daughter of similarly rich family friends.

And to anyone that (like me) loves to pair off Disney princesses and ponder what character traits would go well or badly together, this was utterly delightful. I loved to consider the various temporary match-ups presented during the story, and I squeed (totally a side-note here) when Mulan and Aurora ended up together because I always shipped those two so hard in OUaT. I also really appreciated that, while there were a couple of references made to how queer women are and aren’t accepted in society, Elsa being gay and Anna being pan was never an issue to other characters in the story.

And Kristoff, though he appeared late, was a fun and well-thought-out addition. There was a good sense about him of another story we weren’t hearing taking place offpage, and the transformation of the stupid rock trolls into a religious commune he’s simultaneously trying to escape and come to terms with as part of his life was both funny and interesting. And I liked especially that there was no love-triangle-inducing romantic tension between him and Anna — he was just precisely the understanding and supportive friend she needed appearing at exactly the right moment. Excellent decisions all around.

So I definitely recommend the fic. I kinda feel like I want to create a numeric fanfiction recommendation scale so I can give these things a score… just for fun, really. Maybe I will sometime.

Anyway, I want to make a bit of a complaint here — this is something that would be part of my numeric scale if I ever developed it — as follows: lack of editing in a story is REALLY FUCKING DISTRACTING. Of course you never know that the author would change any of the specific things that stand out and distract you if she were to edit the story, but I GUESS WE’LL NEVER KNOW, WILL WE?

As I’ve stated before, not every fanfiction may be intended as art by its author… the writing process may have been more important to her than the finished product, or other reasons may apply. With this in mind, I try not to harass writers on the basis of poor or non-existent editing. But I have to confess myself honestly baffled when I see a fic that’s been sitting around for two years in its original completely unedited state. How can an author care so little????? After this story, if I never see the word “beat” again, it will be too damn soon.

But enough of that. It was a good fic.

Steven Universe episode Three Gems and a Baby — OK, I have to admit that I was stupidly distracted by the crappy animation in this episode. I’ve reached a point where the… interesting visual style of the series in general doesn’t bother me, but when the animation takes a dip into the rushed and substandard like this, I find it really jarring. It was a good episode that had a touching family feeling and filled in some interesting moments from early days, but, sadly, superficial I was mostly caught up with how weird and kinda terrible everyone looked.

Pale Fire by Vladamir Nabokov — I picked up this book because I’ve read Lolita a few times and thoroughly enjoyed it, and thought I would love to get more of this author’s amazing clever prose hopefully with less statutory rape. (I have Ada or Ardor waiting in the wings for the same reason.) And, holy shit, what can I say about this book even. I’m exactly 25% of the way into it, and so far it’s like nothing I’ve ever read before.

The immediate sense of unreliable narrator — from almost the very first sentence of the preface — is just as immediately gripping, and also, at times, hilarious. I don’t know how unreliable Kinbote will actually turn out to be by the end, but so far he reeks of (possibly deliberate) self-deception. I’m also getting a slight sense of Depraved Homosexual (an an unrequited crush on Shade) about him, which may or may not turn out to be an accurate impression but is a little sad in any case. What can you do.

Still, it is fascinating and (as I mentioned above) sometimes really funny to listen to him go on and on and on about how great his relationship was with Shade and how Shade worked all these ideas into his poem inspired by Kinbote about Zemblan monarchy and shit, and all this random-ass chatter about life totally unrelated to the poem he’s supposedly commenting on. I feel like we’re moving toward some huge reveal eventually — like that Kinbote is the Zemblan king in exile or something (or at least believes himself to be XD) — but I just have to wait and see.

As for the poem itself, I’m entirely past that (obviously, or I wouldn’t be so amused by the commentary just yet), and I found it interesting and superbly constructed. It could have stood as a solitary piece of art, but of course I like it even better in the midst of this extremely compelling framework. I’m eager to find out what the rest of the commentary will reveal about both its author and his “friend.” Truly this is a magnificent book.

Moana — I loved this movie. Its feeling of family and friendship, its energy and beauty, and its excellent music made it a joyful experience from beginning to end, and I was grinning and crying throughout the credits (in additional to, you know, much of the actual movie).

