Sunday, December 25, 2016

The Critical Frog: Equestria Girls 4: The Revengening (Legend of Everfree)

Well, here we are again. Back on the blog, now that I have the time to spare. College can get pretty stressful. And what better way to blow off stress than returning to one of the common fixtures on this site- the Equestria Girls series?

It might be the bias that I have as a fan of the series that the universe of Equestria Girls is based out of, but I always enjoy reviewing these films. There’s a lot wrong with them, sure, but there’s always something that keeps me coming back. The characters are fun, the 2d animation has it’s moments and the songs can be downright incredible. I’ve had mixed opinions on these films, and each has it’s advantages over the others and their moments. 

The first film in the series followed My Little Pony character Twilight Sparkle and her dragon assistant Spike as they enters the human world in an attempt to recover a mystical crown from the villainous Sunset Shimmer before she uses it’s power. In addition to dealing with hunting down a dangerous foe, Twilight must come to grips with a new world and body as well as encountering human versions of her friends back in Equestria (as well as reuniting the six main characters after an apparent feud). While it was by no means a masterpiece, it was enjoyable enough. The characters’ personalities stayed true, the physical comedy was humorous, and the story held itself together most of the time.

The second had Twilight venture into the human world once again to aid her new friends (including Sunset Shimmer, who has discovered the magic of friends and is now trying to change her villainous image) against the threat of three malicious Sirens who seek to use the school’s musical showcase to take control of the student’s minds. The main characters must work together to evade the Sirens’ spell and the sabotage attempts of the contest-crazed opposition to defeat the three musical menaces and discover why the magic from Twilight’s world seems to be bleeding into the human world. While the story was at times fast-paced or had unanswered questions (wouldn’t Spike be affected by the sirens too?), it did boast a wonderful soundtrack and a delightful trio of villains that easily propelled the film to become my favorite of the series. 

The third film offers us the whereabouts of the human world’s version of Twilight Sparkle, a student at the prestigious Crystal Prep who seeks to uncover the strange energies pouring out from Canterlot High and is forced to compete in the dueling schools’ Friendship Games at the demands of the headmistress. As her new invention unintentionally begins to sap the magic from villain-turned-protagonist and hero Sunset Shimmer and her friends (our Twilight is currently unavailable due to reasons), our heroes must not only participate in the games (which quickly turn dangerous- is motocross technically a school-appropriate sport?), but track down whoever is causing the strange magical events around the school. While this film has neither the humor of the first or the musical prowess of the second, I do give it credit for striking a nice balance between the two, and having arguably one of the most intense climaxes of both the film series and the show. But how does number four stack up?

After a school year of crazy events, human Twilight (who has been transferred to Canterlot High), Sunset Shimmer (who’s human counterpart we have not encountered yet) and their group of friends are going on a field trip to Camp Everfree. This camp has everything the campers want: archery, nature hikes, arts and crafts (the muscular Bulk Biceps’ mama needs new pot holders), but offers only one strict rule: do not go hiking by the rock quarry. Even Twilight finds herself smitten with the counselor’s brother Timber.

The most intriguing thing about the camp to the characters is the tale of Gaia Everfree, a mysterious forest spirit leaving a trail of gem dust in her wake who is said to hold domain over the forest. It was said that she struck a deal with the first settlers that they could have the land for a time- but swore to one day return and take back the forest for herself. Suspecting a renegade magical being from Equestria much as the Sirens were, the heroes must keep an eye out not only for Gaia, but on Twilight- who fears that the camp and her magic  are awakening something dark inside of her. Something she- and the rest of Canterlot High- would probably like to forget.

Tensions rise when Sunset suspects the counselors of hiding something, and Twilight deals with the fallout of her actions in the friendship games in the form of nightmares about her darker side (Twilight Midnight). To top off what should be a relaxing week, wild and dangerous magical occurrences have begun to spring up around the camp, with the mane six at the at the center of the action. Could it be that being at the camp is awakening some hidden powers for our characters? The race is on to discover the truth before Gaia returns to claim the land as her own- or before the millionaire Filthy Rich buys out the land and replaces it with a spa. 

