Some thoughts on Clone Wars

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I took my kids Sam (7) and Kit (5) to see The Clone Wars. I’ve been reading so much invective directed against this movie, I honestly didn’t know what to expect. Online voices are torn: some people seem to hate it, some people seem to merely dislike it, some people feel it is a monstrous act of betrayal. My favorite, a hysterical non-review by “Moriarty” at Ain’t-It-Cool-News, is so full of hurt and anger that it goes so far as to insist that the reviewer will never write about Star Wars ever again — You hear him? Never!  Take that, George Lucas!  Moriarty shuts the Iron Door.

I went in fully braced for an atrocity, a soul-scorching, childish, grating, dead-end cinematic nightmare.

Sorry haters — it’s actually not bad. It’s actually pretty good.

I’m still kind of stunned by the notion that, somehow, the “newer” Star Wars adventures somehow invalidate the “older” ones. Fans old enough to remember the releases of the originals seem to get more and more incensed with every new release. I understand if a movie doesn’t live up to your expectations, I even understand your anger if a movie betrays your understanding of the “deal” you’ve made with the filmmakers, as long as you understand that that deal exists only in your imagination. But the kind of anger I’ve seen directed at The Clone Wars just goes way beyond that. It’s as though George Lucas, while slowly eroding the dignity of his cinematic accomplishment, was also slowly eroding the dignity of his audience.

Well, I think neither is true. The movies — the six movies — are what they are. The Clone Wars isn’t pretending to be Episode II & 1/2, it’s its own thing. It makes that clear right off the bat: the music is different, the introduction is spoken instead of written, and the characters have been dramatically re-designed. This is all intentional, and the result, while less grand, less “important,” is more colloquial and human-scaled. (I’m a little baffled by the fans who think the Genndy Tartakovsky Clone Wars shorts are somehow “better” than Episodes I-III — they strike me as very much Genndy Tartakovsky shorts — jaw-dropping fights, no plot, and The Clone Wars kicks their ass around the block.)

The older fans think that Episodes I-III are bad enough, but The Clone Wars is just gratuitous salt in the wound. Well, I don’t know how to break it to those folks, but Sam has seen all six movies many times, and his favorite is Revenge of the Sith, followed by Attack of the Clones, followed by followed by Return of the Jedi. A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back don’t even make the list. Sam talks about Anakin Skywalker all the time, the battle on Mustafar and the slaughter of the Sandpeople and the fight in the droid factory and the arena on Geonosis. He reads Clone Wars Adventures and counts the animated shorts as canon. That is Star Wars to my 7-year-old, and The Clone Wars was an absolute feast for him, all Anakin and droid battles and crashing spaceships and well-staged, bloodless carnage. He watched The Clone Wars with a look on his face like he was worried that he was never going to remember all the cool stuff he was seeing. Both he and Kit loved the battle droids and their charming stupidity, they both loved Stinky the Hutt and felt genuine concern for his health. (Sam even checked with me afterwards to make sure if he had an accurate understanding of the “ticking clock” concept: he said “When Anakin had the Huttlet, and it was getting sicker and sicker, didn’t that make it more dramatic, because you didn’t know if they were going to make it back to Tatooine in time to save him?”) They’re too young to get the joke of a Hutt who sounds like Truman Capote (both of them thought Ziro the Hutt was a female, but they cheerfully went along with it when they found out he was not). I’ve read reviews by people disgusted by the idea of a stereotypical gay Hutt, or disgusted at the idea of a stereotypical black Hutt, or a stereotypical “Mammy” Hutt, all of which only proves to me that the joke went over these folks’ heads.

And both my kids love Asoka, the girl Jedi who acts as Anakin’s protege and foil. And you know what? I love her too — she’s a great character, the teenage girl who seems to be the only person in the galaxy who doesn’t seem that impressed with Anakin Skywalker. She gets a lot of screen time, she’s a girl of action, she’s smart and funny and she doesn’t take shit from anyone, much less Anakin. (Okay, she’s stuck holding the baby for a stretch, but credit where credit is due — she’s a huge improvement over the whining, helpless Padme of Sith.)

