Category Archives: review

Resident Evil and Representation

The Resident Evil series qualifies as a horror series, a sci fi series and an action series. Given the genre, Resident Evil is surprisingly diverse. The main character is female, the supporting cast are a mix of genders and race, men are more likely to die and there’s very little romance throughout the series. Let’s face it, even when a female is the main character in an action film, she’ll inevitably be surrounded by white male companions, one of whom she’ll fall in love with by the end of the film. So the Resident Evil films are surprisingly refreshing, which isn’t what I expected when I first came across the series.

In this post, I’ll be looking at the composition of Alices teams to demonstrate just how diverse the cast is. By Alices team, I mean anyone who Alice joins/fights with over the course of any film (in the Anderson film universe, not the games). This post contains massive spoilers, mostly regarding who dies and who survives, so make sure that you’ve seen the films first if you don’t want to ruin them for yourselves.

Resident Evil (2002)
In the first film, Alices team consists of three women:
• Alice- Caucasian
• Rain Ocampo- Hispanic American (Umbrella special forces commando unit)
• Olga Danilova- Russian (Medic)

And seven men:
• Matt Addison – Caucasian (Activist)
• Spence Parks- Caucasian (Security operative)
• James Shade- African American (Leader of the special forces unit)
• Chad Kaplan- Caucasian (Computer technician of special forces unit)
• JD Salinas- Hispanic (Special forces unit)
• Vance Drew – Caucasian (Special forces unit)
• Alfonso Warner- Caucasian (Special forces unit)

Making this the most masculine group in the series.

Olga, Vance, Alfonso and James are killed by lazers. JD is killed by zombies and Spence is killed by the licker. Chad is then killed by the mutated licker. Despite being bitten shortly after the laser room, Rain is the last to die, being shot by Matt after she turns.

In this film, only Matt and Alice survive, both being taken away to be experimented upon. So it goes from being a masculine dominant group, to an even split.

Apocalypse (2004)
The team in Resident Evil: Apocalypse consists of three women:
• Alice
• Jill Valentine- Caucasian (Police officer)
• Terri Morales- Hispanic (News reporter)

And four men:

• Peyton Wells – African American (Police Officer)
• Carlos Olivera – Caucasian (Played by an Israeli actor) (Umbrella biohazard counter measure force)
• Nicholai Ginovaef – Caucasian (Umbrella biohazard counter measure force)
• LJ (Lloud Jefferson Wayne)- African American (Former Walmart employee)

Alice meets Peyton, Jill and Terri first. LJ then joins the group, followed by Carlos and Nicholai. Another member of Carlos’ team Yuri (Caucasian, male) dies before meeting Alice. Yuri and Peyton both infected early in the film. Yuri is shot by Carlos after he turns. Peyton is killed by Nemisis. Terri is eaten by child zombies and Nicholai is killed by zombie dogs.

Interestingly, Terri and LJ are not special ops and have no combat training. (Although LJ owning customised guns suggests that he knows how to shoot.) Despite being the most inexperienced of the group, Terri dies 3rd (after the police officer and an umbrella operative) and LJ survives the film.

Similar to the last film, despite the fact that there are more men in the team, it ends with an even split of gender. Two men survive; Carlos and LJ go on to join the Nevada team. And two women survive; Jill is kidnapped and although Alice technically dies in this film, she is brought back to life by Umbrella.

Extinction (2007)
The team for Resident Evil: Extinction consists of four women:
• Alice
• Claire Redfield- Caucasian (Leader of the human convoy)
• Betty- African American (Nurse)
• K-mart- Caucasian- (Role unknown. Member of the human convoy)

And five men:
• Carlos – From the last film
• LJ- From the last film
• Mikey- Caucasian- (Electronic operative)
• Chase- Caucasian- (Police sheriff)
• Otto- Caucasian- (Bus driver)

Both Betty and Otto are killed in a raven attack. Mikey and Chase are killed in the Vegas attack, during which LJ is turned and killed. Carlos then sacrifices himself.