But most intriguing to the characters is the tale of Gaia Everfree, a mysterious forest spirit leaving a trail of gem dust in her wake who is said to hold domain over the forest. It was said that she struck a deal with the first settlers that they could have the land for a time- but swore to one day return and take back the forest for herself. Suspecting a renegade magical being from Equestria much as the Sirens were, the heroes must keep an eye out not only for Gaia, but on Twilight- who fears that the camp and her magic  are awakening something dark inside of her. Something she- and the rest of Canterlot High- would probably like to forget.

On the surface, there’s a lot of interesting things going on in the fourth Equestria Girls: the background characters develop themselves a little more (many of the well-loved background characters have fun moments or speaking roles, and even former worthless love interest Flash Sentry finds himself with a little development), the characters retain their personalities and enjoyable demeanors, as each character has their quirks and running jokes (much like the other two sequels, the characters can’t stop accidentally reminding the two former foes of how awful they were at the Fall Formal and the Friendship Games), and there’s a legitimately interesting story about human Twilight  and her friendship with the other characters, particularly Sunset Shimmer, who proves that the two are similar in more ways than being cabin mates. There’s also some great chemistry between the other characters and their developing powers (there’s a fun scene where the girly girl pushes the tomboy into a lake). The songs are nice too (human Twilight has a short but sweet soliloquy, and Sunset Shimmer continues her run as one of the best solo singers of the bunch)- while they certainly as bombastic or synchronized (or often)  as the second film’s, Daniel Ingram supplies a much more laid-back and relaxing soundtrack this time around. I suppose it fits the rustic atmosphere of the fourth film.  There’s a neat villain who displays some impressive powers and a catchy song along with some reason behind their madness. And while the climax is a bit rushed, that’s run-of-the-mill in Equestria Girls films. There’s an interesting setup for a sequel as well- one i’m sure will come.

But, of course, we have to have to discuss the flaws. The conclusion is, of course, somewhat forced and sappy and designed to sell toys- as one would expect from a kid’s film. There’s a nice array of characters and stories, but most of them are shoved aside in favor of the development of Twilight, Sunset or Timber. Some characters have one line and are pushed out the door (Trixie, who was a minor antagonist in the second film (although you could argue that she was brainwashed) has one line and only shows up as a background character). And, of course, there’s a love story that slogs the interesting parts down. It’s not too badly done, but it certainly holds the film back. I would have also liked to see more of the powers in action, but maybe that’s just me. Regardless, Equestria Girls 4 is a welcome addition to the series- while not quite attaining the status as the second, it certainly comes close. Story and character-wise, it surpasses them all- but it’s lack of the musical prowess of the second holds it back from being the best yet.


Further Thoughts: 

-It’s the background jokes that really make the film. There’s a lot of in-jokes to the series that are fun, and we even get little shots at the characters from the 100th episode (I still think lyra and Bon Bon are into each other). I would love to see little slices of life at Camp Everfree from these character’s perspectives. That would be a fun mini-series to do. Someone get on that.

-Call me crazy, but I ever actually thought Filthy Rich was as bad in the show as he is in this film. I always thought of him as a respectable, wealthy, but still kind businessman. He supports the local farmers (he buys the first 100 or so jars of their apple jam every season), donates to the school and even takes time out of his work schedule to visit the hospital and see if the old matron of the Apple family’s farm is recovering from a supposed illness. If he’s this bad in the human world, I’d hate to see his wife. She was bad enough as a pony.

-I was hoping to see some more of the characters who had been introduced in the last seasons of the show, if i’m being honest. Now that Starlight Glimmer is a member of the cast, I wonder if we’ll see her in an EG film anytime soon. Preferably not leading a cult. As silly is it is, i also want to see Pinkie’s and Rarity’s families sometime. Their stark contrasts are simply hilarious.

