Once Upon a Time – Season 7: To Watch or Not…?

I admit, I was ambivalent about watching Once Upon a Time’s seventh season. On one hand, the story wrapped up nicely after six seasons and the book was over. It would have been a perfectly good time to give the show up.

On the other hand, I was still curious to know what would happen next. There are always more story threads to unravel, after all. Inevitably, in the non-fiction world, most of us occasionally wonder what has become of people whom we lose contact with. (Facebook has been a great tool to alleviate that, but it is also proof of concept.) Or, one hears about someone dying and then asks about their family. What happened to their kids that we vaguely heard about? What about their spouse? We always want news and gossip. We want stories, and the same goes for our fictional characters.

So far – I admit that I have only watched clips and will catch up later – the new season feels like a sequel written by the same author of a favourite book. There is always the chance that the new book will spoil one’s enjoyment of the old one, or that it will alter the personalities of beloved characters (or put them into non-entertaining situations or non-preferred romantic pairings). But there is equally the chance that the new story will be just as captivating as the previous one and expand on the characters that we have already grown to love. It is like a wedding – bringing new families together and mixing them with new faces. It is making the family larger, not tearing it apart.

So I have decided that I will at least give the new season a try soon. The setting looks promising, the characters intriguing, and the storyline interesting. However, of what I have already seen, it does feel like going to university after high school – more of the same and yet completely different. There is a new curse and once again we are dealing with characters who don’t remember who they are. A ten-year-old child is trying to get her parents to believe that the stories in her book are real. An evil villain with a tragic backstory is making life miserable for our heroes. Didn’t I watch this story already?

Still, what’s going to happen?

I do like seeing Henry as an adult and am glad that we missed his later teen years. I also like seeing Regina (or her alter ego) in the role of the motherly advice-giver. As for the new characters, they are interesting in their own right, but I have not had the chance to really get to know them yet. I will reserve judgement until I have watched a bit more. I admit that unlike the previous seasons, I am not in much of a hurry.

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Not Quite Back to Normal Yet

MURDOCH MYSTERIES
Season 11, Episode 2 (Merlot Mysteries)

This episode gets us back into the usual swing of things for a police procedural show. On the face of it, Merlot Mysteries is a typical detective case-story involving poisoning and figuring out who had means and motive to pull it off. In addition to solving the crime, there was a lot of discussion about wine and viticulture, as well as a history lesson about Canada’s wine industry. We were even treated to a segment of Murdoch being drunk – a very rare occurrence indeed!

Murdoch is not very knowledgeable about wine and this humourously contrasts with Detective Watts’s deep interest and understanding of the topic. There were lots of opportunities for comedy between the two men as they conducted their investigation, occasionally assisted by Dr. Ogden. If anything, this episode demonstrates what an open and inquisitive mind Murdoch has. He is willing to try drinking wine as an intellectual and scientific experiment. He still decides to abstain once his experiment has concluded, but he has discovered a new appreciation for wine as a concept and art.

The other main characters are mostly assisting the investigation at arm’s length. It seems that Brackenreid and Crabtree have developed a new bond after their undercover work together. We still get to see them, but they let Murdoch and Watts have centre stage. However, Murdoch does have an especially poignant exchange with Crabtree regarding the death of Constable Jackson. Murdoch is clearly still dealing with how Jackson died to clear Murdoch’s name; meanwhile, Crabtree has come to terms with it because Jackson was first and foremost a police officer who died in the line of duty for his fellow officer and for his city. However, Crabtree is also eager for everything to get back to normal and I am not sure if that will happen as easily as he hopes. It would have been normal for a police procedural to push onward past character deaths to return to the status quo, so it was refreshing to see that it takes longer than an episode to come to terms with major traumatic events. This scene was also not overplayed, but came across as a normal scene between colleagues.

Which brings me to the final plot development – and arguably the most important. Miss James graduates from medical college and earns the title of Doctor. However, as much as she enjoyed working at the morgue, her dream is to work with living patients. Unfortunately, Toronto’s racist establishment turns her away from interviews at local hospitals, and thus she moves away to find work in more rural and impoverished areas of Ontario, where the people will be more grateful to have a doctor and less concerned with her skin colour or XX chromosomes. This makes me hope that a mystery in the future sends Murdoch and company out her way. At least we get to see that her relationship with her beau, Nate, seems to be leading toward the altar. Dr. James gets a joyful send-off, if bittersweet, and things aren’t quite getting back to normal quickly enough for Crabtree’s liking.