This leaves only three women alive: Alice, Claire and Kmart. This is the first instance of one gender completely outliving the other and from this series, it isn’t surprising that it’s the women who manage to survive.

Interestingly, this is the first film to incorporate romance, with LJ and Betty’s date and it being implied that Kmart has a crush on Carlos.

Afterlife (2010)
The team in Resident Evil: Afterlife consists of three women:
• Alice
• Claire – From last film
• Crystal Waters- Caucasian (Waitress, aspiring actress)

And six men:
• Luther West- African American (Sports personality)
• Angel Ortiz- Hispanic
• Bennet Sinclair- Caucasian (Director)
• Kim Yong- Asian (Bennets assistant)
• Wendell- Caucasian
• Chris Redfield- Caucasian (Soldier)

This is the second most masculine group and is the least trained in combat. Unlike the other teams which have comprised of Umbrella operatives or police officers, Chris is the only one with military training.

Wendell is killed by zombies after attempting to spy on Alice in the shower. Crystal proves to be one of the most useful members of the group, announcing that she is a swimming champion, she is unfortunately killed immediately after she swims to the armory. Angel is killed by Bennet during his escape (I’m still not sure why he had to kill Angel to get to the plane…). Kim is reluctant to go in the sewers and due to his hesitancy, is sliced in half. And Bennett is presumably killed by the bad guy after being locked in.

Similar to the first and second film, despite being a masculine group, two men (Luther and Chris) and two women (Alice and Claire) survive the film.

Retribution (2012)
In (what is currently) the final film in the series, we have an equal split gender wise, with five women and five men. The women consist of:
• Alice
• Suburban clone of Rain- From previous film
• Jill Valentine- From a previous film
• Becky- Caucasian (Child)
• Ada Wong- Asian

And the men are:

• Luthor- From previous film
• Barry Burton- Caucasian
• Leon Kennedy- Caucasian
• Sergei- Caucasian
• Tony Rosato- Hispanic

Despite this being the most even grouping in term of gender, it ends up being the most uneven (in favour of the women). Tony is killed by Plaga Undead in Moscow before meeting Alice. Sergei is then killed by a licker in Moscow. Suburban Rain is also killed by licker. Barry is killed by Carlos’ umbrella clone and Luthor is then killed fighting Rains umbrella clone.

This leaves Leon as the only man standing. Conversely, only one of the women died, meaning that Alice, Jill, Ada and Becky all survive.

This film is similar to Extinction in that it is one of the few that has a (albeit brief) focus on romance- Leon puts his hand on Ada’s knee and is immediately rejected. The focus is more firmly on the friendship between Alice and the members of the team such as Luthor and Jill, as well as her motherly relationship with Becky, her clone’s daughter.

Children in the series
Interestingly, the only children in the film series (ignoring the red and white queens) both look alike, and both have physical defects. Angela Ashford (Angie) has a degenerative condition which would have led to a life in a wheelchair had it not been for the T-virus and Becky was partially deaf. The part of Becky wasn’t interestingly designed to resemble Angie. The part could have easily been a boy as the casting call was for a boy or girl of around 6 years old for a character named either Ben or Becky, dependant on the gender of the actor. Becky also wasn’t designed to be deaf, Aryanna Engineer (who is partially deaf) was simply the best actress for the part, which is incredibly rare for deaf actors.

Bad Guys
The enemies throughout the film series are normally white male. Unlike Alice’s teams, there is far less representation in the Umbrella Corporation. Arguably, this is intentional and is demonstrative of the corruption in business. It also furthers the notion that minorities and women are the underdogs, which encourages you to support them.

All things considered, the Resident Evil movies are fantastic when it comes to representation. It passes the Bechdel test with flying colours, with little to no emphasis being put on the female characters love lives. The mix of gender and race throughout Alice’s teams are refreshing and it’s great to see a lot more representation in films like this which can get pretty stuck in their traditional tropes. Let me know what you think of the series. Did you notice the difference in representation? Love it? Hate it? Let me know!