-What happened to the other Crystal Prep people? i couldn’t care less about that witch of a headmistress, but the other characters would be interesting to follow. Do you think Cadence and Shining Armor are together yet? Will we be getting a humanized Flurry Heart?


Friday, October 21, 2016

The Critical Frog: Ms. Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children

In the world of today’s film, monstrous beings known as Hollows walk among us, invisible to the ungifted eye and more than willing to kill. As if that’s not bad enough, some can even take on human form through gruesome rituals. Very few humans are able to see Hollows, but the ones who do have made it their goal in life to hunt them down while protecting the innocent. Each character has a story all their own, but our tale focuses on one main character and his quest to discover his place in a world he finds himself thrust into. Endowed with a unique power, he bands together with other empowered children and they work to protect their world from certain destruction. 

Let me be the first to say that I’m delighted that a live-action version of this story has been made. I’ve always been a fan of Tite Kubo’s hit manga/anime Bleach ……

Hold on. I think I got the wrong movie. That one isn’t coming out for a while. But then what is this?

Ms. Pergerine’s Home for Peculiar Children is ons of those films that bears such a striking resemblance to something else that it simply has to be pointed out. It may just be the nerd of the past that's inspiring me to make the far-fetched claims that the film adaptation of this book and a Japanese Manga are strikingly similar. But there are so many similar aspects in both Tim Burton's vision and the book to Bleach that it's almost impossible for me to bring up one without comparing it to the other. From the Hollows to the showdowns to the bizarre similarities during a fight, this film hits a bit close to what the live-action Bleach adaptation that's been rumored to happen would be- in both good ways and bad. 

Our star of this film is Jake, a young boy who leads a typical life until he is thrust into an encounter with the monstrous beings known as Hollows. Here he is tapped to join an alternate world full of super-powered teens or adults known as Peculiars who are kept hidden from the modern world due to their powers. He is guided by the mysterious Ms. Peregrine on his journey to find a place in this new world- but when a powerful Peculiar turncoat named Barron kidnaps the mysterious woman and sets his sight on innocents for his own needs, Jake must rally a ragtag band of Peculiars to rescue Ms. Peregrine and defeat Barron once and for all- IF they can put up with each other.

(Skip the next part if you don't want Frog's Boring Villain Comparison)

Before we continue, I'd really like to point out some similarities between the antagonists of this film and the antagonists of Bleach. Specifically, their powers. You see, in both worlds, Hollows have the ability to take on human form by one way or another. In Bleach, the strongest of these Hollows are called the Espada, and they are noted for three things: the weaker humanized Hollows they travel with (the Fracciones), the numbers on their body detailing their order of strength (lower is better), and their ability to transform into a more powerful form (Resurrecion) that represents an aspect of death- one of the ten paths of darkness that can be the death of a man. The villain I want to talk about here is properly introduced as His Majesty, the God-King of Hollows, and Espada Number 2- Barragan Louisenbairn. His aspect of death is represented by his Resurrecion form's skeletal appearance - Aging, that which overcomes all in the end- and he shares more than a bit in common with Barron.

It looks like after all his years of ruling over Hollows, Barragan has finally met his soul brother. These two should get together and talk politics sometime (or would that be Hollow-tics?). Where to start? Not only are they both Hollows who take human form and have the ability to change shape, but their personalities are similar: both maintain a cool and collected persona on the surface, but have tendencies to maintain a holier-than-thou image of themselves (Barragan constantly refers to himself as the strongest aspect of death although technically Espada 1 (Isolation) is stronger) and to fly off the handle when lightly enraged to the point of cursing or yelling at their foes. They're more than happy to throw their power around and impose their authority, even to those who may yet be stronger than them, and can become a major threat when irritated. In addition to this, each deploys a pack of six followers- Barron's four Hollows and two Peculiar/Hollow henchmen he sends out to intercept the heroes as opposed to Barragan's six Fracciones- and have two other humanoid allies who they give orders to (two more Peculiar/Hollows or Espadas 3 and 1), one of which has beast-related powers and the other has powers related to the elements (one of the Peculiars transforms her body parts into those of a wolf/cat thing and the other can freeze people Vs. Espada 3's control over water and Espada 1's Resurrecion Los Lobos), one of which is killed by a character who's powers are rarely seen and only revealed during this series of events-oh, you've got to be kidding me. We're gonna move on before I find more to say about this one.