I will miss Rebecca James and I wish her (and her actress) well in her new work. It would still be good to have more than one female main character in the cast. Will Nina or Mrs. Brackenreid get more focus? Will Dr. Ogden get another apprentice or assistant? Or will the void be as noticeable as I think it will?

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Season 11 Premiere – Murdoch Mysteries

MURDOCH MYSTERIES
Season 11, Episode 1 (Up from Ashes)

The wait is over! After a busy spring and summer, Murdoch Mysteries is back for Season 11. Picking up where they left off in the finale (sort of), the episode resolves the case and bring everyone back to the status quo. It is an exciting hour of mystery, despair, joy, and shenanigans. Thankfully, our heroes are back where they belong as the credits roll.

Nonetheless, they are down a man. As I predicted last week, Constable Jackson does not survive his injuries from the ambush. He receives a very nice and honourable send-off that bookends the episode. It is a helpful reminder that policing is a dangerous profession and that they put their lives on the line for the safety of society. Of the constables at Stationhouse 4, Jackson was a jolly giant with a gentle soul – no one could stay anything bad against him (nor should they have) and his absence will undoubtedly be felt.

However, we can rest assured that the rest of the cast has returned to their usual positions. Detective Watts will also stick around, giving Detective Murdoch a new face to work with. It is clear that Watts is supposed to be a younger, gung-ho detective who both admires Murdoch and finds him infuriating. Watts is more like Dr. Ogden would be had she been born a man and of a lower rank in life. This definitely shakes up the character dynamics without making too much of a mess. It will be fun to watch Murdoch work with Watts, but hopefully he does not take over the series. For that, we will have to wait and see.

Speaking of Dr. Ogden as a man, that is exactly her strategy for escaping and eluding her captors. This was brilliantly done in the episode and harkens back to the third season when we learned that she was a one point part of a club of women who dressed up as men so as to temporarily gain the privileges of manhood in the Victorian era. Her impersonation skills are a little rusty, but she manages for a few days, which was all that was required. It was a good choice on the part of the writers! We forget how many hidden depths Dr. Ogden has.

The premiere episode itself was very well-crafted. Initially, we are led to believe that Constable Crabtree is also dead, but he reveals himself halfway through the episode to be very much alive and working behind the scenes to solve the case, along with an incognito Inspector Brackenreid and Det. Watts. His reunion with Murdoch is tear-inducing; comparatively, his reunions with Higgins and Nina are less fraught with emotion because they are mostly offscreen. While they would have been a distraction, it would have been nice to see them in their entirely. Higgins seemed quite affected by Crabtree’s apparent death and it would have been wonderful to see him actually find out that his partner was alive, rather than simply reuniting after already being informed of his return. Also, some follow-up to the scene with Nina would have been appreciated. I suppose I just like character scenes! Oh well, I am content with what I got.

With a few flashbacks to explain how all of the characters survived, escaped, etc., the episode mostly devotes itself to building a case against the high-ranking city officials who attempted to take Murdoch down. New faces turn from enemy to ally as nearly everyone wants to see justice served. In the end, we are not certain that the villains will hang, but we can be assured that they will not be trying to same trick twice.

I look forward to the new season now that they status quo has been mostly restored. It will be good to have Watts around to fill some of the void left by Jackson’s departure (even though they are radically different characters) while keeping the relationships between the main characters intact.

It did feel all a bit rushed – everything resolved itself quickly, but it needed to. This is a police procedural and a dramedy.

Rest in peace, Constable Jackson. Things will be a little less festive at Stationhouse 4 now.

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Murdoch Mysteries Speculations for Season 11

Since last year’s season of Murdoch Mysteries ended with a quintuple cliffhanger back in March, and since the new season’s ad campaign is making a big deal about “who lives and dies”, I have decided to examine the various possibilities.

Obviously, spoilers for the Season 10 finale ahead!

