Wednesday, September 21, 2016

[Movie Review] The Swan Princess: Princess Tomorrow, Pirate Today!

Sony Home Video provided me with some of the materials I used in this Blog Post/Giveaway. The opinions I share are my own.

Hello, my lovely readers!
Last week, I told you about the newest Swan Princess movie release, The Swan Princess: Princess Tomorrow, Pirate Today! Today, as promised, I'm reviewing the movie, and announcing our giveaway winner!

Style:
Animation and Music
 
As the movie started, I noted that the background music was lovely and very fitting -- somewhat Narnia-esque. The island scenery was also beautiful, if a bit simplistic in its animation style. The living beings seemed rough and awkward in their movements, and the mouths didn't always match the characters' speech. However, most of the returning characters still looked just like the old characters I remembered: Jean-Bob the frog, Speed the turtle, King William, and Queen Uberta.
The animation held a lot of serious flaws, though. The ocean looked pale and shallow; movements of living characters in the water looked completely unrealistic. Alise's animation was generally okay, but there were several scenes where she looked angry for no reason or her eyes were unnaturally far apart. The minor animals that were meant to look "scary," like the gators from the old movies or a set of electric eels, really just looked like fat balloons. Several close-ups happened that felt jarring and didn't make a lot of sense. And because it was so terrible compared to any other bit of scenery, let me repeat that the ocean was completely, totally unrealistic.

Odette though.

Odette.


THAT IS NOT ODETTE.

For a Swan Princess movie, there's very little of the actual Swan Princess in the story. That is something to be thankful for. That animated abomination is not the Odette I remember. That is not the Odette I grew up with. That is not the Odette I loved. Her father, mother-in-law, and usually her husband's CG versions still resemble their original animations, albeit with less detail. Odette, however, has been replaced by a CG monstrosity of an imposter. Every time I saw her I just wanted it to go away.

While the background music throughout the film fit the scenes, the actual musical numbers seemed to come out of nowhere. Judged as music numbers alone regardless of their place in the story, most of them started strong... then a shift in style or a sudden refrain burst through to ruin the pace and the mood.

I did watch the special features section, and it seems that the kids voicing Alise and her friend Lucas are passionate and talented. I enjoyed watching them record their lines a lot more than I enjoyed the actual movie. Lucas's actor is especially talented, and so expressive! Their character appearances seem clearly based on them, and I just wish the resemblance were stronger and more detailed.


Story:
Plot, Characters, and Pacing


The movie opens on an island, inhabited by a group of strange talking lizard-dinosaur creatures and a young boy. While there's not much wrong with this scene in and of itself, it's confusing and out of place in the movie's context. This is a movie about the Swan Princess's daughter and her summer activities. Why are we starting with a stranger and a new group of monsters on an island? Also, as a side note -- these monsters can hunt, talk, sing, dance, and apparently rhyme, but they don't know any animal's actual name. Doesn't quite fit with their portrayed intelligence level, if you ask me.

We transition to Alise and her grandparents at the castle. Odette's Imposter (see animation complaints above) and Derek leave for the summer, and Alise's grandparents are at odds about whether Alise should complete Sailor Boot Camp with Grandpa or Princess Boot Camp with Grandma. It's odd to me that in a movie all about princesses and pirates, both Grandma and Grandpa are totally offended and horrified by the idea of Alise becoming a pirate. Which they demonstrate by getting into an argument... talking and fighting like pirates.

The entire story seems dualistic and basic from the beginning. Princess vs. Sailor/Pirate. Manners vs. Adventure. Tea Party vs. Swimming. Grandpa vs. Grandma. It's bland and polarizing when it doesn't need to be.

When Grandma wins and Alise begins princess lessons, Grandpa's solution is to recruit Jean-Bob the frog and Speed the turtle and kidnap Alise to set sail for sailor lessons. Setting aside the fact that kidnapping the royal heir from the castle overnight with no warning or permission to castle security is a terrible idea, I'd like to stop for a moment to point out that this entire castle's security system is a bunch of squirrels. Talking sassy man-squirrels, but still tiny forest animals. How does this make sense? Presumably, these characters were introduced in the last movie. I still have no idea who they are or why they don't have human assistance guarding the gates.

Grandpa and Co. successfully kidnap Alise, which involves a lot of camofluage and equipment invented long after the medieval period. Grandma rises early to start morning yoga with Alise. Yes, yoga. Because apparently medieval princesses get up with their grandmothers, don sports bras and yoga pants, and do a few downward dogs before curtsy practice and pronunciation lessons. Unless the princess has run away in the night, in which case Grandma rides a giant talking hog through the town still wearing a sports bra and yoga pants, chasing down her pink-camo-painted granddaughter. Nothing in this fantasy world makes sense anymore. We're not in medieval times, but I'm not sure when we are.

