Friday, December 02, 2016

Thoughts on Disney Sequels

So, this video from the Nostalgia Critic got me thinking:

Nowadays, when everything coming out of Hollywood is either a re-boot, a sequel, or a remake, it's fashionable for the intelligentsia to despise sequels.  Sequelitis is supposed to represent everything that is wrong with Hollywood and our culture.

And yet, I think the audience's desire for sequels is completely understandable.

This desire may not be entirely rational, but it's entirely predictable given how the human mind works.

You see, consciously we all recognize on some level that movies and books are created by humans, and that they reflect not only the limitations of the humans that created them, but also the limitations of the conditions they were created under.

And yet, subconsciously we don't recognize this at all.  Whenever we are engrossed in a really good movie or book, we forget that this is something that another human being has created, and we feel as if we have been transported into another world.  And this other world feels like it's alive on its own terms.

When we've had a magically experience in a good movie or book, we want to return to this world and spend more time with these characters.
(In fact the human desire for this is so strong that if Hollywood didn't supply the sequels, fans would create them on their own.  See Stuff You Like and the history of FanFiction Parts 1, 2, and 3).

So strong is this unconscious desire that, for me at least, it took me a long time to fully realize that these worlds do not actually exist on their own terms.
The most vivid example of this for my generation is probably the Star Wars prequels.  The production of these movies were announced when I was still in high school, and I was looking forward to them for years.  I was sure they would be amazing because they were Star Wars.
But it turns out Star Wars does not exist as an organic entity.  Star Wars is only as good as the people working on it at any given time.  And it could be that these people and their collaborators change over the years. Or that they run out of good ideas.

I've had similar disillusions in my life with other shows. The Simpsons for example.  When I was 12, I didn't imagine the show would ever drop in quality, because I never really could imagine the show as an assembly line of animators and writers and producers.  I just saw it as its own world when I turned on the TV.
But in fact, it was always an assembly line of animators and writers and producers.  Some of whom left the show, others stayed of whom stayed on, but ran out off good ideas long ago.

And then the Disney Sequels.

My generation was the last generation of children to grow up before the flood of Disney sequels hit.  For us, the idea of a sequel to Peter Pan or The Jungle Book or 101 Dalmatians was only something to be imagined, but never actually seen.
I would have killed to see a Peter Pan sequel back when I was 7 years old.  I loved that movie so much, and desperately wanted more, more, more.  But that's because I didn't fully understand that another trip into this world wouldn't automatically be as magical as the first.
It's probably for the best that our generation was spared these awful lazy sequels.  It kept the original movies more magical for us.
But now the sequels are out there and there's no getting rid of them.  They will be a part of everyone's childhood from this point on, and it will be interesting to see how they will affect the next generation's perception of the legacy of these movies.

The sequel to Peter Pan, Return to Neverland, wasn't terrible.  But it wasn't very good either.

Comparing it to the original, however, can yield some interesting observations.

The original Peter Pan was made all the way back in 1953.  And yet, it holds up surprisingly well.

And I say "surprisingly" because most stuff from the 1950s doesn't hold up very well for modern audiences.
Actually this in itself  is fascinating--when you think about it, the fact that movies have such a short shelf-life before they become dated and unwatchable for the next generation is a very curious phenomena in and of itself--but that's another whole subject, so we'll have to save an examination of that for another post.

For the moment, I just want to observe that because most of the stuff from the 1950s seems very dated and unwatchable to modern audiences, it makes the exceptions all the more interesting.

And for whatever reason, Disney animation seems to be one of the exceptions.  The pacing, the humor, the slapstick of Disney's 1953 Peter Pan can entertain any kid today as easily as it did in the 1950s.

With that in mind, it's interesting to watch the 2002 Return to Neverland, and see exactly how 50 years failed to improve on anything.

In both movies, the journey to Neverland doesn't happen until about 15 minutes in.  So, for both movies approximately the first 15 minutes are devoted to the set-up: showing the characters in their natural home, and setting up their personalities.
This is naturally the most boring part of the movie, but it's a necessary evil.   The characters have to be set up somehow before the story can begin.  We've got to get through these first 15 minutes somehow.

In the 1953 version of this movie, the writers knew that the only way to get the audience through this part was to make it as funny as possible.  Characters have to be set-up, sure, but there's no reason why we can't have a few laughs while we're doing it.
Watch the 1953 version of this movie, and count just how many jokes, gags, and slapstick are in that first 15 minutes.  Or better yet, count how many seconds you have to go before there's another laugh--the gags fly at you so fast, you seldom have to wait more than a couple seconds. (The whole movie is available on youtube here--unfortunately the embedding function is disabled,  but if you just want a small taste of the opening, I've embedded a 3 minute clip below).