Did the book copy Bleach? It's possible that the similarities aren't a coincidence (Bleach came out nearly 10 years before the novel of Ms. Peregrine), but if it really didn't build off the Manga, this one is a pretty  nasty coincidence. Until then, let's just look at it as a happy accident and hope that nobody calls me bad words for assuming such a thing.

(OK, you can stop skipping.)

Putting aside the similarities to a well-loved Japanese series, does the movie stand on it's own? Yes, certainly- the characters are charming, the peculiarities are unique (one Peculiar can animate things by putting grotesque makeshift hearts in them), and Tim Burton's directoral input grants some frightening imagery for the Hollows and wonderful scenery, as well as some amusing comedy (Barron gets a few funny lines) like many films. It's Burton live action, which is always a good thing. The scenes are wonderful, the fighting is creative, but a bit of it suffers from the slog of everyday life for the characters and the obligatory love scenes (there's no need to develop Jake any more than you need to; we want to see his shenanigans with the Peculiars, not the random island people). Jake himself is a bit bland, and quite a bit is left to the imagination- but overall it's a fun, dark little flick. I'd say it's worth a look for the Hollows at least- I always wanted to know what happened if The Slender Man had a child with Mortal Kombat's Barakka.


Monday, October 3, 2016

The Critical Frog: Wiener Dog

There are times for every critic when a film hits a little too close to home. Whether it's a film with abusive parents being shown to a victim, or a drug problem in a movie seen by a former addict, sometimes a film's content becomes too much to bear for an unprepared audience. And while this can be expected most commonly in horror films where shock is needed, there's a proper time and place to be sad or out there. For me, the line is drawn when pets become involved.

At this point in my career, I'm practically desensitized to most acts of violence: there's always something that can surprise me, sure (such as The Joker's shocking 'Pencil Trick' in The Dark Knight), but not much in the ways of damage to a human body can shock me anymore in the cinema. But animals hit a soft spot for me: as a dog lover myself, particularly dachshunds, the idea of pain or illness affecting man's best friend can leave me with a gaping mouth. Perhaps the fact that the essential plot device of Wiener Dog bears a striking resemblance to a female version of my beloved Ace is what drives me to my conclusions about this film.

Before we start, I'd like to say one thing: If you're looking for a lighthearted comedy about the exploits of a cuddly animal friend or a pet's quest to reunite with it's owners, then please look elsewhere. You're not going to find anything of the sort in today's film.  There are many fun animal films out there, like Homeward Bound, The Secret Life of Pets or even the recent Keanu (although that is admittedly a stretch) that one can watch to get the feelings that the innocent poster and name of Wiener Dog would lead one to expect. This film is not an adorable animal film, where one can watch pets and owners engage in wacky hijinks or tearful reunions. This film is DARK.

Allow me to put things in perspective. There weren't many people in the theater where I went to see Wiener Dog, none of which were behind me, so I had the opportunity to take out my laptop and take a few notes. The second note on my list is, and I quote, "Man, this film is depressing." The last five of these notes are in all caps and each include a unique expletive. Yep, it's one of those films.

Wiener Dog tells the story of a female dachshund as she is passed from owner to owner. Adopted first by a working father as a present for his son (who is recovering from chemotherapy), who christens her "Wiener Dog". After an incident where the child foolishly feeds Wiener Dog a granola bar (as a former vet-in-training, I can say that granola is not harmful to dogs in the dose shown in the film), she is taken to the vet to be put to sleep- only to be rescued by a vet tech who continues the story. The dog is renamed Doody and continues her travels being passed from owner to owner.