I’m also really impressed with the look of the thing. Sure, it looks cheap — we’re not talking about Wall-E here — we’re not even talking about Kung-Fu Panda, but the animators have taken the limitations of their budget and turned it into an asset. They do exactly what animators on a budget should do, they lean into their limitations, they make the characters look like they’ve been carved out of wood and then painted with some kind of sticky, quick-drying paint, which makes them both strongly stylized and minutely detailed. Take, for example, the lipstick on Asajj Ventress — she’s got these cruel black lips, but in close-ups we can actually see that her lipstick isn’t applied evenly: it gets caught in the creases of her mouth and, here and there, doesn’t actually make it out to the edges of her lips. Similarly, Asoka’s face paint looks like it’s been applied in layers over a period of time — she’s got streaks and splotches here and there, and in other places her salmon-colored skin shows through.

If there is a complaint to be made, it’s that, for a feature film, there’s a lot of plot but nothing of consequence. Nobody important dies, there are no dramatic reveals or reversals, we don’t find out that Anakin is really a woman or that his father is really a B’omarr Monk. Essentially, it’s a lot of busywork, a bunch of “plot,” at the end of which everyone goes back to doing what they were doing when the movie started. And, as the movie is mostly plot, let me hasten to add that the plot is well-executed, well-paced, and fun to watch.

What The Clone Wars resembles is a pilot for a TV show, which it is, which is bad news for your feature-film dollar. But what it also resembles is my son’s home-made Star Wars movies, where he lines up the characters and then just lets them have at each other, with titanic battles and shifting alliances and dramatic duels and last-minute rescues and jaws-of-defeat victories. The older fans are outraged that Star Wars keeps getting diminished, but to my eyes The Clone Wars really is a new beginning, a redefinition for a different medium.

Sam Alcott and the Theological Struggle of Doom


SAM (7) and DAD watch Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom for the fourth or fifth time together. In the movie, late in Act I, Indy and Bald Village Priest converse. BVP tells Indy that Shiva has sent him to recover the village’s magic rock. Indy corrects him, saying that nobody “sent” him, his plane stats

Sam, alarmed, sits up.

SAM. Wait! Run it back!

Sam grabs the remote and reverses the movie for a minute. He plays the scene back, then freezes the playback.

SAM. Who’s “Shiva?”
DAD. Shiva? Shiva is the Indian guy’s god.
SAM. He said Shiva “sent” him.
DAD. Yeah?
SAM. Why did he say that?
DAD. Well that’s what he thinks.
SAM. Why does he think that?
DAD. Well, he’s a priest, Shiva’s his god, he was praying to Shiva to send help and Indy fell out of the sky. So the Indian guy thinks —
SAM. But did he?
DAD. Did who what?
SAM. Did Shiva send him?
DAD. Did Shiva send Indy? To find the Sankara Stone?
SAM. Did Shiva send him?
DAD. Well, that’s what the Indian guy —
SAM. But did he?
DAD. Well, what do you think?
SAM. I’m asking you. Did Shiva send Indy?
DAD. Well, that’s a good question, and that’s kind of what the movie’s about. Indy goes to Pankot to get the rock, right? But he doesn’t really believe the legends, he just thinks it’s superstition. He doesn’t think Shiva is real or anything, he’s in it for the “fortune and glory.” And he goes through the whole movie that way. But then, remember, at the end, when he’s hanging from the bridge with Mola Ram, it looks like he’s going to lose and then he says “You betrayed Shiva!” And he says the magic words and the rocks catch on fire and fall out of the backpack. So you could say that it isn’t until Indy believes that Shiva is real and the rocks are really magic that he’s able to beat Mola Ram.
SAM. So Shiva did send him.
DAD. Well, sure, if you want to look at it —
SAM. Did he? It soundslike he did.
DAD. Well, maybe he did.
SAM. So, did Shiva make those guys jump out of the plane, and make the plane crash, and the whole thing in Shanghai, with the gangsters and the nightclub and the dance number and the car chase? Did Shiva make all that happen?
DAD. Well, you know what they say dude, gods work in mysterious ways.

Mantis update: mantis rampage!

