Bagheera’s Expanded Role – The Jungle Book (2016)

The thing that I recall most fondly about the 1967 Disney animated movie is Bagheera the panther. Maybe it was because of the character’s sleek design (I’ve always liked that aesthetic), or maybe it was because of his sense of responsibility (Baloo’s laid-back nature bothered me, even as a child). Either way, Bagheera was the number one character I was looking forward to in this movie, and my hopes and expectations were more than met. Bagheera’s role in this movie was expanded beyond what he was given in the 1967 cartoon, and the new movie benefits from it.

To begin with, Baloo’s identity as “Poppa Bear” from the cartoon is nowhere to be seen. There’s no talk of adopting and raising Mowgli. There’s still a fondness between them, but it’s treated as more of a partnership and a friendship, which fits for the timeframe that the two know each other. Instead, it’s Bagheera who really becomes the father figure of the man-cub. Any time Mowgli is snatched into danger, it’s for Bagheera that he calls. It’s also on Bagheera that the camera tends to linger when there’s a turning point for Mowgli, but I will get to that in a moment.

With Bagheera taking a larger role, the movie really required top notch talent to carry the panther through his various emotions. Sir Ben Kingsley (voice), Justin Marks (screenwriter), and the animation team knocked it out of the park with Bagheera. In one of many interviews, Sir Kingsley described the character as having “authority, discipline, command, and then underneath that of course, tremendous loyalty and affection” (Collider). Through the animation, the script, and the voice work, this is exactly what we are shown.

One instance that stands out to me in particular comes as Bagheera and Baloo are scaling a cliff to rescue Mowgli from King Louie. Baloo, being terrified of heights, freezes partway up. In response, Bagheera stops to look Baloo in the eye and tell him, ““Look at me, look at nothing else but me. You’re doing fine. Keep your eyes up high.” It’s a beautifully small scene that adds a little bit more to the character, touching on both notions of discipline and affection in the same line.

Certain story changes from the cartoon also allow for these traits to surface. For example, Bagheera is required to be absent from Mowgli’s story in order for the boy to grow (Vox), but the way in which this happens in this movie is preferable to to the 1967 cartoon. In the original Disney adaptation, Bagheera leaves after one frayed nerve too many. In fact, Bagheera’s main obstacle to his loyalty in that version seems to be himself. He’s endlessly trying to untangle himself from the Mowgli mess only to come running back any time he hears of danger to the man-cub. In the 2016 script, physical barriers alone keep him from Mowgli’s side. This gives the audience a stronger sense of Bagheera’s loyalty.

There could be an argument made that Bagheera’s turmoil over Mowgli in the cartoon makes him a more complex character. Perhaps, but those shifts in mood seem to be more driven by the plot’s demands instead of the character’s motivations. The 2016 film flips that on its head. Bagheera is given his own character arc that helps propel the plot forward.

Spoilers ahead for The Jungle Book

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Halo: The Fall of Reach – Gaming’s Place in Literature

The first entry in my series, Halo’s Place in Science Fiction for Halo Archive, this analysis on The Fall of Reach will also be the first entry in a more expansive series.

Gaming’s Place in Literature seeks to examine game-related fiction through different lenses of literary analysis.

Fall of Reach is very much a character-driven story. Scenes transition from one to the other when a character point is made or developed, as opposed to the completion of an event. In fact, looking at it from a whole, there is not that much of a solid plot. There is the underlying themes of what it takes to save humanity and the continual comparisons of lives spent and lives wasted. Each segment gives something else from which the next can continue and build. However, there is no overarching story line; it’s more a chronicle of events.

I do not fault Fall of Reach for this, not in the slightest. This is no detraction from the novel. One of the most widely celebrated science fiction novels, Starship Troopers, is the same. There is an end goal and a final exciting event that changes the course of the war, but the story is more about the characters and their journey. Quite frankly, I think a plot would get in the way with the sort of story that Fall of Reach is trying to tell.

A plotted story calls for resolution at the end, be it triumph or tragedy. Here, there is no resolution. Halsey’s constant questioning of morality is never answered. John’s understanding of winning/losing and spending/wasting lives is never finalized. Keyes and his crew find their morale, only to have to torn from their grasp. Cortana has barely entered the world proper and already her goals have been forced to shift drastically. It’s a strange sense of reality that was interwoven so beautifully that I didn’t even realize the lack of plot until I sat down to write this piece.

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“Smart” Science Fiction

The Museum of Science Fiction recently tweeted out an essay with a question attached:


I at first assumed that “smart” science fiction was referring to “hard” sci-fi, where real-life science defines the rules and, more often than not, drives the plot. Reading through the piece, I discovered that the author Darren Beyer instead defines smart science fiction as:

Novels like The Martian and the Atlantis series rely on plot, theme, tempo, and realism to draw the reader in, versus attracting them simply because they belong to a genre the reader finds appealing.

Beyer goes onto say that smart science fiction has been a staple of the genre over the years, but it has never made the leap to the mainstream until recently due to the majority of novels catering to old tropes.

I am of two minds about this. The first part says that there is no hard-and-fast rule for how a genre is defined. The second part makes worrisome noises and warily eyes old quotes of literature elitism.

In the past, many authors have done their best to have their books avoid the dreaded “science fiction” label. After all, that meant talking squids and spaceships, and nothing serious or insightful could come from such things. While Beyer’s essay does keep the novels like The Martian firmly planted in the science fiction genre, I disagree with separating them from the other piece of science fiction based on quality.

