TV REVIEW: Star Vs the Forces of Evil Season 4

written by David Steffen

Star Vs. the Forces of Evil is an action comedy cartoon about an interdimensional mage-warrior princess (Eden Sher) who was sent to Earth for a while where she made friends with earthling Marco Diaz (Adam McArthur) . Season 1 was previously reviewed here, Season 2 reviewed here, and Season 3 reviewed here. Season 4, the final season of the series, aired between March 2019 and May 2019. This review will have spoilers for previous seasons.

Season 3 ended with the resolution of an epic threat against the kingdom of Mewni from the half-monster half-Mewman Meteora (Jessica Walter) is achieved when her mother Eclipsa (Esmé Bianco) casts a spell that reduces her to a baby. Star, who had been acting queen because her mother Moon (Grey Griffin) is missing, cedes the throne to Eclipsa who is the rightful queen of Mewni, who has been imprisoned in a crystal for hundreds of years, also giving her the family wand as her rightful property. Eclipsa immediately begins work reversing many of the laws that supported the royal family’s anti-monster sentiment, as Eclipsa’s beloved is a monster, and her daughter a half-monster. Meanwhile, Star and Marco search for Moon based on a series of half-formed rumors about sightings of her. Eclipsa’s beloved, Globgor (Jaime Camil), is imprisoned in crystal and she has not succeeded in freeing him.

Everything that the series has built up to comes to a head in this season. It still has a lot of fun and moments of levity, but the stakes are higher than ever. Again at the end of the last season the world as we know it has been upturned with the succession leaving Eclipsa in charge of the kingdom, and Star and her parents shown to be descendents of impostors to the throne. With the threat of Meteora gone, new threats arise, threats that put the very existence of Mewni in question.

I love this show so much, I highly recommend it!

BOOK REVIEW: Dog Man: Lord of the Fleas

written by David Steffen

Dog Man: Lord of the Fleas is a 2018 graphic novel for kids, the fifth in the Dog Man series by Dav Pilkey (creator of Captain Underpants). The series so far has been reviewed here.

The story starts out as Dog Man (half dog half cop), Lil’ Petey (friendly non-evil immature clone of the villain Petey), and 80-HD (their robot friend) form the superhero group Supa Buddies where they each have alter-egos that fight crime. Shortly after, Petey arrives claiming to be the psychiatrist Dr. Katz to take Lil’ Petey too school, but soon is forced to reveal that he has done so under false pretenses because Lil’ Petey is in danger. Lil’ Petey’s history is coming back for him as he recounts a story from when he was a child when he and members of his scout group were stranded on a desert island. Those other members have a grudge against Petey for his actions that day and they have returned for revenge!

Very fun series for kids, and simple enough that kids learning to read can make a lot of progress with a book like this, motivated by the humor to learn more.

TV REVIEW: Star Vs the Forces of Evil Season 3

written by David Steffen

Star Vs. the Forces of Evil is an action comedy cartoon about an interdimensional mage-warrior princess (Eden Sher) who was sent to Earth for a while where she made friends with earthling Marco Diaz (Adam McArthur) . Season 1 was previously reviewed here, and Season 2 reviewed here. Season 3 aired between July 2017 and April 2018. This review will have spoilers for previous seasons.

Some context from Season 2: It is traditional for princesses in the Mewni royal family to have a princess song written about them when they come of age. Most of the songs are vapid fluff pieces, but Star insisted that the piece should have substance. But this idea backfires when the song reveals the major family secret that Star lost the book of spells that has been handed down from generation to generation, and Glossaryck the magical guide to the book, as well as revealing that Star has a crush on Marco. These revelations cause riots among the citizens of Mewni for their Queen Moon (Grey Griffin) keeping secrets from them, and the news of Star’s crush drives a wedge between her and Marco. Shortly after, the villain Toffee (Michael C. Hall) in control of their common enemy Ludo’s (Alan Tudyk) body manages to suck the souls from the Magical High Commission, the highest magical authority, leaving any sort of authority in shambles. Star leaves Earth to deal with matters on Mewni, leaving Marco behind.

The series has always had short episodes that often have seemingly random unrelated plots but has also had building of overarching consequences, and the end of season 2 is the most catastrophic of them all, breaking up the dream team of Star and Marco, leaving the Butterfly family’s most powerful villain on the loose with the magical authority disabled, Season three starts off with the stakes already high and our heroes’ support system in disarray. I loved the series since the start, but Season three shows how intense it can really be, while still having plenty of fun and silliness that is also a great part of the show. I highly recommend it!

