A Pleasant Stay in Pawnee


from wikipedia

from wikipedia

I’ve been shotgunning Parks and Recreation on Netflix recently. Most of it is new to me. Since the first season, I’ve only sporadically watched the show. Parks and Rec started when I was really into The Office (Season 2 of The Office is one of the best seasons a TV show has ever had) and the similarities on tone and format got me interested. However, that first season, not unlike The Office’s truncated first season, was kind of bad. The tone was all over the place, there was little rapport between the characters and it simply was that funny. They brought over the cringes from The Office but left out the laughs. When My Name is Earl got cancelled as the lead in to The Office, I felt fine ignoring the rest of the NBC Thursday night line up and just watching The Office. If I remembered it was on. That was an unfortunate decision, since that same fall Community got started.

I’ve caught episodes of Parks and Rec infrequently since then, generally finding them to be pleasant but lacking a little punch. Still, I found them enjoyable enough to put the show in my Netflix Instant Queue. (which isn’t called that anymore, but who cares) Now that I’ve finally grown tired of endlessly rewatching Always Sunny, Futurama and Psych, I started up Parks and Rec. The first season is still not very good. It manages to get the characters set up, but there really aren’t any stand out episodes. Season 2, though, leaps to consistently excellent heights and the show stays there pretty much constantly from then on.

At least parts of my sporadic impressions of the show were accurate. Yes, some of the individual episodes do lack a little punch, but the work a lot better when you have seen the surrounding episodes and a better idea of the running gags. That is true of any show, but Parks and Rec does a particularly excellent job of building a world for the show to inhabit. It is the other part of my impression that was most spot on. The show is pleasant. Parks and Rec is almost relentlessly pleasant. That is the shows defining characteristic, it’s almost absurd positivity. Despite facing nothing but personal and professional setbacks, the characters of this show always seem to be smiling. There are still the cringe inducing moments like The Office specialized in, but they are usually softened by some sweet moment only seconds later.

Leslie Knope, star of the show, embodies this positivity most of all. She works a job that grinds everyone else down. They grow frustrated in their inability to actually accomplish anything through the bureaucracy and give up to either find work in the private sector or go about their jobs without thought or enthusiasm. Leslie greets each hurdle in her path like a gift, champing at the bit to fight her way through some red tape despite know that on the other side is simply more red tape. She’s not stupid or unaware, she simply enjoys her work. It rubs off on the rest of the cast. Anne, Tom, Mark and occasionally even Ron get swept up in her enthusiasm at times.

Parks and Rec also manages to change its situations without affecting the premise. Character’s role change, but they find new ones, ones that just so happen to keep them with the Parks and Rec. April moves on from being an intern to being Ron’s assistant. Ann and Andy break up, but both of them are organically kept as part of the show. After the second season Mark leaves, but he is replaced by Ben and Chris, changing up some character dynamics but not fundamentally altering the show.

The most remarkable facet of the show is how well it portrays friendships. All the characters seem to genuinely like each other. Leslie and Ann have possibly the best realized female friendship I can remember seeing on TV. They are not unlike Scrubs’ Turk and JD, though with less sexual tension. Once their friendship is established, sometime in the second season, they are always shown to be true friends. They may have disagreements, but they never let it come between them. Then you have Ron Swanson. He is undoubtedly the best character on the show, and despite his gruff demeanor is shown to be a true and loyal friend to most of the rest of the cast. He and Leslie have a friendship that transcends their diametrically opposed political viewpoints, often going well out of their way to help each other. He tends to take the younger characters, April, Tom and Andy, under his wing in various fashions. He supports Tom’s efforts as an entrepreneur despite finding him ridiculous. He enjoys April’s surliness and appreciates Andy’s unthinking zest.

What is amazing is that a show that bases so much of its humor on its characters is how little comes from direct conflict between those characters. There is conflict between characters, both generally they are all working to the same goal. The humor comes from that fact that they work to that goal like a pack of cats tied to a dogsled, each one trying to go its own way and everyone getting nowhere. There is one big exception to this; April. While her bored cynicism is at least partly an obvious front, she is still fond of throwing a wrench in things just to watch them go wrong. She is the only character on the show that deliberately causes conflict.

Nothing describes Parks and Recreation was well as pleasant. It is a happy show about happy people who are just trying to help. At this point, I think it has surpassed The Office as the better show. Its heights aren’t quite as high, (Seriously, The Office Season 2 is so great) but it doesn’t have the lows of that show either. I actually hate to compare the shows at this point, because while the similarities in tone, style and subject early on made them seem like carbon copies, Parks and Rec has morphed into its own thing. It appears that Parks and Recreation will be coming to a close after its upcoming 7th season. Now that I am just about caught up I am sad, but not surprised. That is a good long time for a show to run, and better that it ends maybe a touch early that staying on too long and becoming a terrible shadow of itself. Or even worse, for the show to lose the pleasant nature that makes it so enjoyable to begin with.

2nd Quest: Oracle of Seasons

I know I said I was going to play Majora’s Mask, and I am currently doing so, but after finishing up Bravely Default I needed something to play on my 3DS. So I picked up my game of Oracle of Seasons game that I gave up when I got A Link Between Worlds for Christmas. I am glad I finally got the chance to finish it up. I wasn’t much a fan of the other Oracle game. It was good, but Oracle of Ages has way too much tedious chatting and fetch questing in between the parts where the player actually gets to play. Oracle of Seasons doesn’t have much of that nonsense, and it’s all the better for it. While not as quite as good as Link’s Awakening, Oracle of Seasons is an excellent game. It is, however, maybe the most difficult Zelda game that is not on the NES.