Ceiling can taste freedom.hitcounter

Booie, the littlest and, frankly, weediest of our latest mantis army, died quietly in the night a few days ago. In accordance with mantis tradition, his body was devoured by crickets.

In what’s becoming an Alcott family tradition, the death of the weakest mantis is a signal that the others’ days are numbered, and the survivors should be released into the wild, where they might mate and create another mantis army to menace the insects of tomorrow. The liberation ceremony for Ceiling and Snacks was held this morning on our front porch.

Pick me up! Pick me up! shouts Ceiling from the depths of the carrier she shares with Giant Black African Millipede.

Snacks, out in the open air, taking his first look at the big, wide world, where, theoretically anyway, there are many insects for him to devour.

Meanwhile Ceiling, getting a whiff of the liberty that is the divine right of all mantids, tries to climb the sheer plexiglass walls of her enclosure.

“What is this strange thing I’m perched upon?” asks Snacks — his first encounter with Nature. Shortly after this photo was taken, Kit (5) asked if she could try to pick him up one last time, or “do you think he’s wild already?”

Out of her enclosure and a little spooked by the wide open spaces, Ceiling goes into a defensive “put up your dukes” pose. Note the super-aggressive “scorpion tail.”

The crickets did not miss out — predator and prey each gained their freedom on this day.

Ceiling, still asking for trouble, crouches on Sam’s hand and, like Sean Penn, dares the photographer to approach — for a fist full of knuckles.

Once on a leaf, Ceiling visibly relaxes. “I could get used to this,” says the enormous, voracious, meat-eating predator. Crickets of Santa Monica. YOU ARE DOOMED.

Dad, Sam, Kit and Space Chimps

Dad took Sam (7) and Kit (5) to see Space Chimps. In terms of artistic achievement, Dad found the movie placed a little south of Kagemusha, but acknowledges that it is most likely not intended for an audience of cranky, middle-aged screenwriters. However, the movie did get one genuine laugh out of him, and if you were one of the handful of people in the movie theater with us, you might have witnessed this scene:


Two chimps in a rocket ship. (all dialogue paraphrased)

CHIMP 1. Let’s face it, I’m not a real astronaut.
CHIMP 2. Are you wearing an aluminum suit?
CHIMP 1. Yes, but…
CHIMP 2. Are you inside a space ship?
CHIMP 1. Well, yes…
CHIMP 2. Are you in space?
CHIMP 1. Yes, but I…
CHIMP 2. Are you David Bowie?
CHIMP 1. Nnnooo…
CHIMP 2. Then you’re an astronaut!

IN THE AUDIENCEhitcounter:

DAD. (laughs)
SAM. (noting Dad’s laugh) What does that even mean?
DAD. (beat — how to put?) David Bowie is a singer. He had a famous song about being an astronaut. So it’s a joke about that.
SAM. (beat, then, trying it out) “Are you David Bowie?” (laugh)

(Dad did not go on to explain that the real reason for his laugh is that there is another, slightly funnier aspect to the line for him, which is that Chimp 2 is voiced by Patrick Warburton, who also voices the character Brock Samson on the TV series The Venture Bros, a show which also prominently features David Bowie as a character. One step at a time for teaching Sam showbiz in-jokes.)

Sam on Gremlins

DAD: Well, now you’ve seen Gremlins.hitcounter
SAM: Yay! That means I never have to see it again!

So, oddly enough, the child (7) who loves Revenge of the Sith and Temple of Doom, who thrills to Jurassic Park and Zathura, strongly disliked Gremlins. He didn’t mind it being scary, and he didn’t mind it being, essentially, a dirty trick. What bothered him was, oddly, the violence.

Not the violence against humans, mind you — he disliked the violence against the gremlins. From the moment the mother takes on the gremlins in the kitchen, blending one, microwaving another, he was disgusted and horrified. Not by the movie taking a sudden left turn into the horror genre, but by the mother killing creatures who were, despite their faults, her son’s pets.

DAD: But they’re trying to kill her, dude!
SAM: It doesn’t matter! You can’t kill them even if they’re evil monsters!

