Hearts, Hearts, My Kingdom for Some Hearts!

My gaming history is not as extensive as some, but, in addition to being a master at the original Spyro the Dragon trilogy (and the Reignited version,) three other prominent series feature in my repertoire. One is Final Fantasy – I have yet to play them all, but X, VIII, and Crisis Core are some of my all-time favorites. I am also a Pokemon master. But the last is Kingdom Hearts, and, since Kingdom Hearts III is FINALLY dropping at the end of the month, I thought I’d make a post about why I love the series so much.

Kingdom Hearts I was released for the PS2 in 2002, when I was ten years old, but I didn’t play it (nor KHII, released in 2005) until around eighth/ninth grade. I remember seeing the commercials for it, though – and being drawn in by Utada Hikaru’s theme song for the original game. Going into it, all I knew was that it combined Final Fantasy-type elements with Disney, an idea that could only have been cooked up by a Square Enix employee and a Disney employee meeting in an elevator.

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I thought it sounded silly – a wide-eyed, big-shoed protagonist named Sora fighting to save Disney-themed worlds from being engulfed in darkness with Donald Duck and Goofy at his side – but eventually picked up the game on special at Game Stop… and that was it. I was hooked from the first opening cinematic.

Now, I made things difficult for myself when I played KH1. I might have skipped over some tutorial stuff… and did not realize you could change your Keyblade until I was battling Ursula. So… yeah. I’m not going to claim to be some expert on the games, but I have since proven to be rather efficient at the series. I’ll admit, I have played, but never beaten, Chain of Memories (both the GBA and PS editions) and 358/2 Days. I hated the battle system in both, so I gave up before finishing them. The only hand-held games I really got into were Birth By Sleep and 3D, both of which I loved. I also own most of the manga series, a figurine, and a couple of blankets with KH designs on them.

50My favorite keyblades are Lionheart, Rumbling Rose, and Stroke of Midnight. My favorite worlds are Neverland (in both Birth by Sleep and the original game) Halloween Town (in both I and II) Space Paranoids from II, Castle of Dreams from Birth By Sleep, and both Prankster’s Paradise and Symphony of Sorcery from 3D. My favorite playable character is Aqua, my favorite villain is Vanitas, and my favorite Disney companions are Peter Pan and Tron, though Beast is a badass too. The boss battle I most struggled with (besides Ursula that first time through) is probably Xaldin, in II. And yes… “JUMP UP ON THE HYDRA’S BACK!!!” is probably the most annoying line in the entire series. I have yelled “SHUT UP, PHIL” many, many times at my television screen.

kingdom_heartsThere’s an earnest quality to the Kingdom Hearts games, which is part of what makes it so appealing to me. At it’s core, it’s a story about the power of friendship against the pull of the shadows, of darkness vs. light, and the mottled, massive gray space in-between it all. It’s unabashed fun that doesn’t apologize for being occasionally convoluted, that doesn’t acknowledge how absurd it is to have Squall Leonhart teaming up with Merlin, or Sora rescuing the puppies from 101 Dalmatians from the multicolored mouth of the whale Monstro, of the heroic trio beating Captain Hook in battle, then flying around the face of Big Ben in search of a keyhole. The artwork and character/world design is fantastic across all of the games, and the music is wonderful, combining original themes and Disney scores. Whenever I hear any version of the theme song, my chest swells with excitement, and I go into new Disney films wondering what a Kingdom Hearts version of that world would look like. It has become the series that I have bought entire consoles for – I bought a PSP just for Birth by Sleep.

I haven’t been waiting thirteen years for the next main installment in the series, like many dedicated fans of the Kingdom Hearts series have. Regardless, I cannot wait until the end of this month, where we will finally, after seventeen years, reach the end of the current saga, and the war for Kingdom Hearts reaches a dramatic and conclusive finale.

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One Shot #3: Tron Legacy (2010)

I have previously mentioned my enduring love for Tron: Legacy, directed by visionary director Joseph Kosinskibut in case you are unaware, here’s a brief synopsis of my persistent adoration. At one point, I had a Tron wall in my room. I have 2 action figures on my shelf and a glow-in-the-dark Tron Funko Pop. I wrote one of the best academic papers of my life about this film – a 27 page essay entitled “Biodigital Jazz, Man.” I saw it three times in theaters, twice in 3D.

Why does this film resonate with me? To be honest, it’s not the narrative that appeals to me the most. It’s a perfectly serviceable film with great performances and a standard, yet engaging story – and a killer soundtrack. But the aspect I love the most is the visuals. Not only because they are stunning, but because they assist in telling the story and revealing character development and thematic elements MORE THAN ANY OTHER FILM I HAVE EVER SEEN. You can quote me on that.

And though I can pick many shots that come to mind when I think of this film, and I can, excuse my French – analyze THE SHIT out of this movie based on a wide variety of stills – this is the most telling shot for me:

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What’s the importance of this shot, you ask – besides the amazing color palette and costumes? It’s visually relaying one of the ideological messages of the film by placing the actors in triangular formation within a scene, almost as a representation of a ‘holy trinity.’ Though this is not the only representation of this in the film, this is the most overt, with Flynn – The Creator – at the center, in an almost godlike position. These images, combined with the fact that Flynn is referred to as “The Creator,” Sam (right) is called “Son of Flynn,” and Quorra (left) is referred to as “The miracle,” help to convey the religious undertones of the narrative in a visual manner. There are other religious and spiritual elements in this film, weaving seamlessly into themes of betrayal, creation, power, and purpose, and each of these three characters assist in the delivery of those messages, which makes placing them in this position all the more telling. It is also indicative of the shifting power structure within the narrative, but I don’t want to delve too deep with that because I’d hate to spill spoilers for a film that came out eight years ago.