The internet tells me that Oracle of Seasons started as remake of the original Legend of Zelda. I believe it. The two games are quite alike. The first three or four dungeons of Seasons are much like the early dungeons of LoZ. Later the season changing mechanics become more involved, which obscures the similatiries, but there are still some. Many of the bosses are straight out of the first game. It is also, at times, brutally difficult. I don’t think I would have beaten it if I hadn’t been playing a linked game and therefore able to get the Master Sword. Oracle of Ages is a test of the player’s mind, Oracle of Seasons is a test of the player’s skill. There are some tricky puzzles, but there are more hazards and enemies. Like the LoZ’s rooms full of Darknuts and Wizrobes, OoS is all about the mastery of Zelda’s stiff combat. The individual rooms in the dungeons aren’t as difficult as the originals, the later dungeons are more of a prolonged nightmare. Normally, once you clear a room it is cleared until you leave the dungeon or die. However, in Oracle of Seasons, when you go into one of the side scrolling underground areas all the enemies respawn. Which means that as the player moves through the dungeon, there are no cleared rooms. They are always full of enemies.


Also, the game doesn’t have the same potion as the original. In that game there were blue and red potions, good for one or two uses depending on which color. In Oracle of Seasons, there is a potion, which you have to do most of the trading sequence to unlock, which is one use and is automatically used when you run out of hearts. So if you wanted to save it for the boss but you fell to a half dozen wizrobes just before, you’d have to leave the dungeon and run all the way across the map to get a new one. It is a frustrating decision. All together it means that that while the individual challenges are never as hard as Legend of Zelda’s, there is a constant source of tension and challenge in that there are always more enemies.

The first half of this game is just perfectly smooth. Compared to the other handheld Zelda’s, this game is really straightforward. There is none of the nonsense between the player and the dungeons, that player must only find them. It is refreshing. I love the Zelda series, but sometimes the games bog down forcing the player to do things that simply aren’t that fun. Seasons, the first half in particular, is remarkably short on that kind of stuff. The game is Zelda on the simplest terms in a lot of ways. Where it deviates from that is with the Rod of Seasons. It adds some puzzle solving to the overworld. Fun puzzles solving, not the nonsense from Ages. Each season changes the layout of the map a little, with different map features. Winter has snow drifts for the player to walk on, Spring had flowers that shoot the player up, etc. These are cued in by persistent map features. If there is a spring flower, it will still be there in the summer and fall, merely a withered husk of its springy healthy self. While it does require some thought, environmental never gets too difficult. There is only one spot where it gets truly complex, the Lost Woods, but it gives the player just enough to think about.


There are some downsides. Some of the later dungeons get downright brutal. Not necessarily a bad thing, but it can be frustrating. Much like the previous two Gameboy Zeldas, the thing still feels limited. I know that is absolutely an unfair complaint to lodge against the games; I don’t care. Their system of origin really keep me from liking them as much as I do nearly any other Zelda game. A lot of it has to do with the item switching. I think I complained about that in both my Link’s Awakening article and my Oracle of Ages one; the complaint still stands. Have to go to the menu over and over to change weapons and tools to solve puzzles is not fun. It is annoying. Still, Oracle of Seasons is a fun game. It doesn’t reach the heights of console games, but it was a fun experience. It was definitely better than Oracle of Ages, but not quite as good as Link’s Awakening.


One last thing, I guess I need to mention the linked parts of the two Oracle games. If you input a code from one of the beaten games, it opens up some changed cutscenes and puzzles in the new game. There are also a lot of extra rings and items to acquire. Mostly this is done by getting a code from a character in one game and then giving to a character in the other. It is tedious and not very fun, but it does provide some neat linked activity for the two games. Most importantly, it also unlocks the true ending of this little subseries. In the second game, the witches Twinrova start to complete their dastardly plot of sacrificing Zelda to resurrect Ganon. It adds an extra dungeon and a couple of boss battles for Link to thwart them. It is a pretty neat addition.

What I Read in March ‘14

I didn’t actually get a lot of books read in March.  Mostly because one that I did read, Words of Radiance, was so gosh darn long it didn’t leave me a lot of time to read anything else.  Also, I’ve managed to clear my pile of unread physical books down to just a handful and fantasy novels.  The problem with those is that they tend to be really long, which hurts my overall count.  Still, I expect to get back on track in April and May.

Words of Radiance

Brandon Sanderson

mar 2

The second part of Sanderson epic doorstop series is even better than the first. It does have its rough patches, not unsurprising for a book with a page count well over one thousand, but is overall a very entertaining read. The Stormlight Archive certainly has a different feel than most doorstop fantasy series. While it is only two books in, Sanderson has done a great job of keeping the focus tight. While he is carefully illuminating the fascinating world this series takes place in, the focus has remained on a cast that is remarkably small for a book this size. There are a few chapters that, at this point, are simply world building. The bulk of them, however, follow just a few characters; Shallan, Kaladin, Adolin and Dalinar. Also, by the middle of this volume they are all in the same geographical place, further centralizing the narrative.