So, going over the evidence, to recap, Season 10 ended with Det. Murdoch in prison for murder; Inspector Brackenreid in a shootout; Dr. Ogden having been kidnapped; and Constables Crabtree, Higgins, and Jackson being ambushed with a hail of gunfire. All of this is because Murdoch and his colleagues at Stationhouse 4 got too close to a scandal that involves high-ranking and wealthy city officials, who have the Chief of Police in their back pocket.

As for the other characters, Miss James is presumably fine for the moment (since we didn’t see her at all in the finale), Nina is reconciled with Crabtree but her life is in danger, and Det. Watts is poised to help Murdoch – although his motives are a bit suspect.

To keep the secret, even the synopsis for the second episode of the new season only includes Murdoch and Watts – oy!

One of the many theories of hopeful fans is that the only ones who die are the villains. This is, of course, a viable option for the writers. It is a standard trick in television marketing to hype up a death or possible death of an important character, only for it to be a villain or a peripheral ally of the heroes. Lydia in last year’s season finale would be an example of this latter type. She was a friend of Nina and appears in a couple of episodes earlier in the season, including the penultimate episode, so her death was considerably more tragic to our heroes than the usual weekly murder victim, but she was not one of the core characters. Since the writers already used that ploy for last season’s finale, however, it is unlikely that they will do it again.

On the other hand, a recurring villain might be killed off for good – perhaps someone that we in the audience have come to “love to hate”. Unfortunately, the villains in this case so far have not been in this category. They have been portrayed as corrupt and despicable. We would love nothing better than for them to hang.

Since I really cannot speculate any further about villains or peripheral characters, I am going to analyse the likelihood of the main characters in mortal peril not making it to the second episode of Season 11: Inspector Brackenreid, Dr. Ogden, Constable Crabtree, Constable Higgins, and Constable Jackson.

One more possibility to address before I begin: that any one of these characters might be severely wounded and permanently disabled, rather than killed. Thus the character could survive and leave the possibility for them to return in a guest or recurring role, while the actor would be free to pursue other projects. This may be the case if the writers choose to have the villains be the ones killed off but still want to realistically address the fate of our main characters. There would be a permanent loss to the cast, but the character would not be gone for good. I will address this briefly with each character.

In order of most likely to be killed off to least likely (in my opinion):

  1. Constable Jackson

With the least amount of time on the show, despite growing into a beloved secondary character, Jackson is the one whose death would have the least emotional impact on the audience. He also received a lot of screen time this past season. His death would have a lot of emotional weight on the characters. It is also likely that should he survive, he might be too badly injured to continue in the constabulary and return to his family outside Toronto, or into the care of his girlfriend. The actor who plays Jackson has begun work on a lot of new projects recently, so his departure would make sense.

  1. Inspector Brackenreid

Despite being an original main cast member and an integral part of the show, he has been absent a lot this past season. While he was gone, the story went along without him just fine. There was a definite hole in the family, but they survived. I think the loss of Brackenreid would open up a lot of storyline possibilities. The department would have to be reshuffled, a new Inspector would be hired, Margaret and her sons might still appear every so often as they come to terms with their patriarch’s death, and new dynamics would be established within the stationhouse and on the show itself. At this point, after all, Brackenreid may be sceptical of Murdoch’s theories and gadgets, but he has come to trust him. A new Inspector might mean that Murdoch would have to prove himself all over again.

I think that it is unlikely that Brackenreid will survive but be permanently injured – not for storytelling purposes, but because it has already been threatened before.

One last reason that I would consider Brackenreid a strong contender is purely poetic. He is very much a Victorian character. The show is now in 1905, ten years after it started in 1895. In the late nineteenth century, Brackenreid fit right in. He really set the tone for the show and kept it grounded, while Murdoch, Ogden, and Crabtree were the more visionary characters. His death would aesthetically set a new tone at Stationhouse 4.

  1. Constable Higgins

On one hand, Higgins is a rather disposable character. He is friends with Jackson and Crabtree, but he is not emotionally connected to Murdoch. He is lovably annoying and clumsy. In some ways, he is a bit of a jerk.

