Friday, 15 January 2021

Carmen Sandiego Returns For Her Latest Caper in the Season 4 Finale

 

Carmen Sandiego (2019 Series) Title Card

Fans could not be more excited when Netflix officially announced the final season of Carmen Sandiego set to premiere on the 15th January 2021.  Previously in Season 3, although the series for the season was too short (there are only 5 episodes) it left fans with a burning curiosity about the myriad of possibilities the series may take thereafter.

Carmen Sandiego Season 4 Official Trailer

If you are new to Carmen Sandiego, it is a 2019 Netflix animated adaptation to the highly successful media franchise of the same name. Otherwise known as, “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego.”  

To get you up to speed, here is the gist of it.

Toddler Carmen Sandiego, formerly known as "Black Sheep"

Synopsis
An orphan girl, known only as “Black Sheep” is raised on a secluded island in an academy for criminals called V.I.L.E. (the E stands for Evil) When she eventually learns about the sinister intentions of the people who raised her, she was repulsed by the truth. With the help of a white-hat hacker named Player, she escaped the island and took on the name Carmen Sandiego. Now, Carmen and her sidekicks Zack, Ivy and Player travel around the world masterminding spectacular heists in the attempt to foil V.I.L.E.'s diabolical plans. However, hot on their trail is the ACME Detective Agency who are hellbent on putting V.I.L.E. under arrest for their evil deeds. Yet they also suspect Carmen as the key to their investigations and pursues her to wherever she is around the world. 

The characters in Carmen Sandiego 2019 Netflix series

The series follows Carmen Sandiego as the protagonist with a mission to thwart V.I.L.E. (Villains International League of Evil) from stealing the world's treasures. She is somewhat a modern-day version of Robin Hood where she steals from V.I.L.E. first to thwart them from carrying out their wicked plans. The series features Jane the Virgin, Gina Rodriguez as Carmen, Stranger Thing's  Finn Wolfhard as Player and experienced voice acress Kari Wahlgren as Sheena aka Tigress.  
Source: Insider 

Rina Rodriguez as Carmen Sandiego. She is best known for her role in "Jane The Virgin"

Finn Wolfhard as Player, Carmen's secret weapon.
Wolfhard is famous for his role as Mike Wheeler in the Netflick smash hit, "Stranger Things"

Rita Moreno as Cookie Booker.  
Rita is best known as Anita in West Side Story (1961) 
She is also well known as the voice of Carmen Sandiego herself in the 1998 animated series, "Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego"

Michael Hawley as Zack, Ivy's brother and ally to Carmen.
Hawley does voice work for several video games including "Mad Max" and "Batman: Arkham Knight."
 

Abby Trott as Ivy, Zack's big sister and ally to Carmen.
Trott has done numerous voiceovers for many animes and video games.

Kari Wahlgren as Sheena or Tigress, a V.I.L.E. operative.
She has voiced over a hundred animes, video games and anime.

Mary Elizabeth McGlynn as Coach Brunt, a V.I.L.E. faculty staff.
McGlynn has done voice overs for animes like Naruto and Sailormoon Crystal.


Charlet Chung as Interpol turned ACME Agent Julia Argent.

Rafael Pertardi as Interpol turned ACME Agent Chase Devineux. 
He appears alongside Keanu Reeves in the movie "Siberia"

Over three seasons, fans followed the super thief across the globe pulling off spectacular capers in an action-packed drama. Wherever our protagonist sets foot, she will rattle off bits of trivia about the country and culture.

In Season 1, episode 3, Carmen introduces Indonesia to the audience.

The series is highly engaging and takes on an original plot never heard or explored before in the previous media formats of the franchise.  Rotten Tomatoes rated the series a 4.5/5 and describing as appealing to both long time fans and audience that are completely new Carmen.

The iconic red, geographic theme, characters and educational snippets, much of Netflix's rebooted version is a  tribute to the legacy of a 30 year old franchise in various media forms. 