For one, the way I discover new works is that I look for common themes that I would like to explore further. The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell was picked up because I wanted to read more science fiction in which songs played an important role. I first read Starship Troopers because Halo had given me a craving for military science fiction. Sub-genres work because they are based on similar elements.

Secondly, it seems to be a similar separation, though on a lesser scale, to avoid a dreaded label. That work isn’t space opera – it’s a serious exploration of imperialism. This work isn’t an alien invasion book – it’s a metaphor for communism. These works are GoodTM and therefore cannot be scifi horror, alternate history, cyberpunk, etc. Perhaps this is not what Beyer meant, but the sub-genre of “smart” science fiction rings a little too close for my taste.

But then that loops around to the first part of my mind; there is no solid definition for science fiction, and like genres themselves, there are many overlaps in sub-genres. If smart science fiction is a sub-genre that Beyer can use to organize his readings and his understanding of science fiction as a whole, then he is welcome to use it. I, on the other hand, will pass.

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Reading Buddy

Almost a year ago, an old friend of mine passed away. Her name was Mary Hyvonen, and we met when I was in fifth grade.

Our school had recently established a new program to encourage literacy in students – the “reading buddies” – in which adult members of the community would come in once a week on Friday to spend an hour reading with a student. Mary was my assigned reading buddy, a woman who worked for one of the local dentist offices. After our introduction, we soon found our place of reading, the landing between the second and third floor of a stairwell. That corner became very familiar with our backs the year.

Come to think of it, I wonder if that landing I shared with Mary is part of the reason why I, in high school, folded myself to fit a skinny windowsill in a small back stairwell near the library to read.

One of our books was Redwall by Brian Jacques. Mary didn’t shy away from the silly accents or verbal tics of the different species, nor from saying them out loud in an echoing stairwell. Instead she took to the characters with gusto, giving every sentence its proper dramatic weight. She made the characters, the small woodland critters, feel tall.

The other book we read together was a tattered copy of The Lost World: Jurassic Park junior novelization that I plucked from my teacher’s shelf. I had already read it, but I was eager to share my dinosaur love and knowledge with someone. Mary could have nodded and said simply how smart I was every time I stopped our reading to spout off a random fact, and ten-year-old me would have been happy.

Instead, Mary took notes. She would scribble in the margins of the paper she brought with her, as if the things I said were as important as a professor’s lecture. When my teacher stopped by to check on us, she would proudly show him the new fact I had shared with her. In appreciation, I drew her a picture of a raptor and she would tell me for years after, whenever I went to the dentist’s office, that she still had it. Mary made me, one of the shortest kids in the class, feel tall.

Thank you, Mary.

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Kind (of) Like J’onn

In a recent interview, Supergirl’s executive producer called J’onn J’onzz “the warmest soul in the DC universe,” and heavens above if that isn’t the perfect description of the Manhunter from Mars. Ever since I truly took the plunge into the DC universe, J’onn was the character I latched onto the most.

My first introduction to Martian Manhunter was in middle school, I believe. I picked up a Justice League graphic novel on a whim and thought: a “manhunter” is a good guy?  That sounded like a villainous title to me. I never made it past the first few pages of the novel, and would have to wait almost a decade before I learned exactly who this fellow was, and I wish I had known him sooner.

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“These are your first steps.”: Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth in The Force Awakens

Dear stranger to whom I gave a ride home from The Force Awakens, I was delighted that you invoked the Hero’s Journey when sharing your thoughts on the new Star Wars. Part of me wishes that the space between the theater and your house was longer so that we could get farther than simply establishing that we both knew the monomyth. However, one thing that you said stuck with me: that you wished there was more of the Hero’s Journey present in Rey’s story in The Force Awakens, like there was in The Empire Strikes Back for Luke. Yet, no matter how good The Empire Strikes Back is, it only contains a portion of the monomyth which started in A New Hope. Similarly, The Force Awakens gives us the beginning of Rey’s Journey, and in fact, doubles-up on certain steps in the Departure stage of the Classical Monomyth.

[Spoilers under the cut]

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Alien vs. Predator: Battle of the Sexes?

This is by no means well-thought out or with any solid arguments, and probably will have to be revisited once I’ve done further research, but I needed to get this on paper.

Alien feels like a very feminine franchise whereas Predator feels very masculine, in the traditional sense of both words. Please keep in mind that when I speak of masculinity and femininity in these films, it’s in a very traditional (sometimes veering into stereotypical) sense.

Also keep in mind that the only Predator movies I have seen are Alien vs. Predator and Alien vs. Predator: Requiem, and I freely acknowledge that the latter likely adds no more to the Predator franchise than it did to the Alien franchise, which is zero. I will not be counting Requiem as part of either franchise for the rest of this post.

So going off of the enjoyable AVP film, this is where the contrast was immediately highlighted for me. For one, the Alien films all have a female lead, even Prometheus: Woods, Shaw, and of course Ripley. With the exception of AVP, all the Predator films have male leads (or so IMDB tells me. Weaver did get second billing when the first Alien film came out. Maybe Predators did the same?).

The design of the monsters in the AVP film also seem to have distinctly feminine and masculine features. We hear of the square jaws of heroic men and the curves of beautiful women. The Predators have a very geometric aesthetic, the xenomorphs are all curves and fluidity.

The actions and very presence of the two aliens are also in this dichotomy. The Predators take up space; they make their presence known. Their threat revolves around technology and the destruction of life (men are stereotypically the ‘violent’ sex). The xenomorphs flit from shadow to shadow; they make themselves small. Their threat revolves around reproduction and the birth of new life (women are traditionally the nurturers).

I definitely want to revisit this hypothesis after I watch the Predator films.

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