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Gender Equality in FMA: Military Women

It’s very rare to see solid, well developed female characters in any form of media, and this is something that I’ve always admired Fullmetal Alchemist for. Even though the protagonists of the series are male, the supporting ladies are incredibly well developed and not just used as love interests for the men.

Regarding why she writes strong working women, Hirmou Arakwa states: “Our family motto is, ‘those who dont work don’t deserve to eat’. Many people think that farmers in Hokkaido live a laid back life, but everyone has to work hard to make ends meet – even the women and kids. That’s the reason there are so many working women in ‘Fullmetal.’”

This philosophy is something that is apparent throughout the series and fully visible in every female character Hirmou writes. This is particularly true of the military (a stereotypically a male dominated area) where we have: First Lieutenant Riza Hawkeye, Major General Olivier Mira Armstrong, Second Lieutenant Maria Ross, Second Lieutenant Rebecca Catalina and Second Class Private Sheska.

First Lieutenant Riza Hawkeye:

Riza is a member of team Mustang and is clearly represented as being the most valuable member of the team. In his chess analogy, Roy refers to her as the Queen, which if you’re familiar with the rules of chess makes her the strongest piece. Riza is a firearms specialist and proves herself invaluable in any adaption of Fullmetal Alchemist and constantly saves Roy from harm.

Interestingly, the devotion shared between her and Roy isn’t given a romantic focus. Both Riza and Winrys’ aspects of the story could easily be adapted to make them just the love interests, but instead Hiromu gives them their own personality and storylines. Instead of being romantically involved, Riza is simply incredibly loyal to Roy which is portrayed as being one of her greatest strengths.

Overall, I definitely agree with Roy’s description of Riza. She is a queen and should always be treated as such.

Major General Olivier Mira Armstrong

I’m always upset that Olivier was missed out of the original 2003 anime. In the original, we were introduced to the rest of the Armstrong family but the eldest sister Olivier was entirely missed out of the storyline. Thankfully she shows up in Brotherhood and is just as incredibly as she was in the manga. Olivier is known as the Ice Queen as she is the commanding officer at Amestris’ northern border; Fort Briggs.

Olivier is an incredible commander and leads her soldiers with a fierce and unwavering commitment to her duty. There are issues with her personality however, particularly how abusively she treats her younger brother Alex, seeing him as a coward due to his refusal to take part in the Ishvalan war. Thankfully the pair appear to reunite in the finale of Brotherhood, where they fight together to defeat their enemies.

Second Lieutenant Maria Ross

Maria Ross is the single most underrated character in the Fullmetal Alchemist series.

After Ed and Al escape to tackle the Fifth Laboratory, Maria and her partner race after the pair to protect them. After ensuring Ed is safe in the hospital, Maria slaps Edward, berating him for ignoring Armstrongs orders about staying away from the laboratory. Maria is visibly terrified immediately after doing this, as Ed is a much higher rank than her. But Ed admits that he deserved it, and thanks her for doing so.

In the 2003 adaptation, Maria is part of the rescue force to save Ed and Al from Laboratory 5.When they finally find the boys, they find that Edward has triggered an extremely powerful transmutation which makes him a hazard to approach. Unlike the other soldiers, Ross walks through the incredibly dangerous array in order to hug Ed, causing him to relax and thus saving everyone.

Our protagonists are constantly forced to act like adults and Maria is one of the few characters who acknowledges that they are still children and treats them as such. Another more subtle instance of this is when Ed struggles to salute as he is still adjusting to military life. Instead of forcing him to continue the salute, Ross offers her hand to shake.

Later in the storyline, Maria is framed for the murder of Hughes and has to pretend to have been killed by Roy in order to escape execution for a crime she would never commit. She takes this in her stride and despite having to abandon her family and friends, Maria agrees to escape to Xing for her own safety. She is later shown during The Promised Day, helping with Mustangs resistance, despite the danger she faces by returning.

All in all, Maria is an incredibly caring person and deserves a lot more recognition for her actions throughout both series.

Second Lieutenant Rebecca Catalina

Rebecca shows up late in the manga, and as a result wasn’t featured in the 2003 anime. Her first appearance shows her and Riza talking about how Rebecca wants a husband (which is unusual for an anime which avoids romantic relationships when it can).