Yes, you heard it right. Carmen Sandiego has been around far longer than you think! As a fan who grew up with the Carmen Sandiego games, I will dive into the evolution of the franchise that made Carmen into a pop culture icon even before her debut on Neflix.

How on Earth Did Carmen Sandiego Begin?
Source: The Avocado

The first Carmen Sandiego leaped to life all the way back in 1985 as a computer game created by Broderbund called Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego. The game was conceived by an ex-Disney employee and some talented people who were experimenting to include more graphics into text-base adventure games that were common at the time. 

The first computer game in 1985 started it all.

Carmen's in-game dossier back in the 1980s. Her characteristics will evolve over time.

The game concept centered on tracking and chasing down criminals through clues and deductive reasoning. It was not until the founders of Broderbund, Gary Carlston suggested to include a geographical theme to the game. The game's appointed writer, David Siefkin was tasked to include The World Almanac and Book of Facts into the game's narrative and packaging.

The game packaging includes a 1991 version of the World Almanac, making it one of the heaviest games sold in stores. 

However, on top of its robbers and cops themed adventure game, what made it especially compelling was its leading character, Miss Carmen Sandiego herself. Inspired by the Portugese-Brazillian singer Carmen Miranda, the lead antagonist was bestowed with a name that sounded exotic and mysterious. Her last name Sandiego was derived from San Diego city, California. Though no one really knows her descent, her name seems to suggest that she is of Hispanic origins.

Carmen Sandiego on the box art of the 1995 CD-ROM game.

In the game manual, she is described as a clever and quick-witted woman who steals only for the intellectual challenge. A former talented Acme detective, she turned to a life of crime after realizing that her cases do not satisfy her intellectually. She is the founder and ringleader of V.I.L.E. (Short for Villains International League of Evil. ) She prefers to mastermind her heists and let her henchmen carry out the operations. Physically she is consistently depicted as having long wavy brown hair and dons an iconic red fedora and matching red trenchcoat.  In other versions, she also owns a cat named Carmine and drives a red convertible. Both her eyes or one of them are usually hidden by the shadow of her red fedora which gives her the impression of mystery. 

Other than that, the rest of Carmen's back story is never truly defined and shrouded in mystery, leaving it open to interpretation.

As for the game mechanics, the players take on the role of ACME detective agents whose goal is to pursue and nab V.I.L.E. henchmen stealing the world's treasures through clues provided by witnesses in various locations. The scoring system is based on the number of cases the player solves. By rising up the ranks, the player will arrive at a point where the ultimate goal is to catch Carmen herself. 

The interface from Where in The World Is Carmen Sandiego (1991)
where the player interacts with the game.

Where in Space is Carmen Sandiego. (1993)
Notice that the interface remains consistent in design.

Ironically, the game was never intended to be an educational game. For the record, any game that is labelled “educational” usually means dull and boring. Yet, Carmen Sandiego found its way into schools when teachers begin recommending them to classrooms as a means of learning geography. 

The unexpected popularity compelled Broderbund to capitalise on the potential and begin expanding the games with sequels. Carmen got so popular that on March the 4th, 1988, the first Carmen Day was organised in Bluffton, Indiana! Since then, across the United States, Carmen Day was held in schools inspired by the franchise. A week-long of Carmen themed activities were held and supported by Broderbund and later, The Learning Company after Broderbund was acquired in 1998. (Source: Wikipedia)  

The 30th Anniversary of Carmen Day was held on the 8th of March 2019 where an interview with Gina Rodriguez was broadcasted live along with the trailer from the upcoming Netflix series.

Carmen Sandiego Day with Gina Rodriguez

Yet, the ever-growing popularity of Carmen did not stop there.  In 1991, PBS adapted the game into a children's television game show called, "Where in The World is Carmen Sandiego." The show was created partly in response to a National Geographic survey that indicated that Americans had dreadful knowledge in geography where one in four were not able to identify the pacific ocean or the soviet union.


Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego children's game show
The show ran from Sept, 30 1991 until 1995. 
A total of 295 episodes were aired for five seasons.