Despite what the title of the film would lead one to believe, similar to Keanu,  the focus rests not on the previously mentioned Wiener Dog but on her different owners and their stories. As the years pass, she settles down with not only a family and a vet, but a grouchy old woman, a mentally challenged couple, and a struggling film teacher (played by Danny Devito, he of the magnum dong), and watches as they face life-changing experiences.

Oh, and there's an 'intermission' halfway through the film that has the wiener dog green-screened over famous locations. This lasted long enough for me to run out to the concession stand, refill my cup of water, and return to the theater. The remnants of the water were promptly expelled all over my table when I saw the climax of the film.

Because my job refuses to allow me to give everything away, I will regale you with a story relating to the climax of Wiener Dog: when the film premiered at this year's Sundance, reviewers were so outraged that they resorted to spoiling the movie's ending in their writings so as to prevent others from seeing the film. Draw the conclusions you will from that one.

Wiener Dog is one of those works that people are incredibly split on. They either love the dark humor and silent moments or they don't. And while I'm a fan of black comedy and dark humor myself (I grew up on a cartoon revolving around the grim reaper's wacky adventures), the darkness and sad lives on display in Wiener Dog can be too much. This movie is an exploration more than a film, and the dog is more of a plot device in the end. A few parts of this film work well (Danny Devito's story had a likable lead and some funny jabs at the screenwriting process), and the wiener dog is cute, but aside from that it's something too depressing for most audiences and sometimes too boring for the other end. If you want a dark, funny pet film, go for Keanu- the focus is still on the humans, but the dark stories are overwritten by the comedy duo in the lead.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Critical Frog: Sausage Party

The poet Shel Silverstein once wrote in his short piece "Point of View" about a young man who realized the thankless aspects of food once he began to look at it from his meal's perspective. This can make one wonder what exactly it is your food sees before it enters the cavernous regions of your mouth. Sausage Party, the first R-Rated animated feature in over a decade, takes the time to show us, and the results are ABSOLUTELY HORRIFYING.

Sausage Party is so over-the-top in its sexualization, language and brutality to food that it's no wonder some critics have hailed it a hallmark of adult animation. But does it really pull it's weight, or is it the shock and reintroduction of R-rated animation that sparks such glowing reviews? It's a bit of both, actually.

Our star character is a sausage named Frank, who lives in a supermarket with his pack of hot dogs and has a mutual affection for Brenda the hot dog bun. They dream of being chosen together by the gods who prowl the supermarket aisles and whisked away to the Great Beyond, where supposedly nothing bad will ever happen to the food products at all. After a traumatic event wherein a pot of honey mustard commits suicide to avoid being sent back to the Great Beyond, Frank and Brenda are separated from their packages and shopping cart and must hurry to find their way back to packaging before the day the hot dogs and buns are chosen together for the Fourth of July. But Frank is tormented by the dead condiment's last words, and so goes on his own mission to discover the truth of the great beyond, while Brenda races back to her aisle while evading the nefarious feminine hygiene product that pursues her and Frank on a quest for vengeance. She's joined by a kosher bagel and a piece of Lavash bread that can't get along as well on a journey to return to their feuding aisles (guess what this is a metaphor for?). Meanwhile Frank's pack discovers the horror of what happens once they leave the store, and one little hot dog attempts to escape.

The film can be funny at times, but other scenes take the profanity and sexualized content too far. There's an admittedly thin line between too much and just enough, that very few shows can walk effectively (South Park, Bojack Horseman) that separates the good and the bad of adult animation. If South Park is a ten on the understanding scale and Family Guy is a negative twenty seven, than Sausage Party  would be roughly a six. There are quite a few moments where the profanity fits (such as when a sentient potato is peeled alive, or when a character has an epiphany), and the sexuality works to the film's advantage, but most times it ends up looking too overdone.


Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Critical Frog: Suicide Squad

While the focus on every superhero film is intended to be the superhero, with a little time and effort put into the character, the focus can just as easily be shifted to a well-developed villain. Remember Christian Bale's Batman from The Dark Knight? Of course you don't, because you were too busy thinking about how good Heath Ledger was as The Joker. How about Thor? Nope, we wanted more of Tom Hiddleston's surprisingly attractive Loki. And with such a massive roster of villains in both the Marvel and DC universes, there was bound to be a villainous team-up eventually. And while the Legion of Doom may not be around anymore, we do have a group that challenges the Guardians of the Galaxy in terms of misfit antiheroes. Enter: the Suicide Squad.

The Suicide Squad originates from DC comics, and works in a way similar to the Avengers: Following the 'death' of Superman in the trainwreck that was Batman Vs. Superman, agent of the US Government Amanda Waller recruits several of the most dangerous villains in captivity into a makeshift task force to save the planet when planet-smashing heroes aren't nearby. With a combination of ace shots, nutjobs, and superhumans, can she pull the group together in time to stop any major threat? Or will the villains be too busy fighting with each other?

Suicide Squad provides us with a strong roster of villains to grow attached to: in addition to the acrobatic and ditzy Harley Quinn (who Frog may or may not have a serious crush on), we have the seasoned marksman Deadshot (Will Smith), fire-shooting Diablo, amphibious Killer Croc, and Captain Boomerang (for some reason). The squad is advised and ordered around by Waller thanks to explosive chips implanted in their necks, which will blow their heads off should they disobey her orders. But when one of the previously drafted villains goes rouge with a plot to destroy the modern world (Enchantress, who has the powers of whatever the writers need her to have at the moment), it's up to the rest of the Suicide Squad to put a stop to the evil Mary Sue. And what will happen once Harley's boyfriend gets involved?

Well, here we go. The big thing that needs to be talked about in this film: the new Joker, played by actor Jared Leto. It's been talked about and debated for a long time before the release of the film, and with his unveiling, people have compared it with the Jokers of the past. But my thoughts? Well, it's...alright. Not the best, but bearable.

He has some good bits. He has some good lines. But following the brilliant portrayal from Heath Ledger (may he clown in peace), Jared Leto certainly has big shoes to fill. But while Ledger's character was more calm and unpredictable, Leto's performance is far more manic and wild. It's not just a differing opinion: this is specifically designed to be more true to the comic than The Dark Knight. And, as the owner of several Harley Quinn comics (I am not ashamed), I can say that it is more true to the comics. Although, to be fair, once you've seen Heath Ledger in the makeup, it's tough to picture anyone else in it. Leto isn't bad, but he's no Dark Knight. But with a decent cast and a fun setup, how can this go wrong? Two Words: Zack Snyder.

I'm just going to flat-out say it. Zack Snyder is not allowed to be in the same room as a superhero film script anymore, alright? We saw how that went with his last few experiences. They've all had the same issues, particularly his lack of pacing. Much like in Batman V. Superman, scenes either rush or draw out with little flow between one scene and the next, and characters that bear no real reason for appearing in the story (The Flash is here again, for about two seconds again), typical tropes for Snyder, have returned from Batman V. Superman much to our chagrin. My personal favorite tropes come from the trailers, where lines appear that are not actually said in the film and scenes that have entirely different dialogue (Jared Leto has said that some of the film was never used).

DC has not had as much luck with the film industry as Marvel has, and for one simple reason: Marvel understands the roots of it's characters, DC isn't quite sure where to put them. Marvel understands that we don't want to watch the Hulk have an emotional breakdown. We want to watch him smash things, and so Marvel only uses him in situations where things needed to be smashed. We want to see Captain America in more serious situations, and so they only use him when serious topics arise. DC, on the other hand, DC feels the need to insert every character into every situation, and nowhere is this more sure than at the end of the film (which is a bit of a cop-out).

I want to love Suicide Squad. I do. The idea of villains banding together to do justice with their own goals is a fun one, and with a little practice, could become something like Guardians of the Galaxy. But, with Zack Snyder's "magic" touch, it falls flat in the water again, despite all the good aspects. The characters are interesting and diverse (Deadshot works to protect his daughter, Diablo has sworn to never light up again, and Harley is driven by a quest to reunite with her Puddin'), Harley in particular is very well-written (I don't care if she has a thing for crazy clowns, she WILL BE MINE), but the good just gets buried under all the mediocre. It's worth a look to see the new versions of some old characters, but aside from that, there's not much special here.