While the first book belonged to Kaladin, following his origins and journey, this one is Shallan’s. Here we find out her history and what made her travel halfway across the world to steal something from Jasnah Kholin. Kaladin still has his part, but Shallan is the big mover here. The parts of Words of Radiance set in the present, most of it, were excellent. Especially Shallan’s growth from a sheltered young girl to a more wise and cunning woman, a real player in these machinations. But her past, while not without merit, seemed a little “after school special”-y to me. That sounds harsher than I really mean it to. Her situation is largely gotten across quickly in those scenes, but Words of Radiance repeatedly returns to belabor the points, every time giving just a glimpse more. That recipe worked much better in the first book, but I was not as big a fan of it here, despite actually liking Shallan more as a character than Kaladin.

Most of these epic fantasy series have larger than life protagonists. They are generally heroes, if not at the start then by the end, and accomplish great, near superhuman feats. In The Stormlight Archive, many are expressly superhuman. At first it is due to the Shards, weapons and armor that grant magical abilities to their users. As this book goes on, the Knights Radiant, people with great powers who “failed” and faded into legend, begin to be reformed and their great powers return. The exceptionality of the protagonists and antagonists is made explicit. They are not really normal people anymore. This is not something unique to this series, but the proliferation of such specialness is. In the Wheel of Time, only Mat, Perrin and especially Rand had anything like that. It definitely gives the series an interesting hook.

In the end, what you get with a Words of Radiance is a classic feeling fantasy epic that really does its own thing. Sanderson is putting his own spin on classic elements to create something that, while not exactly new, is still refreshing in a world where most epic series are more than a decade old.

The Sweet Forever

George Pelecanos


I read this for a book club that I’m in. I wasn’t really familiar with Pelecanos or any of his work, but I really liked this. It is a crime story set in the 1980’s, apparently the third in a four book cycle set in Washington DC during four different decades, with some recurring characters and an emphasis on the evolution of the city. The Sweet Forever starts with a gangbanger dying in a car accident and a guy who happens to be around steal a big bag of drug money out of the car. The rest of the dead boy’s gang are on the lookout for the money, as are a couple of corrupt cops. The only witness to the theft of the money is a youngster who likes to hang out around the local record store, which is owned by Marcus Clay, the one of the recurring characters of the series. I don’t want to give away much of the plot, but it obviously builds from there, with these various factions playing off each other until everything comes to its bloody conclusion.

There are a lot of things woven in with the crime plot. For starters, it all takes place during the opening weekend of the NCAA Basketball Tournament. Nearly all the characters are watching Georgetown and Maryland, the local schools, especially Maryland star and eventual second overall draft pick Len Bias. There is also a lot of very casual cocaine use. Drugs are an ever present threat, with cocaine and alcohol and the foreknowledge amongst the police of the coming scourge of crack. That ties back in with everyone’s love of Len Bias, who would die from drug use only a few days after being drafted. It lends the whole thing a sense of macabre irony. So a great read all around.

Presidential Elections: From George Washington to George W Bush.

Paul F Boller



Another thing I found on the Kindle Store. It gives a rough overview of every Presidential campaign up to Bush and Gore in 2000. It is not particularly in depth on any of them, but it is a nice introduction to the issues brought up in each of the campaigns. This wasn’t anything particularly profound or enthralling, just something I read a chapter or two at a time before bed for half a month. I was in it more for the historical side, but the emphasis was more on the recent elections with a more political focus. That is not surprising, the more recent elections will obviously be better documented, but I’d rather read about the 1912 or the 1824 election than the 1992 election. Still, it was entertaining enough.

Defaulting Bravely

Bravely Default has been widely praised. You can check reviews everywhere. People love this game, with good reason. It combines some old school sensibilities with some very progressive features. At first, I was would have counted myself among the lovers of this game. The Final Fantasy (I know it doesn’t say Final Fantasy on the box, but it might as well be) Job system is always fun and this is an excellent rendition of it. The default system adds some nice strategic depth. But the further the game went on, the less found myself enjoying it. Bravely Default may have many strengths, but balance and pacing are not among them.


It starts out fine. You go through dungeons, you fight bosses, you get new jobs. Things keep moving. None of the dungeons take too long and you learn abilities a fairly rapid pace. After the first couple of chapters, the repetitive nature of the starts to sink in. Each one follows the same pattern. You go to a new area and can’t get into the temple, so you go to the town and solve some problems until you figure it out. It isn’t a problem, but it becomes predictable. Then you get to Chapter 5, which has you doing the first four chapters over again. Then chapter six … is the same thing again. The only difference after the first pass is that you can skip all the dungeons. And you have all the jobs. So all it is all boss battles. It is frustrating. There is still some story momentum, but fighting nothing bosses and bosses over and over becomes wearing. It gives the game an odd shape, where after about the halfway point most of the game just falls away. Many skills that would be useful against hordes of lesser enemies become useless unless you are intentionally grinding to gain experience or job levels. And that is assuming you don’t use the options to eliminate random battles entirely.


The balance isn’t much better. That is the problem with creating a game with a job system as wide open as Bravely Default’s system. Depending on what jobs you choose and what abilities you’ve unlocked, the game is either ridiculously easy or ridiculously hard. Eventually the balance tips in the player’s favor, once the party has accumulated enough skills, but before that it is all hills and valleys. I some parts you can just set it one auto-battle and barely look at the screen. At other parts any random battle could quickly and easily result in a game over. It’s not a fun roller coaster ride, it’s car crash whiplash. I’ve played plenty of jobs system games before. I’ve played Final Fantasy V and Tactics, I’ve played a handful of Dragon Quest games with a similar system. I have never played a game with balance that was further off. It makes for a lot of fights with repetitive tactics, where a lot of battles end up needing the same strategy. There is a sidequest in Chapter 4 where you have to fight 6 dragons. They are some tough enemies, especially for that point in the game. However, the can all be beaten with the same strategy involving just one skill. It isn’t fun, but it is effective.