But he is also a perpetual underdog who never quite gets things right – despite trying hard. Over the past few seasons, he has evolved into a goofball as Crabtree has matured. Honestly, I think killing him would be all the more devastating because we have never really got to know him over ten years. He has not yet had the chance to make something of himself. Jackson would die an honourable hero, but while Higgins would as well (in-story), he would not be as heroic to the audience. While we alternatively laugh and cringe at his antics, we still want to see him succeed. Plus, killing him would kill a lot of the comic relief on the show.

I could see a storyline where Higgins needs to recover from injuries and perhaps goes through a lot of character development, especially if he loses Jackson or Crabtree. Killing him would remove a lot of potential storylines. As far as I know, his actor is from Toronto and is not in any other major shows, so he would be worth keeping around.

  1. Constable Crabtree

For the audience, I think Crabtree’s death would be the most emotionally traumatic. He is a comic relief character, a romantic hero, a writer with crazy ideas, a plucky orphan, a clever detective, and he is the only main constable that has been around since the beginning. (While Higgins has always been around, he did not feature heavily early on.) He has gone through the most character growth and we in the audience have been on an emotional roller coaster with him since early seasons. His is also boyishly charming, even though the character is in his mid-thirties. He has been through a lot and we really just want to see him succeed.

From the perspective of the characters, Crabtree’s loss would be a bigger hole than that of Brackenreid and much bigger than that of the other two constables. His is arguably Murdoch’s best friend. He shares a special connection with Dr. Ogden, albeit an awkward one. He is friends with Miss James. He is Brackenreid’s favourite constable. He is bosom buddies with Higgins and Jackson. He is a published author, so he is known outside the constabulary. The dynamic of the show would change significantly without him. I would be hard-pressed to think that the showrunners would take such a big gamble. However, if Jonny Harris wanted to leave the show, I could see the writers killing Crabtree off.

I really would not be surprised if they went with “Crabtree gets badly injured” as a plotline, however. Murdoch would still have motive for revenge. We could have a scene where Nina and Louise confront each other at Crabtree’s bedside. Crabtree could help solve crimes as he recovers. He would have more time to write. His character might take some time to recuperate with his aunts, leaving his actor time to work elsewhere.

  1.  Dr. Ogden

For Murdoch himself, Dr. Ogden’s death would (of course) be the most traumatic of the five. In fact, I really cannot see the writers killing her off. The loss of Brackenreid or Crabtree would definitely change the dynamic of the show, but the loss of Dr. Ogden would drastically alter the show itself.

Since the first season, Murdoch has been infatuated with Dr. Ogden. Their relationship has been ongoing since the second season, with them officially becoming a couple in the third season. They broke up for two seasons, but they pined for each other the whole time. They reconciled at the end of the fifth season, so they have been courting, engaged, or married for six out of ten seasons. Not only have they been in a romantic relationship, but they have had a working relationship in various capacities throughout the series.

In other words, who really thinks Det. Murdoch would be able to continue his work as a detective without Dr. Ogden? At least, in Toronto? He would be a broken man. All of the cases they solved together, all of the places they visited…Honestly, he would be moving away. He might continue as a detective in another jurisdiction, but he would not be staying in Toronto. I don’t think the writers intend to move the series somewhere else.

The synopsis for the season premiere specifically mentions that Ogden has been kidnapped, so I imagine the bulk of the plot is trying to find her. Now, in many shows, I could see the hero spending an episode racing to save a main character, only for them to have died before the hero could reach them. However, that would not really fit with the tone of Murdoch Mysteries, especially when the kidnapping victim is Dr. Ogden. Murdoch and the audience would be crushed. Viewers would likely quite the show in droves.

Of course, I could be entirely wrong. There is also the possibility that more than one of them will be removed, but that gets into too many permutations.

I look forward to finding out Sept. 25!

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First Day of School

First Day of School

copyright 2017

First day of school –
Only one more child left,
Entering tenth grade,
Not exactly one for posing for photos.
She humours her mother,
Standing on the front step,
Refusing to hold a sign,
But at least she’s smiling.
Only two more years,
And the front step will be empty,
Grandchildren will be on other steps.

First day of school –
Finally all six children in school,
The youngest happily grinning,
Holding up a big sign:
FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL 2017!!!
It’s her first day ever,
Her sisters rolling their eyes,
It’s been nine and eleven years,
And the newness is wearing thin.
It will be rare for them all
To be on the front step together,
Four girls and two boys,
A perfect half-dozen –
They’ll soon be scattered like rose petals,
Gradually disappearing from the front step.