The show introduced Lynne Thigpen as The ACME Chief. Her compelling acting and booming voice literally stole the show.

Subsequent CD-ROM remakes of the games released after the TV show had Thigpen as a retcon providing videos and voiceover for the games.

In 1994, the cartoon series Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego by DIC Productions L.P. is released and aired on Saturdays on FOX's Fox Kids Network.


The animated series was a real attempt to flush out Carmen's back story

The series introduced us to characters like Zack and Ivy. 
Many characters from different franchises, not just the animated series were rebooted in the Netflix 2019 version much to the delight of fans. 

The Carmen franchise did experience a slow down after the game show was discontinued by the network. Although two new spin-offs of the game show was produced, notably Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego, it only lasted for 2 seasons.  In 1998, the creator company Broderbund was acquired by The Learning Company. Many attempts were made to reboot the franchise with an injection of new games but none had the same spark or magic of the previous games.

Chase Devineux was originally from Carmen Sandiego Maths Detective

Although the games created by The Learning Company failed to achieve the success of its predecessors, it did introduce the characters Agent Chase Devineux and Agent Julia Argent which are rebooted in the 2019 Netflix series.

Sadly, the franchise gradually slipped to oblivion until Netflix step in to revive the series in 2019. The rest as they say is history.

Having grown up with the Carmen Sandiego games in the 90s era, to state how psyched I am about Season 4 is truly an understatement. My “pursuit” of her took me around the world, across the United States, the Solar System, and through the time-space continuum.


My introduction to Carmen Sandiego ironically was not on Earth but in SPACE.
 "Where in Space is Carmen Sandiego"

As a child, I was always intrigued by her character. What is she like?  In spite of the big E that stands for EVIL in V.I.L.E. Carmen never appears as truly evil to me. She was a villain with a heart, extremely intelligent, and bear qualities that I looked up to as a capable woman. 

The 1998 cartoon series was the first real glimpse of what Carmen is as a character with depth, showing audiences the first time an individual with emotions, intentions, and a strong moral complexity that is interwoven into her personality. I can only imagine what Carmen is really like and will satiate my curiosity through the fanfictions that existed online.

For fans of the franchise, this is THE season you do not want to miss. Undoubtedly, as the season finale, perhaps we will finally learn the answer to the big question, "Who on earth REALLY is Carmen Sandiego and what in the world does she truly want? We seen her growing up in search of her place at the faculty and left in search of her true origins. Through her adventures and missions, we learn that family plays a huge part in her and so are the values like trust and friendship.

For a series aimed at the younger audience, it is refreshingly not as straightforward as one expects, where good triumphs over evil. There are different sides to the conflict as quoted by a character, "We live in a world where villains don't look like villains and heroes don't look like heroes."

It is a series with characters who are not what they seem that sends a powerful message to audiences about how the world works in reality and is just as important as an educational info dump about geography.

If you are new to the Carmen Sandiego series, I highly recommend to watch it with an open mind. The animation is especially stunning and fluid. There is plenty of ass-kicking action in every episode to keep you engage and intrigue. As for returning fans, the Netflix 2019 adaptation of Carmen Sandiego is a dream come true to some especially to those originally drawn by her mysterious facade and intellectual prowess.

Still, the series dares to take on an angle that portrayed Carmen as a de-facto of V.I.L.E. rather than the founder or leader. Yet, who knows what the future may hold for our sassy protagonist as she continues to search for a purpose that is true to what she believes in. 

No media franchise in the history of Carmen has ever explored her as deeply and passionately as this one.  For that, I looked forward to what will be revealed in the episodes of Season 4. 

Until then, arrivederci! 



Saturday, 5 September 2020

MULAN Charges Fearlessly to the Big Screen

Written by Pony Princess.

After being besieged by never ending delays, the live action MULAN is finally making its way to the big screen. 