These are some pretty big flaws in an otherwise great game. Ultimately, it was more fun than frustrating, but there was simply too much frustration. The look and sound helped, as did a story that while not especially good, did have some interesting twists. I think I had more of a problem with the balance and pacing than most people. The thing that grated on me the most was seeing this game praised at the expense of its spiritual predecessor, Final Fantasy 4 Heroes of Light. That game is also flawed, but I had more fun playing it that I did with its more polished follow-up. Still, I’m glad to get even a flawed game like this nowadays. I’ll definitely be right there when we get the sequel.

Ride of the Valkyria

When I finished Valkyria Chronicles the other day, I leaned back in my brown faux-leather recliner and opined that “they don’t make them like that anymore.”  Which is strictly true.  No one makes games like Valkyria Chronicles anymore.  Of course, it ignores that no one has ever made games like Valkyria Chronicles, at least not in any great quantity.


There really aren’t any games that play like Valkyria Chronicles, other than the pale shadows that are its sequels. (to be fair, I’ve only played the first sequel) It is unique. However, it is also quite polished.  This game plays exactly how it was intended to play.  The combination of originality, quality and polish is difficult to find.  I would be hard pressed to name more than a handful like it.  Last years The Wonderful 101 springs to mind, a strange and excellent game that got summarily ignored by the gaming populace.  Also Actraiser, a platformer/sim game for the SNES.  It is a game I’ve heard described as “depressingly unique.”  There are maybe a few others that fit the mold of unique classics.  Not that there is anything wrong with being merely a great game in an established genre, no one is likely to forget Super Mario World or Final Fantasy VII or Halo 2.  But there is just something all the more special about game “like” Valkyria Chronicles.

What I loved most about Valkyria Chronicles was that despite being a largely new experience, it greatly reminded me of playing games as a kid.  Back then, all games were new experiences for me.  I would play for five or six hour stretches, completely absorbed in the game world.  I can’t do that nowadays.  For one thing, as an adult I simply do not have the time to sit and play video games for hours on end.  I sneak my gaming in in spare minutes between work and other responsibilities.  Also, I rarely feel the inclination to play for that long of a stretch.  While I undeniably get plenty of enjoyment out of video games, there isn’t the wonder and newness that I used to experience.  It is understandable, I am both older and have played many, many games now.  With Valkyria Chronicles, I did want to binge, to glue myself to my comfy chair and just play.  I felt like a kid on summer vacation, bunkered down in my friends game room as we played Final Fantasy 3.  The game that can inspire that sort of wonder in me has become increasingly rare.


Valkyria Chronicles has a couple of things going for it that helped inspire that feeling.  The first is its varied strategic combat.  While there are suggested and obviously optimal strategies, the game allows the players to choose their strategy for themselves. The player can customize their roster of units, choosing exactly how to balance the games six classes among the twenty or so slots in their squad. Then, the player gets to choose which ones to actually send out into battle.  Do you go heavy on the highly mobile scouts?  Leave an empty slot for mid-battle reinforcements.  My strategy usually had me dropping out a couple of snipers who would empty their clips and clear a path for the rest of my units before being replaced by the highly dangerous shocktroopers.

Another thing it has going for it is the look.  The graphics are solid, if unspectacular for the PS3, but everything is covered in a scratchy, watercolor filter that, along with some comic book sound effects, gives the game an appealing and unique look.  It also has one of the most mature stories in any game.  Mature in the sense of it actual definition, not in the sense that it has tits and blood in it.  There are moments of sophomoric anime hijinks, but by and large Valkyria Chronicles deals well with themes like racism and the horrors of war.  The main characters are nuanced and flawed.  Rosie is fiercely loyal and brave, but she also has a lot of misplaced hatred.  Even the wart starting villain is shown to be in many ways honorable and unprejudiced.  Unlike many in both the Gallian and Imperial Armies, he is more willing to look at a person’s skill than their birth.  That doesn’t make him not a bad guy, only a human bad guy with both faults and strengths.


Really, Valkyria Chronicles is just a great game. Its combination of uniqueness and quality make it one of the games that is long going to be one that cements the reputation of its system. When people look back on the PS3 and wonder what it had that made people love it, Valkyria Chronicles will be near the top of the list. An all-time classic.

Now Playing March ‘14

The best thing about my new job is that is doesn’t really cut down on my video game playing time.  Also, that I don’t have to deal with moronic customers.  So even though I am again employed, I still have the time to power through a ton of handheld games.  This month, I put most of my time into Valkyria Chronicles.  Because it is about my favorite thing just now.  I’ll save the gushing for another day, like tomorrow or next Monday.


Valkyria Chronicles: I’ve got a full post about this game coming soon. Here I’ll just say that this easily the best game I’ve played in the PS3. It is just stupendous.

Final Fantasy VI: Another game that I’m putting together a post for, as well as a game I’ve already written about. I hope to replay the whole series this year, and this game is my favorite of the bunch.

Kirby Squeak Squad:


I’m glad I tracked this game down, even if it did turn out to be one of the lesser Kirby games. On the surface it seems no different than most of the series, but everything seems kind of loose and sloppy. Not really bad, but definitely not on the same level as games like Kirby’s Adventure or Super Star Saga. It does feature some good new powers. Like the magic power; it gives Kirby a top hat from which he releases doves to attack. It is hilarious and fun. I hope that it escapes this lackluster title and becomes a standard power up. It feels like I’m being a little too rough on this game. It’s is not really bad. It is just lacking the polish that better games in the series have. Also, the collectathon treasure system, where each stage has a handful of treasure of which Kirby must find a certain number to progress, is not really a welcome addition. The series got by without that for a long time, it was not really a positive addition. Still, a decent little game that is worth at least a look.