However, it transpires that during the meeting, Rebecca has slipped Riza an incredibly important message about the oncoming resistance. She is later shown during The Promised Day where she is represented as being just as talented in combat as Riza. Rebecca provides a good contrast to Riza showing that a woman can be tough whether or not she is interested in romantic relationships.

Second Class Private Sheska

Sheska received a job at the military after the military’s records were destroyed as her photographic memory allows her to provide perfect copies of the missing files.

In the 2003 adaption, Sheska was fired from the military shortly after Hughes death, but was rehired by Frank Archer in order to recreate some files. Sheska uses this opportunity to investigate Hughes murder and figures out that the Fuhrers secretary ‘Juliet Douglas’ was actually killed during the Ishvalan war. Sheska does initially believe to be the work of aliens, but the information that she and Winry discovers is instrumental in the Elrics figuring out the identity of Sloth.

I’ve always found Sheska to be the most relatable character in the military. But that may be because of her love of books. She is initially show buried in a pile of book in her home. Sheska is incredibly passionate about reading and manages to gain a job in the military because she excels at what she loves.

So those are our military ladies. I don’t think that I missed anyone out, but if I did, then feel free to let me know. Thanks for reading and stay tuned for an analysis of the other brilliant women in Fullmetal Alchemist

Harry Potter: House Symbolism and Rivalry

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, when I went to Durham University I took a class about Harry Potter. In this class, the students are sorted into one of the four houses and earn house points based on how well they do in essays. I unfortunately missed the sorting ceremony but I was sorted later in class. And naturally, I was sorted into… Hufflepuf :I

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t see anything wrong with being a Hufflepuff. But I’ve always identified as more of a Gryffindor or a Ravenclaw. I’m a Gryffindor on pottermore though, so at least that’s some kind of consolation. Besides, Hufflepuff have won the Durham house cup since the class started. So there are some perks to being a Hufflepuff.

The four houses are incredibly important to the world created by JK Rowling and in the class, we talked extensively on the prejudice and discrimination that comes from having a house system. And I do find this to be a pretty interesting area of the Harry Potter world, so I figured why not write about it.

Most people are aware about the different colours and the animals which represent the houses. So I’m not going to go into that. I will say that the films change a lot about Ravenclaws symbolism, their house colours change from blue and bronze to blue and silver and their eagle was changed to a raven, possibly because it makes more sense to have their mascot be the same as their namesake. It seems to be that this choice to change the colours and symbol was mainly aesthetic on the part of the film crew.

The four houses each correspond to one of the four elements. Gryffindor’s colour is red and its students have a fiery nature, so naturally they represent fire. Hufflepuff’s mascot is a badger and the students tend to succeed in Herbology, so they represent earth. Ravenclaws emblem is a bird, which related to the element of air, and Slytherins dorms are situated underneath the black lake, meaning that they represent water.

The regalia for each house are significant, particularly in terms of Voldemorts horcuxes, but they’re also symbolic of the traits of each house. For example, Godric Gryffindors sword represents bravery and the ability to fight for what you believe in. Helga Hufflepuffs cup may be symbolic of her houses hospitable nature. Rowena Ravenclaws diadem places emphasis on the head and therefore knowledge. And Salazar Slytherins locket could be indicative of the houses vanity and obsession with wealth and status.

As a boarding school, Hogwarts removes you from your real family and replaces it with another. And there’s no guarantee that you’ll be in the same house as your relatives. For example, Sirius Black was unusual in his family for being sorted into Gryffindor and the Patil twins were separate (another fact which the movies conveniently ignored).

This house system creates a sense of unity and comradery but it also insights discrimination. In the epilogue, Ron threatens to disinherit his children if they’re not in Gryffindor. And in the beginning, when Harry is just learning about the house system, Hagrid regards to Hufflepuff as a “lot o’ duffers” but makes a point of saying that that’s not the worst you could be and that Slytherin is the house were all evil wizards come from. Interestingly at this point, Hagrid would be aware that Sirius has been blamed for betraying Lily and James, which would therefore make him a bad wizard from Gryffindor, but it’s likely that Hagrid remained loyal to his friends, and didn’t believe that Sirius was capable of betraying James.