 


That is for countries without access to the Disney+ streaming platform. On the 4th September, Malaysians are fortunate to be able to watch Mulan in cinemas. For other parts of the world with Disney+, Mulan will be available to subscribers for an additional charge of USD30 / RM124. But if subscribers are willing to wait, the movie will be available for free on the streaming platform on 4th December this year... whew! As complicated as that sounds, the production of Mulan itself has been a battlefield with obstacles ranging from production to its shifting release date amidst political drama and to top it off the current Covid-19 pandemic.

 
Mulan the animation released in 1998.

Who is Disney's Mulan?
It is a well-known fact that the Disney Princesses are gems to the Disney universe. They represented strength, courage, determination and other qualities for a little girl's ideal role model. However this was not the case in the 1950s. The princesses were portrayed in a more stereotypical light who played damsel-in-distress type of roles. But the age of the Disney Renaissance saw the studio introducing stronger female leads that better reflect the beliefs and attitudes of women in modern times. This includes characters like Belle, Pocahontas and Ariel. However, the one that truly broke grounds for Disney was not a girl of royal descent who gets a romantic conclusion for her heroic efforts. Instead she is from Asian descent who went against the social norms at the time to save her country and bring honour to her family. That heroine is none other than Hua Mulan.
 
Not your typical damsel-in-distress.
Image source: http://www.animationsource.org/sites_content/mulan/img_screenshot/98717.jpg


Based on the Chinese 360 word poem called the Ballad of Mulan, Mulan the animation was released in 1998 to cinemas worldwide. Unlike other Disney animated films, Mulan explores themes about loyalty to one's country, filial piety and upholding the family honour.


One of the many adaptations from the ballad.
Image source: https://www.ancient-origins.net/history-famous-people/ballad-hua-mulan-legendary-warrior-woman-who-brought-hope-china-005084

The legend originated back in the 5th - 6th century China and is a familiar household name to the chinese people just as Joan of Arc is in France. She is a beloved and heroic figure whose story has been adapted in many dramas, plays and movies in the east. The plot is about Mulan who sits worrying at her loom, when she learned that one male from each family is called to serve in the army to defend the country from invaders. With her father old and weak and her younger brother still a child, Mulan decides to take her father's place in the army.

The uniquely oriental flavour of Mulan captivated the western audiences and the movie went on the become one of Disney's critically acclaimed hits. Mulan the animation was a commercial success that garnered the Golden Globe and Oscar nomination grossing more than USD$475 million / RM1.97 billion worldwide. Though its success is also due to the original story being heavily tailored to the Disney formula. Mulan bombed in cinemas in China who found their beloved lady warrior too Disneyfied for their tastes.


 Mushu the jive-talking dragon that didn't sit well with the eastern audiences taste.
Image source: http://www.animationsource.org/sites_content/mulan/img_screenshot/99484.jpg

So this comes with no surprise to why the studio's remake of a live-action Mulan will be significantly different from the 1998 animated film to honour the original version for the eastern audience. 

The Disney Princess lineup which Mulan is part of.
Image source: The Disney Blog
                   
Mulan's popularity in the west is further sealed when she is officially recognized as the 8th Disney princess. She is the first non-white, east Asian princess and not of royal lineage. 

Mulan as a Disney princess at Disneyland.
Image source: Wikipedia commons
                                                                
In order to court the chinese market, Disney is pulling out all stops by pumping in a generous budget of USD200 / RM829 million making Mulan the most costly Disney film to produce. Unlike the previous life actions like Aladdin, Lion King and Beauty and the Beast, the movie is stripped of cute animal sidekicks, musical numbers, and other Disney formulaic elements. Instead, we are getting a large-scale epic war story with breathtaking landscapes, beautifully choreographed martial arts and most importantly, an all Asian cast comprising of renowned veteran stars. Niki Caro, the director of Mulan, stresses that she wanted it to be a war story that is as grand, epic and authentic to the original sources. She has roped in the Hong Kong's top gun of the film industry, Bill Kong, known for Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and House of Flying Daggers for advice on approaching the film.