Giana Sisters Twisted Dreams:


I wanted to like this game. I like platformers, I like the look, and I liked the world switching mechanic. But this game feels like a rough draft. I had tons of problems with this game, some minor, some major. There were small problems, like levels and boss battles that go on a little too long or the kind of terrible music. Those are problems, but ones that can be worked around or ignored on their own. Then there are bigger problems, like the general floatiness of the controls and the annoying level design. Those problems are harder to ignore when added to the smaller problems. The controls are the worst part. There were tons of times that I seemed to bounce off of platforms I was supposed to be landing on. Then there is fireball boost ability, an ability that sends the player shooting across the screen, which never seems to send you the direction you want to go. It get frustrating quickly when you have to shoot off at a diagonal because the game is terrible at recognizing them. With the level design, the player is rated on how many of the crystals strewn throughout the stage they find. No a big deal, but there are numerous points of no return, where the player can cut themselves off from a large number of crystals without realizing it until it is too late. And the levels seem to go one forever. It just adds up to an experience that is more stressful than fun. Not because of the difficulty, but because the game is sort of janky. The thing is, it does plenty of other things well. A lot of the exploring puzzles are great and it removes lives from the equation, letting the player attempt hard parts as often as they like without any real penalty.

Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy: I’ve already written about this game here.

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons:


This is about the perfect download title. About, it is not quite on the level of Journey, but there nothing to complain about. It is an adventure game where two brothers go on a quest to save their father. The player controls each brother with one of the sticks on the controller, with a shoulder button each used to interact with things. It is simple in theory, but the solutions to the environmental puzzles can get complex. Sometimes you have to use the big brother to boost the smaller brother up on a ledge, sometimes they have to work in tandem to clear obstacles. The game also looks great. The best part is likely the length. Many of these games have a tendency to run long. They explore and exploit the mechanics that they set up, then keep going, either breaking things down or just repeating the challenges the player had already faced. Brothers is about 3 to 4 hours long, and each challenge is something new and different. It is great, refreshing.


Devil Survivor 2: I played through most of the third day of this game, but got stuck on the boss. I should be able to get by it with a little work, but honestly it wasn’t grabbing me. I really like the first Devil Survivor and so far this one has been good, improved in some ways if lacking the newness of the original.

Bravely Default: I am souring on this game after greatly enjoying the first half. I’m having trouble making myself play the second half. There are a lot of good things about this game, but it has some balance and pacing issues.

Batman: Arkham City: I can’t imagine a worse looking take on the Batman universe. This is a grossly ugly version of most of those characters. Still, it’s a lot of fun. If the game looked like the animated series or the 60’s TV show it would be my favorite Batman thing ever. I am having a lot of fun just zipping around Gotham and doing sidequests with lesser villains. I should have it finished up before too long, since I think I am coming up on the end of the game pretty soon.


Pikmin 3: I’ve had this sitting around since it came out last year. I just haven’t made time to play it. As soon as I finish up with Batman I plan to change that. I had held off because I wanted to play the first two first, but I’ve only been able to track down Pikmin 2 and my brother borrowed that one.

Inazuma Eleven: I downloaded this a couple of weeks ago, but I haven’t managed to finish off Bravely Default and make time to play it. But BD should be finished up soon and I should be able to move on to this.

Advance Wars: This, as well as a bunch of other GBA games, are coming to the WiiU Virtual Console. Most of the others I’ve played, but Advance Wars is one I missed that I always wanted to play.

NES Remix 2: NES Remix was a delight, and this one looks to be more of the same but with more actually good games this time. I am pumped. I hope Nintendo keeps it up with these. I want Gameboy Remix and SNES Remix. As long as this comes out when it is supposed to , April 25, then I will spend the last week of the month playing this extensively.

The Legend of Zelda Majora’s Mask: Honestly, I’ll get to it this time. I swear.

Rating the Disney Canon Part 5 (of 5)

Okay, this time I’m getting right to the list.  I don’t have any supplementary list ot go on time first.  At the end, after people have read the my top 6, I have some small amount of analysis comparing my list to other take on these films.  Grand Finale time.


6. Dumbo is unquestionably the simplest film of Disney’s Golden Age (Pre WWII), both in animation and story.  The animation doesn’t have the splendor of Pinocchio or Bambi, and the story is about as simple as it can get.  Still, Dumbo is also completely charming and wholly tender.  It is the story of a mother’s love for her child and a child’s love of its mother.  It also features flying elephants, because why not?


5. Wreck it Ralph.  This feels somewhat like Disney made a Pixar movie, a feeling heightened by the fact that the Pixar movie of the same year, Brave, felt more like a Disney movie. Wreck-it Ralph is enjoyably original.  There really aren’t any movies quite like it.  It is often compared to Toy Story, but with video games, but other than the conceit that they both come to life when people aren’t looking the two don’t have much in common.  Its got a wholly likeable protagonist, who is justified in his displeasure just as much as he is unable to correct the problems, a great supporting cast and a villain that starts silly and manages to become truly menacing.