And that’s all in one image, folks. This film absolutely nails the “show not tell” idea – a skill that the director carried over to Oblivion, a film I only watched because of him because I don’t like Tom Cruise. Seriously, if you haven’t watched this movie, I challenge you to do so – and see if you can pinpoint other important “trinities” visually represented in the film, because there are two more that I picked out.

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If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK. Nook book is also $1.99 and paperback is $9.99 on BN.com.

 

Tale As Old As Time

Some stories contain a message so pure – so resoundingly true, and profound, even in their simplicity – that the words withstand the trials of time, and echo in the hearts and minds of dreamers and believers of all ages.

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Front balcony seats ftw!

I was never much of a “girly-girl” growing up. My older sister played with Barbie dolls, while my favorite was Scuba-Diving Ken. He lost his head in a tragic snorkeling accident and I didn’t much bother with dolls after that. But a part of me has always had a soft spot for fairy-tales, particularly those re-imagined by Disney.  And Disney’s 1991’s animated masterpiece is one of my favorite films of all time, a timeless tale of love and redemption – so when I had an opportunity to get tickets for the stage show, I dove on it.

Last night, my mom, sister, and I went to see the touring production of Beauty & the Beast while it was in York, PA, at the Strand Capitol Performing Arts Center. As a fan of both Disney and Broadway musicals, I was extremely excited to see one of my favorite stories brought to life onstage. I’d seen the touring production when it came to Baltimore over a decade ago, but the only thing I remember about that is getting lost on my way back from the bathroom and missing several minutes of the show. Then again, I was seven. I still have my souvenir rose from that production.

Now, I’m twenty-three. I don’t believe in fairy-tales, and don’t particularly want to be a princess. But there’s something inherently magical about a story like Beauty & The Beast that attracts a variety of different people. While I’m not a fan of children, it was pretty cute to see all the little kids there, excited for the show – and there were lots of little girls in Belle / princess costumes. There were a loads of twenty-somethings, older couples, groups of friends, theater kids, and families.

The theater itself is beautiful, with decent acoustics, and we were lucky to get tickets on the front balcony, so I (a dwarfish 5’3″) would not have to crane my neck to see the performance. By the time the lights went out and first notes of the Overture began, I knew I was in for something special.

During the show, my expectations were met, then exceeded. The musical remains true to the heart of the Disney film, retaining many of the songs, lines, and dialogue, while adding several new elements and expanding on certain aspects that were not a major factor in the film version. There are new songs that help convey the emotions of the characters, and expand upon the humorous, egotistical attitude of Gaston (‘Me‘,) the plight of the cursed objects (‘Human Again,’ originally intended for the film,) the turmoil of the Beast (‘If I Can’t Love Her‘ and ‘How Long Must This Go On?‘,) and an altered version of ‘Something There‘ that expands the romantic development between Belle and Beast.

Each actor/actress suited their role, remaining true to the original characterization while adding their own spirit to the already-familiar quirks of each character. For me, the highlights were Belle (Brooke Quintana), who nailed the ‘Belle – Reprise’ and gave me chills during ‘Home‘, Beast (Sam Hartley) who performed a moving rendition of ‘If I Can’t Love Her,’ my favorite song in the show, Gaston (Christiaan Smith-Kotlarek) who balanced humor, narcissism, and villainy while delivering some of the funniest moments (“I’m especially good at expectorating” is my favorite line, not sure why…), Lumiere (Ryan N. Phillips,), Cogsworth (Sam Shurtleff,) Mrs. Potts (Stephanie Gray,) Babette (Melissa Jones) and Madame de la Grand Bouche (Stephanie Harter Gilmore) as the Beast’s often-hilarious “family” and support system as he tries to become a real “gentleman” and prove himself as a worthy match to Belle. The entire cast, every singing plate, dancing carpet, townsperson, and living statue, enhanced the experience and helped bring the magic of the story alive onstage.

The familiar songs were wonderful, especially ‘Gaston’ with a pretty amazing synchronized cup-clinking interlude, and ‘Be Our Guest‘ which ended in an explosion of streamers. Quite the nostalgia trip. We saw what I believe to be a more ‘streamlined’ version of the musical, as ‘No Matter What‘ and ‘Maison Des Lunes‘ were cut, but that didn’t detract from the production, as there were plenty of songs, both new and old, to enjoy. The orchestra was brilliant, the overall set design was impressive, especially the puppets for the wolves/Enchantress and all of the elaborate moving set-pieces, and the costumes (in particular, for the enchanted objects) were incredible. Even with the changes, the message of the story itself, that beauty comes from within, remains at the core – and shines through each aspect of the show. Also, the dancing rug was a major highlight. Could not stop laughing for a solid minute after he came onstage.

Shout-out to the very nice usher who took at least 6 photos of us until my sister was satisfied.
Shout-out to the very nice usher who took at least 6 photos of us until my sister was satisfied.

My sister isn’t as much of a musical buff as me or my mom (though she does like them), but Beauty & the Beast is her favorite Disney film. I looked over at her as the last notes of the finale rang out in the theater. I was a little teary-eyed, as I am during the finale of almost every musical, but that was nothing compared to my sister. She turns to me, tears coursing down her face, and says, “I’M *EXPLETIVE*-ING SOBBING.” I laughed. Heavily. Which helped prevent me from dissolving into a tearful mess myself. Even my mom got a little teary, which just goes to show the power that a story can have.

The tale of Beauty & the Beast is a simple one. That love can conquer seemingly unbeatable odds, beauty truly comes from within, and that it is never to late to change for the better. Sometimes, the simplest stories are the most memorable ones – the ones that echo in our hearts for years, like a well-loved song. And that is the reason why Beauty & the Beast, in all its forms, truly is a tale as old as time, and always will be.

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