Monday, July 18, 2016

The Critical Frog: Don't Hug Me I'm Scared

I know it's not in my nature to discuss things other than film, but I wanted to take some time and take a break following last week's unfortunate news and talk about something that doesn't normally get brought up in the world of criticism: the independent online series.

It's hard to believe independently-funded film can overpower big budget blockbusters, but with a little creativity and a sense of understanding when it comes to the material, something made cheaply or by a small group can easily run circles around the creations of Hollywood. And while quite a few independently begun projects have admittedly flopped on their faces, the ones that do succeed become legends in their own right by defying the circumstances or otherwise turning into something special. Whether it's an indie video game that gets by on simplistic graphics to tell a meaningful story (Undertale) or a film that manages to pull it's weight despite a pathetic budget, the world of kickstarted or independently funded projects is something amazing. And today's discussion topic is a great example of this: the intelligent and horrific world that is Don't Hug Me I'm Scared.

Where does one begin with a series that has sparked so many theories and fan interpretations? I imagine we begin with the main premise of the series. Hold on to your sanity and lunch as we delve into my favorite online series of all time.

The original video of Don't Hug Me I'm Scared was released 4 years ago as a short independent film project, and quickly sparked an internet phenomenon with it's bizarre and sometimes nightmarish ideas and melodies. A Kickstarter campaign to revive the series for five more episodes quickly captivated the internet, and surely enough, episode 2 of the series, Time, came out three months later as promised. Since episode 2's release, new episodes were released at the rate of one every three months until the final episode aired last month on this very day. And what better way to commemorate the end of the series than by giving my thoughts on it?

Let me start by saying that despite the looks, this is  DEFINITELY not a kid-appropriate series. It starts off harmless, sure, but oh boy, does it get dark quick. If you've got a weak stomach or are freaked out easily, let me say that this is most certainly not the series for you.  But if you've got the stomach, I urge you to give it a shot. If you can stand the imagery, it's quite the find.

Anyways, to begin the story, it centers around these three:

I call them (left to right) Red Guy, Yellow Guy and Duck, because I'm pretty sure those are their names. They live day-to-day lives while learning about different aspects of life, such as creativity, time or love, all of which seem normal until things slowly become more horrifying (it's all fun and games until someone makes a cake out of organs). Things go from bad to worse when the puppets disappear one by one and the lessons become more and more demented. But what seems to be an ordinary horror show takes a strange turn as we start to notice some errors in the logic of the characters and begin to wonder what exactly it is that goes on in this bizarre world.

I first want to start with the characters. What ages are they? One can tell by looking at not only them, but the common date in every episode of the series: the 19th of June, and as we later learn, the year 1955. Red Guy is sarcastic, refuses to participate in the lessons, and outright talks back to the teachers (flat-out telling the teacher of lesson four to shut up)- very similar to that of a typical teenager, close to adulthood. If we consider the dates an aspect hinting to the ages of the characters, we could say he was about 19- close to moving out and not willing to listen. Yellow Guy wears childish clothing, misspeaks his words, and cries easily- like a 6-year old. And due to the slight clues in episode 2 (carrying a pocket watch, a picture of him in military dress) and the process of deduction, we can deduce the Duck is approximately 55 years old. A teen, an old man, and a young boy. These are the main characters of our story, and who are the targets of the never-ending horror ride that is Don't Hug Me I'm Scared.

The lesson of the first episode is creativity, and how being creative is a good thing. The teacher, a notepad, teaches our three puppet friends about some ideas to help them get creative. This is offset by the fact that she seems to have a problem with the puppets whenever they decide to do something they want to that they see as creative. When Yellow Guy decides he wants to paint a picture of a clown, the notepad gleefully destroys it by covering it in a black goo. And when she asks them to arrange sticks and leaves in the shape of their favorite colors, she objects to the fact that Yellow Guy loves the color green, stating that it's not a 'creative' color.