The squirrels are sent out with that annoying puffin from the original series to track down the princess. Again, why are squirrels the only royal military now? And why are they running an ocean rescue when they make it clear they have no maritime experience? This story keeps getting weirder.

On the ship, Alise turns herself into a pirate and launches into a musical number. A storm hits, which involves a little girl who I don't think has ever been at sea somehow conducting herself in a much smarter and calmer fashion than her experienced grandfather. They find themselves shipwrecked and separated, and the story only gets wonkier from there.

The monsters on the island somehow capture Grandpa, although "capture"'s kind of a loose term. They charge, then stop, then tie up Grandpa while he just stands there whining. He never even attempted to look for his shipwrecked granddaughter. This man is useless. Anyway, this leads to Grandpa conducting a cooking competition for the monsters who want to eat him. It's shot like Hell's Kitchen and it's more ridiculous than it sounds. Oh, also, the monsters worship Jean-Bob. They call him "Green Thing." No, I don't know why. Nobody does, I guess.

The bizarre mash-up of time periods continues as the monsters travel across the island using giant leaves that are basically fire-powered hoverboards. Some sort of squirrel ghost, another unexplained character from the last movie I guess, shows up to help Alise and Speed out while they search for Grandpa and Jean-Bob. Alise meets Lucas, a boy who ran from home on a raft and now lives on the island. Their meeting involves none of the normal surprise or shock or confusion emotions and jumps right into Lucas' emotional baggage of a backstory. His parents were going to take him to an orphanage, so he ran away. Throughout the movie, we get bits and pieces that are supposed to tell us that they loved him and just couldn't take care of him, but honestly I couldn't care less for this family that had no buildup or emotional connection to the audience. Moving on.

Mission Sea Squirrel Rescue is going horribly and a bunch of sea animal encounters happen, which I'll skip. They're just a bunch of manufactured conflict for the sake of a movie... which is honestly how most of the conflict, internal and external, works in this movie. I really wanted to like it. I promise.

More modern references (flossing and airplane jokes). More ridiculous cooking show. And Lucas 'teaches' Alise to talk in "hand language," which is as bad as it sounds. It comes with subtitles, which I'm guessing half the target audience doesn't know how to read yet. I don't know what the writers were thinking.

The monsters sing and dance. Alise, Lucas, and Speed rescue Grandpa and Jean-Bob, who has somehow gone from god to side dish in the monster society, but are foiled again by the monsters. Mission Sea Squirrels arrive and get something right for a change, so everybody goes back to the mainland. Abomination Odette and Derek are in a wagon headed home while Lucas's parents are in a wagon searching for him; through a series of events mostly manipulated by Ghost Squirrel, the four parents and two kids all end up in the same spot. Families are reunited, the day is saved, etc etc. Finally, the movie is over.

Message:
Girl Power... ?


The general premise of this movie starts out with the latest "I'm a girl, but I don't have to be a princess!" craze. As a feminist myself, I definitely want to see more of children's movies and merchandise offering a wider worldview and variety of options for girls. But this movie fails that end. Alise wants to be a pirate and a "modern princess," which technically both happen. In the course of this happening, though, she lives her life totally drenched in pink; is repeatedly taught by both grandparents that the most important thing in life is smiling; and in every conflict or dangerous situation has to eventually be rescued by a boy, a man, or male animals.

Female empowerment doesn't just fail with Alise, either. The horror that is Odette is just as botched in her personality as her animation. I remember the princess who outright challenged the idea that a girl only needed beauty to be loved. In this movie, Pseud-Odette's few scenes feature an idiotic airhead who constantly needs to be corrected or talked over by her husband just to make basic conversation. I cannot emphasize how utterly and totally destroyed Odette's character is by this film.

Conclusion
The animation is shaky at best and horrifying at worst. Returning side characters are just like I remember, but main characters fail expectations. The attempted feminist message is destroyed by typical princess tropes and a stripped-down dualistic story. Conflict is manufactured and then senselessly resolved. New characters are introduced with no emotional connection and either too much or no exposition.


The movie isn't just a "cash grab" -- it's not a movie that could stand on its own but happened to get tacked on to the Swan Princess franchise. Without the Swan Princess supporting cast, this story couldn't exist. But as a continuation of an already-stretched franchise, it certainly feels like nothing more than an attempt to make money. Young audiences that just want flashy colors, toddler humor and movies that look like their toys might be happy with The Swan Princess: Princess Tomorrow, Pirate Today!, but it's not one for family night. 


For those of you checking in after last week, the winner of the DVD giveaway hosted by Sony Home Video is Heather! Who knows? Maybe you'll completely disagree with my review. I'd love to hear what you think, Heather. Thank you to everyone who entered!

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