4. The Little Mermaid.  This movie does everything right, except that the only truly memorable character in the thing is the villain Ursula.  Still, it has some great songs and is just generally enjoyable.  This is the films that kickstarted what is known as the Disney Renaissance, and if it weren’t for the films that immediately followed it, The Little Mermaid would also be just about the best the company has ever produced.


3. Aladdin.  I love this movie.  The Genie is one of the few times I’ve found Robin Williams truly delightful rather than a touch overbearing.  He is funny and shows off some fun animation.  Aladdin, Jafar and Jasmine are all really interesting.  Jafar believes he is so much better, so much smarter than everyone else.  Jasmine may be the first Disney Princess™ to suggest that maybe being a princess isn’t all that great.  And Aladdin is just a poor boy who wants a better life.  It is some compelling drama.  And for my money, this film has the best songs.


2. Beauty and the Beast.  I didn’t expect to put this one so high.  It came out when I was the perfect age for it, along with other childhood favorites like Aladdin and the Lion King, but I never really cared for Beauty and the Beast.  Then I watched it again on DVD for this list. I was shocked at how much I enjoyed it.  It is a great movie.  All the things to other Renaissance movies do well, like songs and animation, are done well here. I guess I could go on and on layering superlatives in Beauty and the Beast, but all that needs to be said is that this film is nearly perfect.


1. The Sword in the Stone. When I started this, I had hoped to not let nostalgia cloud my judgement.  I managed to force Robin Hood, a childhood favorite, down to 17.  Then I watched The Sword in the Stone, and realized that I truly think this is a great film.  I can’t possibly discount the idea that nostalgia has blinded me; many, even most, lists have this one near the bottom or just floating somewhere in the lower half, but the more I watched this movie, the more I decided it was simply great.  The look is the best of that era of scratchy looking movies.  Merlin is electric.  Wart is a solidly sympathetic protagonist, a boy whose present day wants do not really lead him to the future that Merlin knows is coming. Plus, he turns into all kinds of animals. It is the best.

Using Rotten Tomatoes, not a perfect source but a highly convenient aggregator, I’ve compared my rankings to the both the critical and audience takes on these movies.  There were some surprises.  I knew I had Atlantis and Sword in the Stone higher than normal, but 35 and 31 places respectively?  I didn’t expect that.  I did expect a big difference with Cinderella, which I had 33 spots lower than the critics did.  The biggest surprise was that I placed Bolt 19 spots lower than both the critics and the audience. From word of mouth I thought I was being rather generous with it.  Other than that it was what I expected.  I rated the Silver Age (Cinderella to The Jungle Book) higher at the expense of the Golden Age (Snow White to Bambi), which I knew I did.  I simply like those Silver Age movies better.

I had a lot of fun watching these movies and making this list.  For a company that has been constantly putting out movies for more than 75 years, it is amazing how few misses they have. There are only a handful of movies that I would call bad, and only one which I would say is irredeemably bad.

Links to the rest of the list:

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

Rating the Disney Canon Part 4 (of 5)

Sorry about the delay, I ended up working a few extra shifts and not having the time to get this finished.  Here is part four, which brings up into the top 10, which has at least one guaranteed surprise. Also, as promised, my list of Top 10 villains

Top 10 Disney Villains.

10: Madame Mim.  The Sword in the Stone  Was she a villain just thrown in because the film was lacking one? Maybe.  Is her wizards duel with Merlin maybe my favorite thing ever? A definite yes.

9: Shan Yu. Mulan This guy is a scary monster of a man.  He perfectly straddles the line between being a invading force of nature and being just a man.  He lacks a little in the personality department, but he makes up for it in menace.

8: Gaston. Beauty and the Beast.  He’s not really threatening, just sort of pathetic.  Like a fairy tale Zapp Brannigan.

7: Captain Hook.  Peter Pan He would be higher if I could be convinced that he is any sort of real threat to Peter Pan.  He isn’t, but he is very entertaining.

6: Hades.  Hercules  I have a problem with Hades generally being depicted as a villain, he’s no worse than most of the Greek Gods.  They were all awful.  But James Woods used car salesman of a villain is the best part of a good movie.

5: Ursula. The Little Mermaid  She puts on some great performances as the villain, and despite what my Mom says I was not scared of her as a child.

4: Jafar.  Aladdin The sheer contempt he shows for everyone else in the movie is enough to get him on the list.  The fact that he is actually an effective villain pushes him close to the top.

3: Scar. The Lion King Maybe the most successful Disney villain, and like Jafar one to hold the rest of the characters in contempt.  He preening showmanship in his song sets him apart too.

2: Cruella de Vil. 101 Dalmatians She is not only unspeakably cruel, she is also incredibly petty.  Her plan to make dogskin coats only fails because she feels she has to have her “friends” puppies to go with the other eighty or so she already has.

1: Maleficent. Sleeping Beauty She may not have the best help, but she towers over the rest of her movie with a presence that is hard to match.  Plus, even Jafar’s giant snake genie can’t match her dragon transformation.

Madame Mim is on this list just for the wizards duel.  Because I put her on there, I had to leave off at least on worthy villain, like Shere Khan.  But I did manage to stop myself from putting Clayton from Tarzan on there just because he is voiced by BRIAN BLESSED, so I am proud of my impartiality.  Now, on with the list.


16: Snow White and the Seven Dwarves The one that started it all is still excellent.  I don’t really have much to say about Snow White.  Its historical significance makes it required viewing, but nothing about it is especially notable.  It is simply a very good, very old animated movie.