MOVIE REVIEW: The Jungle Book (2016)

written by David Steffen

The Jungle Book is a 2016 live action plus CG action/adventure film by Disney Studios which is based on the 1967 animated Disney film of the same title which is in turn based on a collection of stories with that same title published in 1894.

Mowgli (Neel Sethi) is a “man cub”, a human boy who was separated from his family when he was just a baby and raised by the wolves Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o) and her pack after he was brought to her by the black panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley), who still visits them as a friend.

Mowgli lives peacefully among the animals for a number of years, until one year while at the watering hole during a drought they encounter a fire-scarred tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba) who has a vendetta against humans for disfiguring him. He tells the wolf pack that if the boy isn’t gone by the end of the drought then he will kill Mowgli. The pack debates what the best thing to do is, but Mowgli decides that he should leave for the benefit of the pack and Bagheera offers to guide him to the nearest man-village.

Shere Khan hunts them as they try to travel safely and Mowgli makes new friends along the way who help him on his journey, including Baloo the bear (Bill Murray). Mowgli’s clearest route to safety is to be returned to a man-village, but he doesn’t know their language or any of their ways and he doesn’t want to leave the wolf pack who have been his family his whole life.

This movie has a great set of voice actors, and it’s fun to see these actors apply their voice talens to a familiar franchise, though, as with many of the Disney live/CG remakes it did sort of leave the question “why did this need to be remade? Wouldn’t the time and effort have been better spent on something new?”

BOOK REVIEW: Dog Man and Cat Kid by Dav Pilkey

written by David Steffen

Dog Man and Cat Kid is a 2017 graphic novel for kids, the fourth in the Dog Man series by Dav Pilkey (creator of Captain Underpants), the series so far has been reviewed here. The title character Dog Man is a half-dog half-policeman who fights crime with the strengths and weaknesses of both a man and a dog, often against Petey the Cat, but also against other villains that threaten the peace of his city.

In the last book Lil’ Petey, a young clone of Petey the Cat, was abandoned by Petey and decided to move in with Dog Man. As this book starts, Petey comes to visit Lil’ Petey and reveals his intentions to turn the sometimes-annoying but always-goodhearted young clone to join him in a lifelong mission of evil! Meanwhile, Dog Man has been getting more attention than ever, and is now the subject of a brand new feature film starring international actress Yolay Caprese. This book introduces Dog Man’s new alter-ego (which you can see on the cover of the book above) and you can also see on the cover that he teams up with Lil’ Petey’s new alter-ego mentioned in the title: Cat Kid.

The feature film plot was probably one of my favorites in the series published so far, the metahumor there with actor doubles of the main characters also playing roles was very fun. These are fun books for kids, especially in early grade school when learning how to read.

TV REVIEW: Star Vs. the Forces of Evil Season 2

written by David Steffen

Star Vs. the Forces of Evil is an action comedy cartoon about an interdimensional mage-warrior princess visiting Earth. Season 1 was previously reviewed here. Season 2 aired on Disney XD between July 2016 and February 2017. This review contains spoilers for season 1. Keep in mind this review will contain spoilers for season 1.

Most of season 1 was spent with Star (Eden Sher) and Marco living at Marco’s house on Earth and Star sort of trying to integrate into Earth life while also fending off attacks from the Ludo and his gang of monsters who want to try to steal her wand. This seemingly steady formula for the show was completely disrupted at the end of the season as another monster, Toffee, usurps Ludo’s position as leader of the gang and forces Star to destroy her wand to save Marco: killing Toffee and throwing Ludo into a journey fending for himself in the space between worlds.

Although Star and Marco are still living at Marco’s house, with Ludo no longer leading daily attacks to steal Star’s wand, the show broadens to flesh out other secondary characters and expanding the lore of Mewni. Even though episode is very short, two half-episodes in every half hour show, and many of the stories are more or less standalone, this season really starts to show there is a greater lore involved here with more facets than you might expect for the silly kid’s show it may appear to be on the surface.

I love this show and highly recommend it for kids and adults alike!