When Gremlins opened in 1984, I was working in a twin cinema that showed it on both screens — one showing every hour, for 24 hours, for the entire first weekend. It was quite an experience to see how different audiences would react to the movie. For the matinee audiences, there was a point in the movie in every screening where parents and their children would go dashing for the exits — and strangely, it was always the children leading the adults, saying things like “Mommy, take me away from this movie!” The 3am audiences, on the other hand, saw it for what it was — a sly, genre-bending comedy, a lump of coal in your Christmas stocking.

The mid-80s Spielberg productions Gremlins, Goonies and Roger Rabbit were all marketed as childrens’ movies and all contain mountains of profanity and important story points relating to suicide, alcoholism, sex, gunplay, drug use and birth defects. What struck me about Gremlins today was its sourness and brutality, aspects that never seemed apparent to me until I was watching it with my 7-year-old son, who generally enjoys both scary movies and violent movies (which he prefers to refer to as “actiony” movies). Even the mega-brutal Temple of Doom has a lighter tone and goofier spirit than Gremlins.

SAM: Did Steven Spielberg work on this movie?
DAD: Yeah, this is one of his movies.
SAM: Boy, he really likes that weird, ugly violence, doesn’t he?
DAD: Gosh — does he? I guess I’ve never really thought about him that way. (Or, rather, I’ve never heard anyone complain about it before.) But you know, when this movie, Gremlins, came out, parents were really angry about it. Because they all took their really little kids to see it, thinking “Hey, it’s Steven Spielberg, he made E.T.!
SAM: Yeah, and he also made the, you know, the melting faces and the guy getting his heart pulled out of his body and the guy dissolving into a skeleton…

God knows what he’s going to think of Saving Private Ryan.

Tuesday, June 3 was an important, historic day in the history of the United States

I refer, of course, to the release of the LEGO Indiana Jones video game.

It’s one thing when a 7-year-old boy is excited about an Indiana Jones video game, it’s something else again when he sits down to play it in his Indiana Jones hat.hitcounter

there is no particular point to this entry

Some photos I took of Sam’s Star Wars toy collection.


Disneyland report ’08

My apologies to my readers who wait with bated breath for my analysis of The Color Purple.  My son Sam (6) had a day off from school, and my daughter Kit (5) has a school that consists primarily of her being out of the house for four hours, so my wife and I decided to take them to Disneyland.

Sam actually didn’t know that he did not have school and Kit isn’t old enough to notice that big a difference between Sunday and Monday, so we decided to spring it on them as a surprise.  We went about the morning as though it was a normal school day, packed the two of them into the car and then didn’t take them to school.  It took Sam until we got to Interstate 10 to notice something strange was going on.  We tried to stall as long as possible, but it didn’t take him long to put together that we were going to Disneyland, at which point the metaphorical cat was out of its metaphorical bag.

We got to the gate at 10:00 on the dot, ie at the exact same time as everyone else.  It was surprisingly crowded, I thought, for a Monday morning in April.  I have memories of going on a Tuesday afternoon in February of 1996 and the place was almost deserted — there were no lines for anything and I was able to see absolutely everything I wanted to, including the robot Abraham Lincoln, by late afternoon.  At which point I shrugged and said “Well, I guess I’m kind of done with this place until I have a couple of kids.”  Hence yesterday.

Sam was keen on seeing only two things — the Indiana Jones Adventure ride and Star Tours, the Star Wars-themed simulator ride.  He was a little anxious about the rides themselves — he dislikes roller coasters — but he wanted very badly to visit the gift shops associated with the rides to gather props and costume pieces.  Kit, on the other hand, likes the Teacups, and generally would be happy to spend the whole day in the pink section of the map.

(Sam had just attended a Star Wars themed birthday party over the weekend where Obi-Wan, Anakin, Boba Fett, Darth Vader and Darth Sidious had all shown up and done bits with the kids.  Sam had worn his elaborate Darth Vader costume and is very much into dressing up, or “cosplay” as the older set refers to it.)