First of all, I think this is the most visually beautiful Disney film of all time. The colors, the realism of the ocean, the design of the fantastic elements… consistently breathtaking. Certain sly visual references to PotC imagery and The Little Mermaid were (in addition to being refreshingly subtle for Disney in-references) pretty fun too.

Second of all, the music is wonderful. Largely, I believe, because of the addition of Lin-Manuel Miranda to the music-writing team, it has a feel to it just slightly removed from Disney’s typical sound, and that’s a pleasant change. The performances were all perfect, too, especially Auli’i Cravalho’s beautiful and very heartfelt tones. Totally already bought the soundtrack.

Momentary tangent re:movie soundtracks. Once upon a time, long, long ago when The Little Mermaid came out, my mom and sisters and I saw it 11 times in the $1 theater. Since it was obvious we liked the movie quite a bit (actually it was mostly a convenient way for my pregnant mom to keep us all sitting down and out of trouble for a couple of hours), the family coincidentally received a copy of the soundtrack from two different sources as Christmas presents.

What’s interesting about this is that these CD’s were identical in every way except the track order: one of them had the music arranged as it appeared in the movie, while the other separated the vocal songs (which came first) from the score (which was stacked up at the end). I don’t know whether Disney was transitioning just then from one style of soundtrack to another (honestly there weren’t all that many single-movie soundtracks from Disney prior to that), but Disney soundtracks have been consistently divided vocal-first-then-score ever since.

And I hate that. Why do you make me go to this trouble of renumbering tracks on an album to get them into the correct order, Disney? Obviously you used to think like I do — the right way — so what changed? So freaking annoying. But back to Moana.

The story was 100% trite and predictable, with absolutely nothing new in terms of plot, themes, or character relations. This isn’t a complaint, however, just a statement — I can totally handle an old story with old elements when it’s told this well. Brother thinks I should use the word “archetypal” instead of “trite,” but honestly the line between those two concepts is pretty thin in the first place XD

The friendship between Moana and Maui, the love and understanding between Moana and Tala, Moana’s struggle to discover who she is and how that relates to who her people are and how she is best to help and lead them — these were all excellently and poignantly established. And certain revelations about both Maui and Te K?, though in no way surprising, sent the story into territory of healing, acceptance, forgiveness, and love rather than rebellion, violence, and conquest (even for a good cause).

Now, I read some time ago that Disney is specifically and deliberately trying to be more inclusive and diverse in their storytelling, and Moana is one of their first steps along that path. I’ve heard a lot of positive response from people of Polynesian descent to the portrayal of the culture, and it’s already been noted how many people of Polynesian descent worked on the project in various capacities. This is amazing and I love it, and there’s one point I’d like to make from my personal perspective as well.

Yes, I’m very concerned with inclusivity and diversity in art. And just visually speaking, I tend to find darker-skinned people more attractive. However, I’m definitely a white woman from a privileged white background and without a lot of day-to-day exposure to people of ethnicities or cultures other than my own.

So my initial reaction to the characters in this movie was very much, Wow, everyone’s skin is so dark; it’s really beautiful *__* But after about ten minutes, I stopped noticing the skin colors at all; though the characters were still very visually appealing, their color became, as it were, transparent.

This may sound like the old distressing “I don’t see race” statement, and in a way it probably is; it’s possible that my position of privilege is the only reason it happened. But the point I want to make is that if I — someone other than, concerned with the portrayal of, and attracted to people of color — could cease to actively notice that all the characters in the movie I’m watching are people of color… is there really any reason for studios to worry about populating their films with people of color?

The idea that white audience members might not be able to identify with characters of color, and therefore creators need to be careful to appeal to and avoid offending the delicate sensibilities of this supposed majority of their audience, is socially and artistically disgusting to begin with… and now, when it’s put (at least somewhat) to the test in a movie like this, can we not see that it’s an impractical, paranoid viewpoint as well?

Not sure whether I’ve made my point or merely made myself sound racist. Overall, though, I just want to say that I love the direction Disney is taking, I loved this movie, and I’m looking forward to their future with great anticipation.