Now remember, this was back in 1953.  The only way you could see movies in those days was to drive to the theater.  The audience had already bought their ticket, and we're settled into their seats in the cinema. No one at Disney was worried about that the audience was not going to stick through the whole set up because they got bored.  Once the audience had bought their tickets, they were in for the whole show.
And yet, they still went out of their way to make sure they crammed as many laughs into the set-up as they possible could.

Compare this to the 2002 Return to Neverland, where there are virtually no jokes in the first 15 minutes, and it's a struggle to even stay awake until the Pirates arrive.

(Once again, the whole movie is available on youtube, here, but I can't embed it.  Embedded below is just a 4 minute clip.  The set-up continues for another 10 minutes after this if you watch the whole thing.  Notice the complete lack of any laughs during the whole thing.)

This is a prime example of writers taking their audience for granted.  "Yeah, whatever, just throw something on the screen.  They'll sit through it.  Stupid kids will sit through anything on the TV."

But aside from lazy writers, it's also important to remember that the original 1953 Peter Pan spent years in production.  The movie was in development since the 1930s, and the Disney company spent years writing and re-writing and re-writing it.

This is something we as an audience know consciously, but forget subconsciously.  Especially when we are absorbed in the magic of the movie, we forget exactly just how much work went into creating the story, and we think it would be the simplest thing ever to just return to this world and have everything be as magical as it was the first time.

We badly want to return to this magic, and Disney will gladly take our cash, but no one is willing to spend another 15 years writing and developing the next Peter Pan movie.  And so it's inevitable that we'll get a lazy sequel that will disappoint everyone.

Anyway, all of this is a long way of saying that I understand the Nostalgia Critic's desire for more Disney sequels.  I also want to return to these magical worlds.  But it's impossible.  The magic of the first movie can never be re-created.

But as long as the Nostalgia Critic is dreaming, let me join him in this fantasy.  Let's imagine, for the sake of this little fantasy, that sequels could somehow be made would recapture the magic of the originals.  Which Disney sequels would I like to see?

I agree with the Nostalgia critic on many of his choices: more Robin Hood.  More Great Mouse Detective.
I would also love to see more Sword in the Stone.  After all, this book was only the first in The Once and Future King tetralogy--there's 3 more books on the King Arthur legend waiting to be adopted.
More adventures of Mr Toad, Rat, Mole and Badger.
Assuming for the sake of this fantasy that the magic of the original Bambi could be reproduced, I'd be all for a Bambi sequel.
I'd be up for more Jungle Book as well.   (I know it already got one sequel, but there are many adventures a boy could have in the jungle.)

And more Peter Pan.  That one sequel wasn't enough.  There are so many more adventures left to be had on Neverland.

Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson

(Graded Reader)

This is yet another children's picture book in which the actual language itself is not ideal for an ESL classroom, but the illustrations in the book convey the meaning so perfectly that it is possible to use this book effectively.

I used with book with elementary young learners (mostly 8 and 9 years of age) and they enjoyed the imagination in the book.

I also supplemented the book with this Youtube video here.

Link of the Day

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Survey Form for Modal Verbs

(TESOL Worksheets--Modal Verbs)
Google: Docs, Pub
This is a mingle activity for Modal Verbs.  I used it to supplement Life Elementary Textbook lesson 11B Planning for a Holiday p.132-133.  As such, it reflects the modal verbs emphasized in that lesson: can, cannot, have to, don't have to.  But I think it can also be used independently of the textbook.

Student name
What time do you have to get to work/school every day?

Can you drink coffee at your job/school?

Can you listen to music at your job/school?

Can you take a personal phone call at your job/school?

Do you have to wear a necktie at your job/school?

What is something that you cannot do at your job/school?

What is something that you have to do at your job/school?

Do you have to go to work/school every day?

What is something that you don’t have to do at your job/school?

The Ling Space: What Constraints Are There on Linguistic Sounds? Optimality Theory

(The Ling Space)

I'm running out of intelligent things to say about these Ling Space episodes.  My comments are going to be the same as usual.
So, let's march through my usual observations.  As always:
* I feel like I understood this, but barely.  I really had to watch closely, and I kept having to pause nad go back
* Once I put in the effort though, I found it interesting
* The Ling Space is like essentially a graduate level linguistics program available for free on Youtube.  It's really cool that they're making all this available for  people.  I wish I had watched all this before I had done my Masters degree.