The Indiana Jones Adventure was the longest wait of the day — 50 minutes before we got on the ride — and Sam loved, loved, loved absolutely everything about it, right up until the point where he actually had to get into the oversize Jeep that takes you through the experience.  I see his point — the wait for the ride is, by a long measure, the most elaborate, detailed and atmospheric I’ve ever experienced, and in the middle of Disneyland that’s saying a lot.  There are caves, booby-traps, an ancient temple, a newsreel, period music and all sorts of mood-enhancing foofaraw to get visitors hyped on the experience.  The ride itself is rattlingly, shudderingly violent in the way it whips you around in your seat and parades you past a host of scares, thrills and spectacles — far too much to absorb in one go-around — and Sam spent the three-minute experience clutching my arm, with his face buried in my elbow.  He was very precise in his assessment of the experience; he didn’t mind the scares — he likes being scared — but he cannot abide the “jerking around.”  Indeed, I would agree with him.  The Indiana Jones Adventure is an incredible ride, but the violence inflicted on my physical body is considerable.

(I now wonder if Sam’s love of being scared and his disdain for being “jerked around” explains his love of Jurassic Park and his indifference toward E.T.)

While Sam was being terrified on the dark, violent, genuinely frightening Indiana Jones Adventure, Kit was being terrified on the sunny, cheesy, outdated Jungle Cruise, the benign, walk-through Tarzan Treehouse and the utterly laid-back Storybook Land Cruise.  Kit, it should be noted, does not like getting scared.

After Indiana Jones, Sam wanted to proceed directly to Star Tours, but my wife and I had made the decision to not split up the day in boy/boy-girl/girl adventures, and we met up on Tom Sawyer Island, or, as it’s now known, “Pirate’s Lair.”  The whole way, Sam was insistent almost to the point of complaining (Why can’t we do Star Tours and then meet Mom and Kit?  Why do we have to go to the island?  Why can’t Mom and Kit come to us? etc.), then, the second we got to the island, he saw there was a treehouse and a complex network of caves, bridges and shipwrecks and we didn’t see either kid for about two hours as they went exploring. 

I was a little dismayed at the half-hearted conversion of Tom Sawyer Island into Pirate’s Lair.  A lot of the structures are the same, with only tiny emendations to change the island from the Mississippi to the Caribbean.  The treetrunk of the treehouse still has “Tom + Becky” carved in it and the island is littered with an utterly anachronistic Indian Village, a river raft, a moose and a derailed coal train.  It’s almost as though the Disney folk were hedging their bets, worried that this whole “Pirate” fad will blow over at any time and they’ll have to change the island back to Twainland.

(On the way back from Pirate’s Lair we ran into Jack Sparrow, who, when addressed by that name by a park visitor, resentfully murmured “Captain Jack Sparrow,” in a completely convincing Depp-like drawl, his delivery pitched at a volume no one but me could actually hear.  This forced me to realize, yet again, that for all its faults, Disneyland is a demon for details.)

(Oddly, this visit was, for me, one of discovery — almost every attraction we hit was brand-new to me, even though it had been sitting there in plain sight for 54 years.)

Once off Pirate’s Lair (highlight for adults — real baby ducks) Sam and I split off again to see Star Tours while Kit and Mom headed for the Teacups and the Disney Princess Fantasy Faire.  The wait at Star Tours wasn’t very long, and as usual there’s plenty of atmosphere to soak up, but as the ride itself approached I began to get apprehensive on Sam’s behalf.  Sam understands what a simulator is, but the signs warned that Star Tours is a “turbulent” ride — meaning, you get jerked around a lot.  I tried to explain this to Sam, who was confident he’d be okay.  In the case of Star Tours, he was willing to get jerked around since there was no actual forward motion involved.  Somehow the combination of the two is the thing that sets him on edge.

In the end, Sam made it through a good portion of Star Tours with his eyes open, then enthusiastically made a beeline for the gift shop.  He had been given a special Disney Allowance of $20 and spent it on a special Star Tours blaster rifle.  When he found out there was a separate entrance to the shop, he said, rather in the manner of a man who has just realized he has been duped, “Wait a minute — you mean I could have made it to the gift shop without having to go on the ride?”