First day of school –
Two identical girls in matching uniforms,
Even as teenagers still wanting to be alike,
Their hair identical, only their mother can tell them apart.
Their little brother is tiny in front of them,
In his brand-new little shorts and jumper,
Excited and nervous for his first day.
The girls will take the transit together,
Their parents will take the boy,
New schools for them all.

First day of school –
Smiling girls aged ten and twelve,
Waving at the camera for their granny and granddad,
It was a simply ritual they performed,
Before being whisked off to school by their father,
Who hated ever to be apart from them,
Lest they disappear like his brother did,
He made sure they went safely inside,
Then tried not to cry as he drove to work.

First day of school –
Three happy children,
Two boys and a girl,
Proudly holding signs:
Sixth grade!
Fourth grade!
Second grade!
Then their mother, cheekily grinning,
Held up another:
Sixteen years a teacher!
Their father laughed, blinking back tears,
Another girl – a young woman, really,
Lingers in the doorway.
College Junior, her sign reads,
Barely visible above the others.
One by one, they will disappear,
But he would always have his teacher.

First day of school –
But no children at all to go,
Her youngest would have been in tenth grade,
Her eldest a full-grown woman,
Perhaps a mother in her own right,
There would have been eight all together,
But no children had ever stood on her front step,
None had ever stood at all.

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Timeless (2016-17)

Season 1

At its heart, the first season of Timeless was an adventure serial wherein its characters explore a new era every week. Although there was an overarching conspiracy knitting all of the plots together, most of the episodes had the formula of the team is plucked away from their life to go on another mission where they try to catch the antagonist before he can significantly alter the timeline, and inevitably narrowly miss apprehending him while nonetheless saving the day in the end. Minor changes occur in each episode, but overall, history goes as we generally expect it to.

Of course, sometimes this formula does get stale or bogged down in the greater conspiracy plot, while other times the characters’ own personal histories get in the way of the adventure. Nonetheless, the writers manage to balance all of the various plot threads so that the pacing of the series is never too slow. With only 13 episodes, it feels tight and intriguing. This is an advantage that shorter series have compared to those that have to stretch their seasons to 22 episodes. They get to trim the fat out of the season and keep only the meatiest portions.

On the other hand, Timeless is still an adventure serial – it would have worked with a longer season as well. There are always new time periods to explore!

The basic plot of the series is three unlikely team members are recruited to retrieve a stolen time machine. As the series progresses, a greater conspiracy is revealed until finally, the main characters really don’t know who to trust.

The series raises a lot of questions that merit discussion. For one, the age-old question of “is history exactly as it occurred worth preserving?” Would it be wrong to go back in time to fix a perceived problem? Would it be right for a government or corporation to have the ability to go back in time at their whim in order to benefit themselves? What about to benefit humanity overall? Or portions of it?

At what point does time travel stop being a fun toy?

Other questions that the series raises are about history itself, namely pointing out how badly women and anyone who wasn’t white was treated until very recently. The trio consists of a white female historian as the nominal lead (since she understands the time periods best), a black male technician & pilot, and a white male soldier who would once have been considered the automatic hero. In most of the eras that they visit, it is he who has to do the talking, even if he is the least qualified to do so. The series confronts these inequities immediately, starting in the first episode when the pilot has to ride in the back of the bus and wait outside while his colleagues meet a contact. The historian has to feed the soldier information so that he can hold discussions with people who don’t take the historian seriously.

However, I do take issue with how automatically everyone assumes that they need to save America and that American history is inevitably important. Whether it is winning the Mexican-American War (when the pilot outright questions why they are supporting a slave-owning society over a society where slavery was illegal, as it was in Mexico in the 1840s), or whether it is making sure the rebels win the Revolutionary War, there is little assumption that “America” is not worth saving. The pilot’s aforementioned question is met with “how can you even ask that?” Yes, the audience is assumed to be American and love America, but they do need to ask themselves if they were always right.