This pattern continues for the next episodes- the teachers suggest some topic or another to the puppets, who usually draw their own conclusions from the lessons. But when they do interpret the lesson their own way or try to think about it differently, the teachers get mad and decide to distract the characters with something else (when the puppets have some questions about time in episode two, the clock who teaches them about it never actually answers the characters and instead lets out an ear-piercing shriek).

If you've got a taste for the macabre like I do, or just want to see a good example of dark messages done right. then I highly recommend Don't Hug Me I'm Scared. It's not too long (the entire series put together is about thirty-two minutes), and if you can stomach some of the grisly scenes, it's definitely worth a look if you're in the mood for something twisted and intelligent. Check it out- it's sure to leave an impression. Or at least, make you want to get creative.

I've watched these videos over and over, and every time, I find something new. The amount of Easter eggs and little details that bring so much to the show is astounding, especially in the later episodes.

What's your favorite idea? Grab your computer, some 'healthy' snacks, and maybe your special one- and make some time to find out.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

What I Learned From Buddy

Death is a curious thing. There are those who embrace it and those who fear it, but none understand exactly what it is or why it instills the feelings it does. All we understand is that it takes things we love away from us. For most, the fear of death comes not from death itself, but from what it entails. And for me, the fear comes not from death, but from the feeling of hopelessness it brings. There is no stopping it. Once death begins it's descent, nothing can hold it back. And it took me a great loss to not only understand the inevitability of death, but the concepts of unconditional love and inner calm. The loss of my beloved corgi Buddy has moved me to emotional levels I did not think were possible.

Buddy was a Pembroke Welsh Corgi, adopted from a cattle farm in Florida before I moved to my current residence. While a tad aggressive at times, he was kind and protective, loving and sweet. No matter how bad my day was, Buddy was always there with the same smile on his face. He took care of my mother while I was away for months at a time. He was her protector, and the family's guardian. Everyone loved Buddy, and Buddy loved everyone- but especially my mother. He would never leave her side.

A few months ago, I began to notice some strange differences in Buddy's behavior. He began angrily snapping and barking at nothing in particular. His demeanor changed from happy and loving to cautious and afraid. 

It was two weeks later when his right hind leg stopped moving. A month passed and it became both hind legs. I had looked at the reports, studied the corgi biology, and had Buddy seen by a vet. He was diagnosed with a paralysis disorder unique to Pembroke corgis. His front legs would be the next to go, and eventually his entire body would be paralyzed. 

We could keep him alive. Some drugs. an would be fine. But it wasn't Buddy. His eyes said more than words ever could. He was in pain. And he was ready to go. We scheduled an appointment for him to be put to sleep that week.

A few nights ago, my mom called me into her room. She informed me that his heart rate was quickening. I rushed into the room to see a slumped over Buddy with my mom crying over him. Buddy was alive, but still in pain. He was dragging his limp hind legs along the carpet. He walked over to me, and did something I will never forget: he placed his head in my arms and began to lick.

I'll always remember what happened with Buddy when I was younger. I made mistakes. I was cruel to the dog, if unintentionally so. What reason did he have to love me?

But there he was, licking my arms and face for what seemed like ages. I wondered what I had done to deserve this treatment from the dog, but realized something: Buddy didn't care. He loved me unconditionally. And for that, I will always be grateful. 

Buddy is gone now. He passed away peacefully. But I'll never forget him. He taught me about love, friendship, and unrequited compassion. In a way, I learned more from him than any amount of writing could put into words. And so I offer my simple thanks.

My uncle believes that dead animals go to a special place, known as Rainbow Way. His cat is there. So is my dad's dog. And now my own beloved pet joins them in what is hopefully a happier place. And so I say goodbye to my long time friend, the one who was always there for me and loved me no matter what atrocities I committed. 

Bye, old pal. You'll always be my best Buddy.