15: Bambi.  This is easily among Disney’s best looking movies.  There is the awe inspiring rain scene as well as the fight between Bambi and another buck near the end.  Those scenes look completely different, but they both look great.  Then there is the whole traumatic shock of Bambi’s Mother being killed. The only reason it is as low as 15 on my list is that I prefer movies with a stronger plot, rather than Bambi’s  handful or loosely connected vignettes.


14: The Lion King.  The big daddy of the Renaissance movies, but one I find to be a little overrated.  A little, I said.  The songs are among the best in the company’s history, and there are plenty of memorable characters. But the bridge between the adventures of young Simba and the revenge of adult Simba is a little weak.


13: Sleeping Beauty. Sleeping Beauty has a couple of things going for it.  It has the best villain in the entire Disney Canon, (see top of this post) Maleficent.  She dominates the other characters in this movie.  I put Philip on my list of heroes just because he fights her.  Sleeping Beauty also has one of the best realized aesthetics of their output. The whole film looks like an animated version of medieval illuminated manuscripts.  It looks amazing.


12: Hercules.  This one has a strong central trio, with Hercules, Megara and Hades all being great characters.  Much like Sleeping Beauty tried to capture a medieval look, Hercules looks something like old Grecian art.  It is not quite as effective, but it still looks good.  The only things keeping this out of the top 10 or even top 5 are some bad comedy relief characters in Pain and Panic and some dreadful joke lines from deVito’s Phil.


11: Peter Pan Watching this again brought a couple of things to the fore.  First of all, the Indian scenes do not play anymore.  They are cringe inducing.  The second thing is that Peter Pan and Tinkerbell are awful.  Tink tries to straight-up murder Wendy, while Peter alternately shows off for Wendy and ignores her.  Wendy, though, is great.  She is both childish enough to really enjoy the idea of Neverland but mature enough to realize that somebody has got to be the grown up.  Of course, the ending, with her father relenting and allowing her to stay in the nursery, pretty much erases all the development she during the movie.  Plus, jerk that he may be, Peter Pan still engages in some delightful swashbuckling.


10: Lady and the Tramp.  Disney’s best love story?  I’d say so, despite having another famous love story near the top of this list.  It also has some of the best animated animals this side of Bambi.  Also, maybe the best songs.  Even its standard issue racially insensitive scene isn’t anywhere near as bad as either Peter Pan’s or Dumbo’s.


9: The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.  This is just delightful.  Though many Disney movies use a storybook aesthetic, none do more with it than Winnie the Pooh. It actually takes place in a story book, with a narrator that plays an integral part in the goings on. It also has probably the most genuinely charming cast of characters in any Disney movie.


8: Atlantis: The Lost Empire.  Yep, Atlantis is in my top 10.  I stand by it.  Despite its rather dismal reputation, Atlantis is a fine film.  It is an altogether pleasing combination of Disney, Indiana Jones and Miyazaki-esque anime, though honestly not quite as good as that combination sounds.  Still, it is excellent.  Milo is a fun science-y hero and most of the supporting characters are a lot of fun.  This movie is just a blast.


7: Tarzan.  This might be my innate love Edgar R. Burroughs, but I really enjoy this movie.  Tarzan, the character, is great.  This version of Jane is great.  I especially enjoy Tarzan’s gliding through the trees animation.  Plus, you’ve got Brian Blessed, ahem,  BRIAN BLESSED doing the voice of the villain.  It steals a lot of its jungle characters from the Jungle Book, but it gives it protagonist more to do.

Tomorrow, I hope, I will have the last entry with the top 6 Disney movies.  And nothing else, because my tank of Disney related thoughts is running low.  I do have a couple of supplemental posts about films distributed by Disney, with my lists of best Pixar movies and Miyazaki movies. The second one is only very loosely connected, but I watched a bunch of them after seeing the Wind Rises and this is as good a time as any to post it.

Links to the rest of the list:

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 5

Rating the Disney Canon Part 3 (of 5)

It is time for part 3 of my look at all the Disney Animated movies.  Today I am also listing my ten favorite heroines, a list that was harder to make than the list of heroes simply because there are more good ones to choose from.

10: Rapunzel Tangled. She is often naive, but also forceful.  She has something she wants and she isn’t going let her mother’s emotional manipulations or the dangers in front of her stop her.

9: Eilonwy The Black Cauldron.  If shoe got more to do in her movie she would be even higher on the list.  She is the one who actually begins Taran’s breakout from The Horned King’s castle.

8: Jane Porter Tarzan.  She is charming and the intellectual impetuous for her groups journey to the jungle.

7: Esmerelda The Hunchback of Notre Dame.  She gets big points for being basically the only decent person in the film.

6: Wendy Peter Pan.  I really like how at the start she is the one clinging to her childhood, but her time in Neverland kind of proves to her that she is ready to leave it behind.  She is already more grown up than she realizes.

5: Alice Alice in Wonderland.  Her reactions to all the nonsense around her kind of makes the movie.  She constantly goes from excited and interested in the strange goings on to fed up with how little sense everyone makes.

4: Megara Hercules.  She appears cynical and tough, but not heartless.

3: Jasmine Aladdin.  She is the only person not snowed by Aladdin’s Prince Ali act. She is hopeful and stubborn enough to not just give in to her Dad.

2: Belle Beauty and the Beast.  She is both brave and smart, willing to sacrifice her freedom for her fathers, but not willing to give up the fight even after.

1: Mulan Mulan.  She is one of the few Disney heroines that gets to do all the adventuring herself.  Plus, she is legitimately awesome.