MOVIE REVIEW: Allegiant

written by David Steffen

Allegiant is a 2016 dystopic science fiction movie, based on the 2013 novel of the same name by Veronica Roth. It was the third movie in the series, just as the book was the third and final in the book series, but there was originally planned to be a fourth movie, Ascendant, which was originally supposed to be Allegiant Part 2, but was cancelled. The book Allegiant was reviewed here. The first movie Divergent is reviewed here, and the second movie Insurgent is reviewed here. Some of the general summary of the plot here is the same as the review here of the Divergent book because the basis of it was reasonably closely adapted.

These stories take place in a future Chicago which is walled-off from the rest of the world and has been split into five factions: Candor (who value truth, Abnegation (who value selflessness), Amity (who value harmony), Dauntless (who value courage), and Erudite (who value intelligence). This order has existed for a long time, relatively undisturbed, but now the world is reeling from several major disturbances in the social order that began when Erudite converted much of dauntless into mindless soldiers and slaughtered much of Abnegation before they could be stopped. The factionless who have lived starving and forgotten in the background for much of recent history have risen up under a new leader, and now on the heels of that change, a video has surfaced that shakes the foundations of their whole world.

The video says that the world outside of Chicago had been corrupt, and that the city was sealed to allow the Divergent population to increase and that this recent increase means that it is time to reopen the city to the outside world again. Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley) and her boyfriend Tobias (Theo James), both Divergent who have played major roles in the recent changes, lead the group to venture out into the outside world. There they meet David (Jeff Daniels) who is a leader in the world outside, and they find out much more about the world outside.

This movie is notable in that it might be one of the furthest adaptation from its source material of any movie I’ve ever seen. It feels like someone budgeted for a huge special effects team before reading the book and realizing there is not actually a lot of need for special effects. It makes it very confusing and distracting if you have read the book first (or probably vice versa) and then you’re like, “wait I really really don’t remember this at all”. If you squint you can kindof see the core of the plot between the two, but so much is changed in such a huge way that it’s barely recognizable at all. And, okay, so the third book was my least favorite in the trilogy, and maybe that’s why they decided to make a completely different movie adaptation? I honestly don’t know. Maybe the movie would be better if you hadn’t read the book first and have expectations that they have something to do with each other? But it’s hard to recommend if you have read the book



TABLETOP GAME REVIEW: Meme the Game Disney Edition

written by David Steffen

Meme the Game Disney Edition is, as you might expect, a card-based game game about making memes from Disney snapshots. Although I haven’t played the original Meme: The Game game, it seems to be the identical idea but made friendly for kids with kid-friendly phrases and pictures from Disney movies. Similar to Apples to Apples or a kid-friendly Cards Against Humanity, but with pictures.

The premise of the game is that one player is the judge and the other players have to pick the best picture and word combinations from their hand that they think is the funniest. That’s really all there is to it (see the cover of the game. That’s pretty much it, rinse and repeat!

Audience
Suitable for all ages that are old enough to read on their own (at least if they want to play their own hands). If they are pretty young, even if they can read, they might not get some of the jokes.

Challenge
Mostly based on chance and on having some guess about the judge’s sense of humor.

Session Time
Could play as many rounds as you want.

Replayability
As with other of this type of game, a lot of the novelty can wear off pretty quickly, it may be quite fun for a short while.

Originality
Not particularly, it is a spinoff of another game which in itself is apparently inspired by several iterations of other games, though this one does have Disney movie nostalgia going for it.

Overall
We got it for pretty cheap, $5. The novelty wore off quite quickly, though it was fun for a game or two.

MUSIC VIDEO DRILLDOWN #9: Radioactive by Imagine Dragons

written by David Steffen

This is one of a series of articles wherein I examine a music video as a short film, focusing on the story rather than the music, trying to identify the story arcs and characters motivations, and consider the larger implication of events.

The film this week is Radioactive by Imagine Dragons, a fantasy action thriller.

The film starts as our protagonist, a young woman in a hoodie, walks through the woods alone with a blanket-covered kennel. She approaches a shack on what appears to be a quiet rural property, until she enters and is surrounded by the ruckus of an underground gambling ring. Men shout and wave money at a central ring while the boss of the ring (Lou Diamond Philips) smokes a cigar and fiddles with a key hung around his neck. A chalkboard marks 115 wins for the Champ and 0 for the Challengers.

We catch glimpses of the singers of the background music, who sometimes pause their music to stare apprehensively at the trapdoor in the ceiling, the implication being that they are imprisoned in a dungeon under the shack, presumably locked with the key around the boss’s neck. They are doing their best to play despite drums and guitar caked in thick layers of dust.