Because they weren’t. The United States and its Manifest Destiny cast a dark shadow over North America in the nineteenth century, along with the Caribbean and the South Pacific. It was lethal for indigenous peoples. In the twentieth century, in the aftermath of the Second World War, the Americans deposed democratically-elected governments, staged coups, backed rebels, and did everything in their power to fight anything perceived to be communism – even to the point of destroying sovereign nations. In other words, nothing that their European predecessors didn’t do, but with higher-grade weapons and a greater hypocrisy, because they did so under guise of promoting democracy and freedom.

Obviously, this is not what anyone in America today wants to have discussed on a lighthearted adventure show. They get points for bringing up these questions, but they seriously cannot contemplate an alternate world without the America that it is today. It would be terrifying – a dystopia that they are supposed to fix.

Finally, the show primarily focuses on individuals. Namely, is it worth changing the past – and potentially destroying thousands of individuals’ lives – to save one person? The show never quite decides if this is a good idea or not, or if it is a selfish decision that our heroes and villains are nonetheless commended for trying.

I am glad that they are getting a second season, albeit a short one. I hope that they can resolve and explore some of these questions. But if not, at least I hope it is at least some more good fun adventure.

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The Host (2013)

The Host (2013)

The Host (2013)

Talk about a film that had a lot of potential and a great concept, but fell flat! (And a book, for that matter, although I couldn’t bring myself to finish reading it.) I had not heard good reviews of The Host, based on Stephanie Meyer’s non-Twilight book, but because the story intrigued me, I decided to watch it. I figured it was better to spend two hours watching a film than five hours reading a book. The latter tends to cut into my sleeping time.

Despite the awkward storyline and unrelatable characters, I enjoyed the film. The acting was very good, considering the script. The actors, particularly Saoirse Ronan as the lead, managed to embody the characters and bring them to life. They are still unrelatable, but they are real. I was eager to find out who would survive and what would become of them.

The problem with telling any science fiction story is that there is a delicate balance between world-building and metaphors on the one hand and keeping a relatable story on the other. The less relatable the characters and setting, the more exciting the worlds to be explored need to be. Star Wars and Star Trek, to use the big examples, work well because they navigate this balance – at least most of the time.

Stephanie Meyer took a big risk with The Host and unfortunately, it did not pay off. I have to give her credit for trying to tell an alien invasion story from the point of view of one of said aliens. That is no easy feat! I think it worked better in the book and I am interested in revisiting the novel to test that hypothesis.

The film, unfortunately, still tries to keep the storyline of plucky humans resisting alien invaders. Thus, we have survivalists with little emotion. We have our alien protagonist out of her element. We have the alien protagonist fighting against our human…protagonist? Antagonist? Deuteragonist? The plot never makes it clear why we should be cheering for the humans, except that we in the audience are supposedly human. There are some vague references to love and freedom, but these are not elaborated upon.

Is what is so special about humans the fact that we have free will? That we are difficult to subdue? Is there something special about certain humans? That is certainly implied – namely that certain people are more resistant to invasion than others. While that may be true, what of it? Again, this is not really explained or discussed adequately. It is just assumed: humans must resist! Choose freedom! Er, sorry, freedom to hide? Freedom to live in small enclaves under dictatorships – even benevolent ones – and forced to shoot loved ones?

This is where the story takes a bit of a different turn. Mature adult characters see that this on-the-run lifestyle is not sustainable. They take measures to study the invaders to try to beat them or at least negotiate. Our protagonist is not killed outright because the human leader wants to talk to her and learn from her. (It helps that he cannot bring himself to kill someone who looks and seems like his niece.) Contrast that with the reactions of the younger humans, who are more willing to keep up the fight.

This whole story is a string of interesting plotlines and potential character development arcs that do not really bear fruit and do not tell a meaningful story when cobbled together. It is unfortunate that they tried to pack this all into a film. I think it might have made for a better miniseries. Perhaps someone should consider adapting it?

Simply put, Meyer made her aliens too perfect. Their only flaw is taking away human free will – because they did not adequately understand the concept.

Was there supposed to be a moral lesson or something to be gleaned about our own world from this story? I am not sure what it was. The only meaningful things that I was able to take from it was “do not be so quick to pass judgement” and “it is always better to cooperate than fight”. Not new, but worthwhile reminders anyhow. I am constantly reminded of what I learned as a child: no matter what, find something relevant to take from the story. Plus, it was entertaining. I’ll give it that.

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