When the trailers were first released to the public in June 2019, the results truly speak for itself.




(Top to bottom) Mulan all dolled-up and ready for matchmaking.
The ancient village where Mulan lives.
The Emperor of China starring Jet Li.
Image source: Josh Wilding, 12/5/19
                                      

                            

Staying true to its original source without being Disneyfied.
Image source: Josh Wilding, 12/5/19

Image source: The Disinsider

Synopsis
When the Emperor of China issues a decree that one man per family must serve in the Imperial Army to defend the country from Northern invaders, Hua Mulan, the eldest daughter of an honored warrior, steps in to take the place of her ailing father. Masquerading as a man, Hua Jun, she is tested every step of the way and must harness her inner-strength and embrace her true potential. It is an epic journey that will transform her into an honored warrior and earn her the respect of a grateful nation…and a proud father. 

“Mulan” features a celebrated international cast that includes: Yifei Liu as Mulan; Donnie Yen as Commander Tung; Jason Scott Lee as Böri Khan; Yoson An as Cheng Honghui; with Gong Li as Xianniang and Jet Li as the Emperor. 

The film is directed by Niki Caro from a screenplay by Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver and Elizabeth Martin & Lauren Hynek based on the narrative poem “The Ballad of Mulan.”


The cast of Mulan during the official world premiere held on the 9th of March 2020 before the Covid-19  pandemic struck.
Image source: https://www.screenreels.com/2020/03/11/mulan-celebrates-its-world-premiere-in-los-angeles-premiere-and-making-of-footage/

Crystal Liu Yifei is a household name in China. She is affectionately nicknamed as fairy sister for her grace and elegance. Director Niki Caro selected Liu from 1000 aspiring girls for the role of Mulan.
Image source: Frederic J. Brown, AFP via Getty Images

 
Niki Caro the director.
Image source: Getty Images

According to Wellington-born, New Zealander film director Niki Caro, she resonated deeply with the story of Mulan as a powerful and brave woman. Despite being a non-Asian director, Caro is no stranger to movies outside her culture. Caro earned critical acclaimed for her film Whale Rider (2002); a story of a Maori girl who wants to lead her tribe, a role traditionally reserved for men and forbidden for women.

Exclusive chat with the Actors - Crystal Liu Yi Fei, Jet Li and Donnie Yen, and director Nick Caro

Disney has assembled an arsenal of international award-winning veteran all-Asian stars to bring Mulan to life. Here's the cast lineup that will be starring in the movie. Image sources: Insider

Chinese actress Crystal Liu Yiufei will be playing as the heroine, Mulan:

The 32 year old actress starred alongside Emile Hirche in the movie, “The Chinese Widow”

New Zealand actor Yoson An stars as Hong Hui, Mulan's possible love interest:

An original character in the film that is similar to Commander Shang from the animation.

World renowned actor and martial artist Jet Li plays the Emperor of China:

Jet Li is a critically acclaimed actor renowned for his portrayal as Wong Fei Hung in Zhang Yimou's Once Upon a Time in China (1991-1993) and other films like Fists of Legend (1994) and Hero (2002) Initially he turned down the role until his daughters persuaded him to in order to promote chinese culture to the world.

Donnie Yen will play Commander Tung, Mulan's mentor:

According to sources, he joined the film after being inspired by his daughter. No stranger to the Western audience, Donnie Yen is best known for his role as Ip Man and Chirrut in Star Wars Rogue One.

Jason Scott Lee is the main antagonist Bori Khan:

Differing from the original villain Shan Yu from the 1998 animation, Bori Khan is seeking revenge for his father. 

 Gong Li plays the witch Xianniang:

Gong Li made her debut in Hollywood as Hatsumomo in Memoirs of the Geisha and later starred in Zhang Yimou's Curse of the Golden Flower in 2006. 
                             