The Challenger turns out to be a monster puppet that looks like a gorilla with long purple hair. Muscular and vicious and under the command of the boss, it puts challengers, other puppets and stuffed animals of various shapes, to quick ends, beating and often dismembering them before they are dropped into the dungeon through the trap door to join Imagine Dragons down there.

Our protagonist reveals the resident of her kennel, a pink and white teddy bear, and she pits it against the Champ. At first it seems the fight is going the way every other fight has gone, with the Champ winning decisively, but just when it’s about to be dumped in the dungeon with the others it rises again and gathers itself, gathering some kind of glowing energy into its plushy fist and knocks out the Champ. The shack goes completely silent as everyone freezes in shock at this unexpected development. The boss sics his guards on the bear, and the bear vaporizes them each in turn, and the gamblers cleare out of the shack in a rush, abandoning the boss. Our protagonist takes his key before dumping the boss down the trap door.

She frees Imagine Dragons to go free, and the boss picks himself up from the ground in the dungeon, as a swarm of his plushy victims closes in on him with squeaking sounds and malicious intent and the boss screams as the screen goes black.

Is this a fantasy film or a documentary, the presence of Imagine Dragons in the film might imply that this is a true story from their personal history. Perhaps before they made it big? I don’t believe I’ve heard any public interviews discussing this incident in greater detail, but it’s possible that the boss of that gambling ring has other surviving friends or family who would get their revenge about anyone who gave too many details. It does make me wonder too if this ring is an isolated occurrence or if there are illegal puppet fighting rings all over the place. And even though the boss got his comeuppance, it’s still sad to think of all of the plush creatures who had died there before that, and the people who came to gamble over it. In many ways it’s a classic tale of bad people getting what’s coming to them, but no doubt the survivors will suffer for the rest of their lives from their trauma there. Maybe someday there will be followup films about them finding their happiness in family or art or charity, however they can.

Next up in the Music Video Drilldown series will be Q.U.E.E.N. by Janelle Monáe.

MOVIE REVIEW: Insurgent

written by David Steffen

Insurgent is a 2015 dystopic science fiction film based on the 2012 novel of the same name by Veronica Roth, both of which are the 2nd installment in the Divergent series. The first movie, Divergent, was reviewed here, and the Insurgent book was reviewed here. Much of the general summary of the plot here is the same as the review here of the Divergent book because the basis of it was reasonably closely adapted.

These stories take place in a future Chicago which is walled-off from the rest of the world and has been split into five factions: Candor (who value truth, Abnegation (who value selflessness), Amity (who value harmony), Dauntless (who value courage), and Erudite (who value intelligence). This order has existed for a long time, relatively undisturbed, but now the world is reeling from coordinated attack masterminded by Erudite that involved turning much of the deadly and well-trained Dauntless into mindless killing drones. Now the remnants of Dauntless are scattered and trying to figure out how they’re going to fit in in the new shaken order.

Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley)was born Abnegation but chose to switch to Dauntless when she turned sixteen, the one opportunity anyone has to switch. Although she is officially Dauntless, she has shown tendencies that seem to say she is actually “Divergent”, which means she has aptitudes for more than one of the factions, as does her boyfriend Tobias (Theo James). This is considered very rare, and very dangerous–others have died for even being suspected of being Divergent. This unusual trait may have saved many lives because she was able to resist the conditioning that turned much of the rest of Dauntless into mindless killing machines.

She and many of Dauntless are now hiding out in Amity, trying to find their next plans. It is a troubled truce with Amity, who value harmony and thus do not get along well with the violent and impulsive Dauntless. But their refuge isn’t going to last very long anyway, because the other members of Dauntless, the ones who sided with Erudite after the original conflict, are coming.

The first movie was a very close adaptation, but this movie, about halfway through, has quite a bit of divergence (ha)from its source material. The characters are the same, the setup is the same, but it ends up in a significantly different place than the book its based on, even though they’re kindof thematically connected. I admit I found this quite distracting, having read the book first, trying to figure out if this was one of those cases where an author lost the creative control over their own work and this was some Hollywood creative going wild making an adaptation into something completely different, or if Veronica Roth did have a say and decided she wanted something significantly different from her book. Still plenty of action and intrigue, but if you have already read the book you may find yourself distracted by the changes that didn’t really seem that necessary and which interfere with the third book being able to be set up in the same way.