Anyway, Harry had gone his whole life without hearing about the houses. But he’s suddenly been told by both Hagrid, and Ron, that Slytherin are the bad guys. This leads to him begging the hat to sort him anywhere else. It would be interesting to see where Harry would have ended up if it hadn’t had these preconceptions, particularly since he has a part of Voldemorts soul is attached to him, so he would have had a greater chance of being in Slytherin instead, which may have entirely changed the perceptions of the novel.

There are also a number of issues with the process of sorting. Dumbledore himself says “sometimes I think we sort too soon.” At the age of eleven, the kids haven’t fully developed their personalities and it may be that the house that they’re in develops them instead. So instead of being born brave, you have the capability of bravery, which is fostered by the Gryffindor environment. And the same goes for the other houses.

This leads to the phenomenon where not all Gryffindors are good, not all Slytherins are sneaky, not all Ravenclaws are intellectual and not all Hufflepuffs should just be seen as ‘and the rest’. For example, Dumbledore and Pettigrew are two Gryffindors with very questionable morals. But everyone seems willing to just brush over the fact that Dumbledore once planned to rule all muggles, because deep down, we will always see him as the good guy. Likewise, it’s very easy to argue that Draco isn’t all bad as well as Snape who at the end he (kinda) earns his redemption. There’s also Slughorn, who just appears to be a genuinely nice guy despite his fondness for the Slytherin house. Luna is an example of unconventional wisdom and she doesn’t exactly fit into the Ravenclaw stereotype. Similarly, the ditzy, superficial Lockheart was also a Ravenclaw at his time in Hogwarts. Hufflepuffs have a reputation for not really doing a lot but Cedric was incredibly brave up till his death and Tonks is the biggest bamf I have ever seen. (Upon reflection, I do feel a little better about being sorted into Hufflepuff.)

The ultimate point is that their houses do not define these characters. They may be influenced by peer pressure to conform to house standards and develop the house traits, but these are only external influences which don’t fully create an individual’s personality.

Let me know what you think in the comments. Do you agree that the house traits are nurture over nature? What house do you most identify with? I’d love to hear from you guys.

A Comparison of American Gods and Percy Jackson: Western Adaptions of Ancient Gods

Neil Gaiman and Rick Riordan have distinctly different audiences but they do have one area where they create similar worlds: their Americanisation of ancient gods. So when I read Neil Gaiman’s American Gods for the first time, I found it hard not to compare it to Rick Riordans work.

(As a quick disclaimer, I’ll be referring only to Riordans Percy Jackson series and the Heroes of Olympus series. I’m aware that Riordan has written about the Egyptian Mythology, but I haven’t read them yet so I can’t include them in this blog post. I’m also using Gaimans ‘preferred text’ so if anything seems unfamiliar, that may be why.)

Rick Riordans ‘Percy Jackson’ series is a young adult book which focuses on adventure whereas Neil Gaimans ‘American Gods’ is more of an adult novel which reads like a road trip. Since Gaiman targets an older audience, it means that he can incorporate some of the more adult myths (such as the Queen of Sheba who becomes a prostitute). The Percy Jackson series does discuss the gods infidelity (we wouldn’t have our demi-gods without it), however it’s not described in any explicit detail.

In Percy Jackson, the children of the gods live in the human world, as they did in the classical myths. The gods still hold their divinity, just translated into modern aspects. So they still live on Olympus and visit the mortal world at will. Whereas in American Gods, the gods live in the human world and have human occupations relevant to their mythology (for example Thoth and Anubis run a funeral parlour). They still have their powers but they’re very weak as the gods have no followers and their powers are largely dependent on faith. Interestingly, in both fictional universes, the underworld still exists as it does in the myths; Hades in Percy Jackson and the Egyptian mythology in American Gods.