(A note on Star Tours: the signs out front mention that it’s a collaboration between Disney and Lucas, and the experience confirms that — and points out how uneasy a fit those two sensibilities are.  Cool Lucas-type design sits right next to cloying, Disney-type design, with big-eyed wisecracking droids and production values that only help remind the guest that Star Wars is a very cool movie indeed, while The Black Hole is deeply uncool.)

Hard upon Star Tours was the Jedi Training Academy, held at the Tomorrowland Terrace, an interactive stage show where kids can train with lightsabers — provided they are picked from the crowd by the Jedi teaching the class.  We got there early to get a good seat, and once the show started things got overwhelming very quickly.  The actor playing the Jedi Master was convincing, dynamic and in complete control of his difficult situation — organizing, inspiring and directing a group of small children in a rather complicated game, with a dramatic arc, that had to be wrapped up in 30 minutes. 

The process of selecting which children go up on stage was, we were told, up to the actor playing the Jedi Master, and Sam, for reasons still a little mysterious to me, didn’t want to press his case too emphatically.  As the Jedi Master selected kids from the crowd, everyone else jumped up and down and screamed while Sam subtly raised his hand.  I don’t know if it was his sense of manners, a fear of being chosen, or a belief in the justness of his cause that kept him from speaking up, but in the end he was chosen and took his place on stage.  Each youngling was given a training robe and a “training lightsaber” (ie, a plastic toy just like the ones they have at home) and the class was then led through a series of sword-fighting moves.  No sooner had they learned a simple five-step fight routine than Darth Vader showed up with Darth Maul to challenge the students to a fight.

The actors playing Vader and Maul were both very convincing, to the point where some of the kids started freaking out.  There was no attempt to softpedal the villains’ scariness, and the actor playing Maul was particularly aggressive in his attack.  When it came time to fight, some of the kids were overenthusiastic, others were terrified to the point of tears.  Sam tried to take the whole thing seriously but found that it all went too fast.  I also have the feeling that Sam’s emotions were clouded by the fact that he greatly prefers the dark side characters — if he could have, he would have joined Vader and taken over the galaxy.

In any case, Vader and Maul were defeated, the Stormtroopers were sent packing, and all the kids were pronounced Padawans, complete with diploma (but without the robes and lightsabers).  The diploma, interestingly, includes a political message, reminding the child that the Force must only be used in defense, never to attack.

Sam and I headed toward Fantasyland to hook up with Mom and Kit, who were investigating the Alice in Wonderland ride, King Arthur’s Carrousel and the Princess Faire show.  We stopped at Autopia, another ride I’d never been on, where Sam got to drive his own car.  He was a little too short to reach the pedal, but once he got the hang of it he delighted in swerving back and forth, trying to crash into stuff.  I said “So, wait — I thought you said you don’t like being jerked around,” to which Sam replied, giggling, “Yeah, but not when I’m the one doing the jerking.”  So the issue, finally, is not the jerking but the lack of control.

We found Mom and Kit at the Once Upon A Time shop in Fantasyland, where Kit was purchasing a Minnie Mouse As Princess doll.  I don’t know where Kit’s interest in Minnie Mouse comes from.  I don’t know where any child’s interest in Minnie Mouse comes from.  Or Mickey Mouse, for that matter.  They are barely represented in Disney fare except on the most superficial level, faces on corporate product.  As characters they barely register to me; they stand for nothing, personify no particular point of view.  Who looks at them and feels a deep sense of identification?

The kids were still going strong at this point, but Mom and Dad were about to drop, so we headed to the Rancho del Zocalo, the Mexican place in Frontierland.  The food was great, the line was short and there were plenty of places to sit, which is all one can ask of a Disney restaurant.  It was a big improvement over the last Disneyland dining experience my family had, where it was so crowded in New Orleans Square that we had to eat our clam chowder while perched on a wall on a major thoroughfare.