 
                                     
Behind the Scenes
In order to create the vision of a large-scale epic battle scenes, international stunt teams from China, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, New Zealand and Australia were brought in to work with. The stunt teams were given 3 months of intense and rigorous training to prepare themselves for the challenging battle scenes. As part of the training, Caro stated that the stunt members and actors had to learn Wushu style of sword fighting. With experienced Wushu martial artist Donnie Yen onboard the set, actors were made sure to be fully prepared and fight as authentically as possible.

Over 4000 weapons were made for the film!

         
Crystal Liu training behind the scenes.

                                  
Bringing ancient China to the Ahuriri Valley in New Zealand.
According to the Otago Daily Times, up to 60 horses, 100 workers, and a fleet of vehicles and machinery filled the picturesque valley during the peak of production. 
Image source: Stuff.co.nz

Niki Caro refrained from using green screens for environment and backdrops. The entire crew was flown to China for the shoot. These locations include the Hubei province in Central China, the Singing Sand Dunes in Mingsha Shan Desert in Xinjiang Province, Zhangye Danxia National Geological Park in North Central China, Flame Mountain, Mazar Village and more. 


The battle scenes were shot in Caro's native country of New Zealand. Various scenic locations in the South Island was selected for shoot including the Mackenzie District, Poolburn, Rangiopo, Hanua, Muriwai, Woodpile and Ahuriri Valley. Nearly 900 people were filmed.

The best decision that Disney made is to bring back former Disney mouseketeer and global pop star sensation Christina Aguilera to sing the film's official main song, “Loyal Brave and True”. She will also sing the 2020 remake version of Reflection as a tribute to the original 1998 animation that fans loved. Crystal Liu, who is also singer, will lend her vocals in singing the gentler mandarin version of Reflection backed by a full orchestra.  

Crystal Liu Yifei and Christina Aguilera
Image source: Charley Gallay, Getty Images for Disney.

                            
                             The new Mulan song by Christina; Loyal, Brave and True
 
                           
                           The original classic fan favourite Reflection gets a 2020 remake.

                            
                            Crystal Liu singing her version of Reflection in mandarin.
    
True to all things Disney, you can always bring a piece of Mulan home to your heart with these sweet merchandises available in the States.  Sadly, we won't be seeing this lovely merchandise on our local shores anytime soon.



Image sources from Disney Springs and Disneyland Resort.



For ardent cinemagoers who crave a truly exhilarating cinematic experience in its full glory, GSC have you covered on 4DX, ScreenX, Dolby Atmos, D-Box and Onyx. So if you are convinced enough that Mulan is worth a cinema viewing, then head down to the nearest cinema and book tickets today. If you are still undecided, then we have a 2-cent non-spoiler review at the end for your consideration. 

Source: MBO Cinemas

Before that, MBO Cinema is having a contest with exclusive Mulan prizes to be won. These mini posters of Mulan are also available while stocks last at selected MBO outlets. Head over to MBO's Facebook page to take advantage of their exclusive offers. 


Non-Spoilery Reaction
Mulan is truly a visual spectacle with breathtaking landscapes, colourful costumes, elaborated stunts, and stunning choreographed fighting. For the most part, Niki Caro's vision of a more authentic and epic Mulan was delivered beautifully and feels made for the BIG screen. Indeed, Malaysians are most fortunate to be able to watch Mulan in its full cinematic glory where it deserves. There are subtle nods to the 1998 animated classics cleverly woven into the film that will surely delight Mulan fans. However, like the previous Disney live-actions, the story feels familiar and does not deviate far away from the original. The live-action made up for what the animation could not in terms of the realistic sword fights, choreographed martial arts, epic battle scenes and of course, the gorgeous backdrop and scenery. From this perspective, this is what makes the Mulan film stand out, making the animation classic pale in comparison. The stellar team of actors themselves breathes new life into the story. Liu Yifei's performance as the strong-willed Mulan feels genuine enough. For the most part, this is a moderate pace, action-oriented film with some touching moments in between that is sure to delight both fans and viewers new to Mulan.

MULAN is now showing in Malaysian cinemas nationwide.
#MulanMY #Mulan #Disney