In both adaptations, the gods travel to America because of their followings. In American Gods, the gods follow their followers. Once rituals started occurring in America, the gods would move over. Similarly, in Percy Jackson, the gods moved as the West developed. In American Gods, the premise is that gods exist because people believe in them. Immigrants to the United States brought their gods with them. The power of these gods diminish as peoples belief in them weakens. This allows new gods to appear, reflecting America’s obsessions with concepts such as media, technology and drugs, which become gods in their own right. This is similar to Riordans dichotomy of the Greek and Roman gods, but with a more modern slant.

Arguably, Riordans dichotomy can be pretty confusing at times. The Greek and Roman gods are intrinsically linked and it’s hard to tell if the aspects are supposed to be the same or different people. In American Gods, the depictions are a much clearer. The gods have different names but are still pretty recognisable (especially when their pseudonyms are Low Key. Doesn’t take a genius to figure that one out.)

American Gods features a large range of different religions such as: Egyptian, Norse, Slavic and Germanic. Whereas Percy Jackson is solely devoted to Greek and Roman gods (I will reiterate that Riordan has written a separate series about the Egyptian Gods, I just haven’t read it yet.) The Greek and Roman gods didn’t feature in American Gods, possibly because their followers were a lot less likely to have gone to America. As I mentioned before, Riordan creates new gods based on what people in modern times worship. These include: the Technical Boy (god of computers and the Internet), Media (goddess of television), The Black Hats (Mister World, Mister Town, Mister Wood and Mister Stone) who supposedly exist out of America’s obsession with Black helicopters and the Men in Black and The Intangibles (gods of the modern stock market). The story revolves around the war between the new and old gods, similar to how the Heroes of Olympus series introduces the war between the Greek and Roman gods. The only difference being that Gaimans war is much more contemporary and makes a lot more sense in the modern context.

Both stories construct a brilliant world in which the ancient gods are translated into an American form. Which one you prefer is largely dependent of which style of narration you prefer. Rick Riordan is largely a young adult writer, and his work is targeted at younger audiences. It’s fun to read and focuses on the friendship and the adventure. Gaimans American Gods is a lot darker and focuses more on the underhanded side of the gods and the politics which work between them. Despite their differences, I would recommend both texts if you’re interested in reading about mythology.

The Muppets Wizard of Oz Film Review

The 2005 Muppets adaption of the Wizard of Oz is pretty much what you’d expect from the Muppets. Our human actress plays Dorothy while the most famous of the Muppets are cast in the other main roles. So Kermit, Gonzo and Fozzie play the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion. In an odd twist, Toto is played by Pepe the Prawn (because they have similar names?)

Miss Piggy plays all of the witches (who oddly used to be a girl band together…okay). Interestingly the Witch of the West isn’t green (probably because it would be harder to make a new Miss Piggy Muppet out of green material), one of her sidekicks has green skin to make up for it though. Instead the flying monkeys, we have a biker gang of Muppets who are ruled by whoever wears a special hat. I’m not sure where that plot point came from but why not?

The film is pretty predictably, after all they couldn’t deviate that much from their source material. The main difference is that, in the real world, Dorothy wants to audition to tour with the Muppets so instead of wanting to go home, Dorothy’s main motivation is to become a famous singer which she naturally manages to achieve by the end of the film.

At first glance this film is pretty tame. But it did receive a lot of criticism for being far too raunchy for a kid’s film. Take a look at some of the proclaimed infractions:

• Dorothy says the shoes make her feel “sexy”.
• Pepe the Prawns problem (akin to the scarecrow having no brain) is “I’m so gosh darn sexy it hurts.”
• Pepe fiddles with knobs on Gonzos chest. Gonzo then says they’re his nipples and Pepe promptly runs away saying “I feel dirty.”
• There are references to the Girls Gone Wild series, The Passion of the Christ, Apocalypse Now, and Kill Bill: Volume 1.
• “What happens in Oz stays in Oz” is mentioned. Which has obvious sleazy connotations with the famous Las Vegas phrase.
• Dorothy goes to the “makeover machine” and comes out in a skimpy dress. In addition, a wolf whistle is heard as she steps out. Unlike the original Wizard of Oz, only Dorothy gets a makeover, which is pretty unfair.
• The poppy fields is represented as a night club. Which is interesting given the connotations of poppies with opium. But not really stuff for a kid’s film.
• The Wizard appears as a seductress when appearing to Gonzo.
• It’s implied that the Glinda Miss Piggy pinched Kermits ass while Dorothy was saying goodbye to the biker gang.