At one point, Kit was handed a sheet of temporary tattoos by a cast member who happened by, and at another point was handed a pair of Tinkerbell pins by another (“one to keep, and one to give”).  These encounters were random and unsolicited.  And again, one can find plenty of things to complain about in Disneyland, but the way they’ve got the guest’s experience figured out sets them far apart from any other theme park I’ve ever experienced.  I’ve been to great roller coaster parks like Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio, a park with no particular point of view, where guests are forced to wait for hours in the hot sun with nothing to do but stare at the people ahead of them in line.  There’s always something to look at while in line at Disneyland and the longest lines are always engineered in interesting ways that help build anticipation for the experience instead of emphasizing the length of the wait.  The time generally flies at Disneyland, and while the prices are steep, I can’t remember a time when I left feeling cheated.  Add to that random encounters with movie characters who hand out free stuff to your kids and I’m sorry, for a parent it’s all pretty awesome.  Yes I know, it’s a gesture designed by a behemoth corporation, intended solely to extract more money from the child’s parents, but I feel like that’s the society we live in, and if a corporation takes your money while teaching your children generosity and non-aggression, well, at least it’s something.

After dinner we happened upon the nearly deserted Sailing Ship Columbia, which was about six times more interesting than I expected it to be.  It’s outfitted like a genuine eighteenth-century merchant vessel and it, improbably, actually succeeded in giving one a vague impression of what lifeat sea on a ship like this, for years at a time, might have been like.

Then we headed over to New Orleans Square, where there was no line for the Haunted Mansion.  Kit had never been to the Haunted Mansion, and Sam has only been to it while it was re-dressed in Nightmare Before Christmas holiday mode, so we decided to go in.  Sam was underwhelmed, I was delighted (it was better than I remember it and has been subtly improved over the years), Mom was slightly disappointed (she remembered it being not so dark).  Kit, sadly, went in frightened and was reduced to whimpering apoplexy by the end.

To help Kit over her trauma, I took her for three or four (I lost count) rides on the no-line Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh ride.  The Winnie-the-Pooh ride, like many of the younger-skewing experiences, is weirder, more disturbing and more psychedelic than one would imagine.  But it did the trick and got Kit ready for the final events of the day, the Dumbo ride in Fantasyland and the Astro Orbiters in Tommorowland.  The difference between the two rides, as far as I can tell, is that they revolve in opposite directions, and Dumbo is three minutes long, while the Astro Orbiters are only a minute and a half.  Neither had lines worth worrying about, typical for the younger rides after sundown.

All in all, I think I saw more of the park than I have in any other single-day visit and didn’t even lay eyes on huge swaths of it.

Kit was asleep before we left the parking structure, Sam examined his Star Wars toys for a few minutes but was out before we got to the highway.


Mace Windu for Chancellor

Say what you want about the Star Wars prequels, they are excellent tools for teaching a six-year-old boy about the basics of democracy.

Yesterday I was in a post office with my son Sam (6) and he saw a big cardboard standup for the HBO John Adams bio-pic, and he said “Who is that guy? I’m seeing this poster everywhere!” So I started to explain to him who John Adams was and what he did and what his role was in the formation of the United States, and that necessitated an explanation of monarchy vs. democracy, and at that point Sam chimed in and said “Yeah, like in Episode III, Chancellor Palpatine is supposed to be the leader of the Senate, where people are supposed to get together and talk about what’s best for everyone, but instead he’s just making everyone fight each other and sitting back and laughing at them all because he’s really controlling everything.” Then I blinked a few times and decided Sam didn’t need to know that much more about John Adams for a while.

Anyway, we were watching Revenge of the Sith the other day, and if you ever need to explain what is going on in this country right now to a six-year-old boy, you could certainly find worse teaching tools than this movie. All the players are there and the political delineations are as clear as could be. Palpatine is a corrupt, cynical politician scheming to become an emperor, starting a war to give himself expansive executive powers, controlling the Senate and the courts to make sure no one can oppose him, et cetera ad infinitum. This is not news, it’s pretty obvious that the movie is intended as a criticism of the Bush/Cheney doctrine.

And then, about 2/3 of the way through the movie, Sam, apropos of nothing, says “I think Mace Windu should be elected Chancellor.” Which kind of created a moment of clarity for me. Mace Windu (the “stoic” Jedi, according to is a wise, well-spoken, incorruptible warrior-priest, who sees (eventually) what Palpatine is and seeks to remove him from power. He fails, and dies, but Sam is correct — none of this would have happened if Mace Windu had been Chancellor. Which inspired me to make this:

click for larger view.