I’m pretty happy with that list.  There are a lot that I could have put on the list, and a lot of movement I could have made with the ones on it.  I did tend to favor characters from the movies I already like.  Fancy that, huh?


26: Tangled.  Each of Disney’s 3D features has improved on the one before it.  Chicken Little was awful, Meet the Robinsons was okay if uneven, and Bolt was actually kind of good.  Tangled actually feels like a classic Disney movie.  This is a film that would have fit right in in the Renaissance.  My only real problem with it is that I didn’t care much for the songs. They aren’t bad, just not particularly memorable.


25: Fantasia.  This is movie is in many ways an amazing film, but other than recognizing the artistry of its animation I don’t really care for it.  Despite all of its real artistic achievement, it still has the pretensions of being more.  Laudable as those pretensions are, it doesn’t make having Deems Taylor come in and explain how artistic and important each sequence is entertaining.  Still, everyone should watch this at least once.


24: Emperor’s New Groove.  This one is a pure comedy, and a good one.  It is much like a saturday morning cartoon in some ways. Kuzco starts from a place very far away from most of Disney protagonists, and his redemption is almost believable.  Also, another great villain, with Yzma and her lackey Kronk stealing nearly all of their scenes.


23: One Hundred and One Dalmatians.  This movie is a big change in the animation style from those before it.  It doesn’t look quite as good, but I like it.  I also like the villain.  Cruella de Vil is one of the great villains, both cruel and petty.  There are a lot more dogs that characterization, but Pongo and Perdita are well defined and interesting.  At least until the movie forces them to disappear for big chunk.


22: Winnie the Pooh.  The second Winnie the Pooh movie is not as good as the first, but it is still very entertaining. What else is there to say?  Its Winnie the Pooh.


21: The Jungle Book. There aren’t many songs in this movie, but the ones that are there are certainly memorable.  Just thinking about the movie makes me hum “Bear Necessities.” It’s characters are also very memorable, from the fun loving Baloo to the sneaky Kaa.


20: Pinocchio.  Pinocchio is kind of an awful little boy, and Jiminy Cricket is a useless conscience.  The movie looks great, and there are a lot of great sequences.  One could argue that this is one of Walt Disney’s absolute masterpieces, and I wouldn’t argue.  I just don’t especially like it that much.


19: The Great Mouse Detective.  Yet another movie with a standout villain.  Ratigan is excellent.  His transformation near the end, when he drops the cultured facade and becomes the monster that he is is downright frightening for a Disney movie.  The rest of its not bad either.


18: Alice in Wonderland. This is a hard film to critique since it is so forcefully absurd.  As I said above, I really like Alice.  She is alternately intrigued and annoyed by the nonsense of Wonderland.  Really, this film is just delightfully weird.  So many fun characters and scenes it is easy to forget that there really isn’t anything tying it all together.


17: Robin Hood.  This movie’s placement has a lot of nostalgia behind it.  I’ll cop to it.  I still think it is very good, but it was my second favorite as a child.  It is hard to forget that.  I’ve seen the videos online that show how much of its animation was lifted wholesale from previous Disney films.  I don’t care.  Robin is great, as is his camaraderie with Little John and his romance with Maid Marian.  Robin Hood is character that is easy to get right.  Unless you are Kevin Costner.  Still, this one does it very right.  They play Prince John as completely inept, which works since he has a couple of fun henchmen to play off of.  Sir Hiss is great as his put upon advisor and the Sheriff of Nottingham is suitably intimidating when he needs to be.  The more I think about it, the more I think I should have left this one higher.

The next ten come tomorrow, along with my top 10 Disney villains.

Links to the rest of the list:

Part 1, Part 2, Part 4, Part 5

Rating the Disney Canon Part 2 (of 5)

Time for the second part of my take on the Disney Animated Canon.  But first I’d like to take a little detour and discuss my ten favorite Disney heroes. Just the fellows today, tomorrow I will have my list of heroines. So I’m going to list the characters, the movie they are from and a quick little bit about why I like them.

10: Milo Atlantis The Lost Empire  He is a different sort of hero, a man who gets by with his brains rather than brawn.  Plus, Michael J Fox voices him perfectly.

9: Prince Philip Sleeping Beauty I’ll be honest, he’s mostly on here for that fight with Dragon Maleficent.  That scene is great.

8: Basil The Great Mouse Detective Yes, he’s just Sherlock Holmes as a mouse, but Sherlock Holmes is awesome.

7: Wart The Sword in the Stone  He is mostly just learning at the feet of Merlin, but there is something completely endearing about his unending eagerness.

6: Tarzan Tarzan He wrestles a leopard.  Do I need to say more?

5: Robin Hood Robin Hood He is possibly the best take on this character to ever appear in a film, apologies to Errol Flynn and Cary Elwes.

4: Ralph Wreck it Ralph  His search for recognition and how to be a hero is one of the best arcs in a Disney film.

3: Hercules Hercules  He is the greatest hero ever created. Disney’s version is pretty great.

2: Simba The Lion King Cat Hamlet’s journey from a somewhat selfish kid to a worthy king is a good one.

1: Aladdin Aladdin He’s really just the best. He’s as dashing as Robin Hood, but with a better character arc.  He’s charming and easy to root for, but also flawed.  Just a great character.

This list skews heavily to established heroes that have a Disney version.  I guess Disney does better with villains than it does with heroes.  Actually, many of their character’s share the protagonist role and kind of get lost in the ensemble.  Some, like Beast, are good characters to watch but not really good people. He’s not the protagonist and he’s definitely not a hero.

On with the countdown. Continue reading