You can make up your own mind as to whether or not the Muppets film went too far in their desire to appeal to an adult audience as well as their children one. I will say that a lot of the more adult jokes went completely over my head when as was a kid, as they were designed to.

I’d recommend this film if you’re a fan of the Muppets franchise, it has a similar formula to their other films and does a pretty good job at working with the Oz mythology. I’ll leave you with the best joke in the film:

The Top Three Prequels to the Wizard of Oz

I’ve always loved the story of the Wizard of Oz. The original film was a constant in my home when I was growing up, so I’m pretty familiar with both the world of the original and the subsequent adaptions. So I thought I’d make a handy guide to my favorite prequels to the Wizard of Oz.

1. Wicked

As far as I’m concerned the musical ‘Wicked: The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz’ is, hands down, the best adaptation of the Wizard of Oz out there.

The musical is based on a series of novels by Gregory Maguire; Wicked, Son of a Witch, A Lion Amongst Men and Out of Oz. The musical very loosely follows the plot of the first book but a lot of it is adapted to make the characters more likeable. The biggest example of this is the relationship between Elphaba and Fiyero. In the musical, Fiyero has a sort-of relationship with Glinda, so when he falls in love with Elphaba it’s more like the drama you would see in a high school sit com (which admittedly, makes sense in the highschool setting). Whereas, in the book, Fiyero is married with three children, so it’s more of an affair and it’s a bit harder to cheer on him and Elphabas relationship.

The story predominantly deals with the backstory of the Wicked Witch of the West, the antagonist of the source material, during her time at school. But it also includes the back story of all of the other Oz characters. So we see Nessarose (Elphaba’s younger sister) becoming the Wicked witch of the East. Glinda fulfilling her role as the good witch. The Cowardly Lion appears as a cub who is saved by Elphaba. Fiyero (Elphaba’s boyfriend) becomes the scarecrow. And Boq is turned into the tin man by Nessarose.

Unlike other adaptions of the story, Wicked has a strong focus on the political, social, and ethical issues with Oz. The characters are fully developed and a lot more human than they are in the source material. One of the most feared villain in the fairy-tale world becomes the heroine. The Wicked Witch isn’t just evil for the sake of being evil, she was driven to it after trying to do everything she could to be good but failing, which isn’t a twist you expect when you watch the original film.

The musical does, unfortunately, leave out a lot of the commentary of race which appeared in the novel. For example Fiyero is an Arjikis and as such, he is dark-skinned and tattooed with blue diamonds, which you never see in the musical. In fact, they rarely get the ‘dark skinned’ part right. I’m all for racially-blind casting, but at least give him his diamonds.

Fiyeros character is designed to introduce a whole other culture to the Oz mythology, which is unfortunately ignored in the musical adaption. However, there is the oppression of the munchkin people by the dictator Nessarose (which we see in the original Wicked of Oz) and Elphaba remains a brilliant metaphor for racism and a symbol for how prejudice can harm an individual.

The music of Wicked is also a gorgeous addition to the story and if you get the chance to see the musical, you should definitely take it!

2. Lion of Oz (2000)

The Lion of Oz is a children’s animated film which deal primarily with the backstory of the Cowardly Lion and the Wizard. The film is based on the book “Lion of Oz and the Badge of Courage” which was written by Roger S. Baum, the great-grandson of L. Frank Baum.