Inspiration here.

UPDATE: Sam just walked in, saw this entry on my computer, and said “That guy with ‘HOPE’ on him?  Is either Mace Windu or God.”

Oh, and honestly, I am going to do a post on 1941, and it honestly will be worth it.hitcounter

Sam on Temple of Doom

I’ll admit, I was a little nervous about showing Sam (6) Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. It’s darker than Raiders, its sexuality is bothmore “adult” and more juvenile, its violence is more brutal, it shows children being whipped and people being lowered into boiling lava after having their still-beating hearts ripped out, its protagonist turns evil, all that stuff.

I needn’t have worried — Sam ate it up.

With one exception. The character of Willie Scott didn’t bother him for her whining, shrieking girlishness or her shallow, conniving gold-digging — she bothered Sam because she wasn’t Marion Ravenwood. “Wait — there’s a different woman every time?” he asked, a little worried. I’m not sure what his concern was, and I wasn’t sure how to discuss it, but it seemed to worry him that Indiana Jones, having professed his love to Marion in the last movie, is now running around with anyone else. In his world, I reckon, a man chooses a woman and that’s his mate for the rest of his life. After all, Anakin Skywalker doesn’t have a string of honeys on his way to becoming a Jedi — he picks his mate when he’s nine years old and sticks with her until she dies in childbirth, and then he’s alone forever. That’s the way it’s supposed to go.

(Once he got accustomed to the idea of Indiana Jones’s serial monogamy, he began to wonder about who might be “the woman” in the new movie. He’s kind of hoping it’s this person, but I assured him that Marion Ravenwood is back — and about damn time too, in my opinion. Karen Allen, one of my all-time movieland crushes, looks fabulous.)

Apart from that, Sam was terribly excited by Temple of Doom. He accepted the “wtf?” dance number that opens the movie, he loved the nightclub shootout and the car chase through the streets and the dive out of the airplane. As usual, he had no trouble following the exposition, even when it was delivered by men with strong accents during scenes of people eating live snakes and chilled monkey brains. I think that’s all down to Spielberg’s uncanny visual sense — I can’t think of another director, from Hollywood or elsewhere, who is able to convey so much story simply through choice of images. When Indy and company show up at the deserted Indian village, with its brown fields and bare trees and homely, sad people, Sam, who has never been to India and knows little of Hinduism, immediately said “What’s the matter with the village? Where is everyone? Did someone take the children? Why would someone take their children?” None of these plot-points had been hinted at in the dialogue, yet Sam instantly understood the emotional hook of the movie and its central mystery, instantly knew what the protagonist would want. He was easily ten minutes ahead of the narrative, which eventually has a bony child wandering into the village clutching, for no discernible reason, a fragment of an ancient scroll that explains the thing about the magic rock that blah de blah de blah.

Sam did crawl up into my lap when the Thugee ceremony began (let’s face it, it’s not every day you see a man lowered into boiling lava), but minutes later he was confiding in me that he liked Temple of Doom “better than the first one” and by the time the mine-car chase came along, Sam was moved to start this conversation:

SAM: Is the movie almost over?
DAD: Oh no — they’ve got a whole lot more to go.
SAM: Good! I don’t ever want it to end.

I’m totally with Sam on this point. For all of Temple‘s brutality and darkness, once the third act of kicks in it becomes a non-stop cliff-hanging thrill machine, one unrivaled in cinema in terms of sheer inventiveness, joy and wit.

(I intend to analyze the Indiana Jones movies, and the rest of Spielberg’s work in the near future, but Sam pointed out one piece of art direction that had eluded me through many viewings of this movie: the stage in Willie’s nightclub act at the beginning of the movie is echoed in the Temple of Doom design, with the symmetrical dragon head being replaced by a giant skull. Both Willie’s act and Mola Ram’s sacrifice ritual are, essentially, show business, created to achieve an emotional effect. Both ceremonies also include unexplained, fantastic events: Mola Ram is able to take a man’s still-beating heart from his chest and have him stay alive, and Willie is able to enter her dragon’s mouth and participate an elaborate, impossible dance routine.)
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