Those are more or less the same comments I make for every Ling Space review.  But they're true here as well.
As for specifically this episode, I have some experience with Japanese phonotactics from my 8 years living in Japan.  One of the first things foreigners always notice is how Japanese speakers will always add in extra vowels to English words because Japanese only permits /m/ and /n/ in the coda, as The Ling Space said.

In fact I wrote a post back in 2006 about this--Joel's Guide to Japlish.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Hop on Pop by Dr Seuss

(Graded Reader)

Because I've been doing these books as I find them, I've not done a very good job of arranging them in level of difficulty.  I just got done with Strega Nona, which had very complex sentences for an ESL class.  And now I'm doing Hop on Pop, which is incredibly easy and simple.

If I ever go through these materials again, I'll try to sequence them better.  For the time being, however, I figured a little bit of jumping around in difficulty wasn't the end of the world.  It was good to challenge the students with something above their level every once in a while, and then it was also good to give them something easy to build up their confidence.

If you only have vague memories of this book from childhood, I'll recount it briefly:

This book was designed to teach young children how to read, so it only features very short words.

It was designed for native-speaking children, and some aspects are not ideal for the ESL classroom.  For example the word "pop" as a synonym for "dad" is very easy to spell and to pronounce, but low-frequency enough that it probably isn't of much use to a beginning ESL student.
Other words like "still" are also easy to spell, but have a meaning that is difficult to explain to beginning students.
And sometimes Dr Seuss tries to force rhymes with words that are spelled similar, but actually pronounced with different vowels (e.g. "wet" and "get") which could cause confusion to ESL students still learning pronunciation.

All those caveats aside, however, I have to say that this book worked well in my class.  Although it was slightly below the level of my students, they still enjoyed at it, laughed at the pictures, and hopefully got something out of it.

In my class, I also used this youtube video to supplement the book.

Link of the Day
Noam Chomsky on NATO 

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Human Bingo With Feel

(TESOL Worksheets--Vocabulary)

Google: drive, docs, pub
This is a Human Bingo game designed to practice 4 different meanings of the word "feel".  (to give an opinion, to talk about an emotion, to talk about physical illness, to talk about wanting to do something)  It was used to supplement Life Pre-Intermediate Textbook lesson 1C Health and Happiness p.14-15

feel sick
feel like getting coffee after class
feel like not going to work/school tomorrow
feel that Facebook is a waste of time
feel heartbroken
feel like going to bed right now
feel that there is too much traffic in this city
feel that dogs make better pets than cats
feel that there is too much homework in this class
feel like watching a movie tonight
feel that pollution is a big problem
feel hungry
feel like partying all night long
feel like eating pizza right now
feel in love
feel like going on a vacation
feel thirsty
feel angry
feel that this city is too noisy
feel tired
feel happy
feel sleepy
feel that they spend too much time working/studying
feel sad

Monday, November 28, 2016

Life Pre-Intermediate Textbook: 1C Health and Happiness p.14-15

(Supplemental Materials for Specific Textbooks--Life Pre-Intermediate)

Lead-in: docs, pub (taken from here)

Are you a happy person?
What is happiness for you?
What do you think is the color for happiness?
Do you think that happiness lies within you? Or does it depend upon other people and external things?
Can money buy happiness?
Is happiness a state of mind?
What makes you feel happy?
What are the three most important things for you to be happy?
Is happiness relative, that is, does it have a different meaning for each person?
Are single people happy?
Would you be happier with a soul mate or single?
Does having an animal/pet make you happy?
What is the effect that animals/pets have on people to make them feel happy?
What makes you happy?
When was the happiest time of your childhood?
Can you be happy if you are rich?
Can you be happy is you are poor?
How can you become happy again when you are sad?
Is happiness a goal?
How often do you feel really happy?
Are the people in your country generally very happy?
Are you very happy most of the time?
What makes you unhappy?
What's the most miserable you've been?
How happy are you compared with your friends?
Do you wake up happy every morning?
Do you agree that older people are less happy?
What is there to be happy about in the world today?
What affects your levels of happiness?
Does your happiness change during different times of the day, week, month or year?
What is or was the happiest time of your life?
Do you need money to be happy?
What do you think of the idea of a government Happiness Minister who is responsible for the happiness of the population?
Do you think some nations are happier than others?
What is missing in your life that would make you very happy?
Why are teenagers some of the happiest people in the world?
What was the happiest time in your entire life?
Do you feel that you have to work hard and be miserable now in order to be happy later?