In the opening sequence, the lion lives in a circus where Oscar Diggs (who later becomes the wizard) works. Both the Lion and Oscar were taken to Oz. during a tornado (just like Dorothy, tornados are clearly the only way to get into Oz) after the wizard stupidly decides that a hot air balloon trip with a lion is a brilliant idea. The main antagonist of this film is the Wicked Witch of the East, who claims to have kidnapped Oscar. She explains that she will release him when the lion brings her the “flower of Oz”. It’s essentially the same set up as the original film. The Lion is given a quest by a witch and collects his companions along the way. On his travels, the Lion is sent to a girl named Wimsik (Get it? Because she’s whimsical) who knows all about flowers. Wimsik is an eternally cheerful child with the most ridiculous fake accent you will ever hear. Interestingly, no-one seems to find it weird odd when Wimsik can magically grow flowers or perform magic just by singing. It’s not really much of a surprise when it transpires that Wimsik was the flower all along.

The Lion’s characterisation in this film is pretty odd. He thinks that his bravery is intrinsically linked to the badge Oscar gave him at the start of the film. The Witch of the East steals it during the climax and he supposedly learns that he doesn’t need the medal to be brave. But he then decides to go on a new quest to find his medal and Oscar (who he’s been told arrived at emerald city in his balloon). The film ends with the lion landing on the yellow brick road and coming across Dorothy and co. Because of the Lions new motivation, the film doesn’t really work as a prequel. If we’re to assume that this is immediately followed by the events in Wizard of Oz, then the lion quickly loses track of his goal of finding Oscar, doesn’t recognise his friend when they do meet again and instead asks if the wizard can just give him courage.

Overall, the animation in this film is what you’d expect from something designed solely for children and the storytelling is pretty cheesy. The songs are also painfully cheesy in comparison to Wicked but you can put that down to their production budget and their primary audience. This is probably best exemplified by the first song in which the wizard sings about how he and the lion have the “courage to be friends”.

3. Oz the Great and Powerful (2013)

Oz the Great and Powerful deals with the back stories of the Wizard and the Witches. Basically, somebody saw Wicked and thought that it was a good idea so appropriated the concept and turned it into a film. I’m not saying that Gregory Maguire has the monopoly on Oz back stories, I’m just saying that he did it a lot better.

Most of the film is spent mimicking the classic Wizard of Oz film. The black and white beginning is interesting but it drags on for far too long. The transition doesn’t have the impact that it did in the first film because it’s not a surprise. Literally everyone was expecting it. It worked so well back in 1939 because the technology was new, now it’s common place and not nearly as special as it was back then.

Like the Lion of Oz, this film mimics the plot of Wizard of Oz. Our hero is given a quest by a witch (that quest being to kill the witch), and collects companions along the way. These companions represent people he knows in real life. Finley the flying monkey represents his assistant from the Circus and the China Doll symbolises the little girl who asked him to help her walk.

The film is set up to trick you into thinking that Evanora is the bad witch (she wears a green dress, what more evidence do you need). There’s also a different character referred to as the ‘Wicked Witch’ which turns out to be their Glinda. I didn’t mind the twist of the wicked witch being Theodora, but I was disappointed that the cause of all of her evil was a boy. Yes, in Wicked Fiyero partly caused Elphaba’s path into wickedness, but that’s only a small part of it. Wicked is more of a political commentary and Elphaba is represented as being the hero whilst the Wizard is the truly wicked one. In Oz the Great and Powerful, Theodora’s heart is broken and she chooses to remain green simply to ‘punish the wizard’. Seems legit.

In this film, the wizard is presented as being a good sympathetic character. But he’s just plain awful. Like Barney Stinson from How I Met Your Mother, the wizard tricks and manipulates women into (presumably) sleeping with him, and yet he’s still our good guy. The Wizards lose morals are far better represented in Wicked, where the Wizards misdeeds begin with him drugging Elphaba’s mother to sleep with him.

Overall, I wasn’t particularly impressed by Oz the Great and Powerful.

So that’s all for now. I was considering doing a post about the prequels to Wizard of Oz, but to be honest all I would be able to talk about is how much those Wheelers creeped me out. Those things were awful.

Let me know what you guys think. Do you love these prequels? Hate them? Were there any that I missed out? Leave me a message to let me know.