A last-minute invite from Geeks OUT’s Vice President, Kevin Gilligan, led me to a special screening of Netflix’s Nimona. As a former board member myself, to leaving Geeks OUT entirely, and then transitioning to a social media coordinator a few years later, the night became a reflection of growth and celebration, not just for me, but for ND Stevenson and the dedicated individuals who worked so hard to bring Nimona on the big screen.
When I first watched Nimona earlier this year at home, I was bawling my eyes out. It stayed so true to the original graphic novel! Nimona was that character I resonated so deeply with (yes, surprise, I’m trans). Seeing Nimona animated and brought to life – made me so emotional. It was very much “We did it! We made it!” – a sentiment that echoed throughout the night.
Following the screening, at a panel discussion with ND, the Directors, Producers, and Nimona’s Voice Actress offered insights into the journey of making Nimona one of the most-viewed animated movies of the year. Directors Nick Bruno and Troy Quane shared the struggles of maintaining Nimona’s authentic narrative, facing off against the Big Mouse and navigating a global pandemic.
It was a powerful reminder that the queer fight isn’t a solitary one – it’s a collective effort. The fight to be seen, to exist is always happening, its with our community, our peers.
Producers Karen Ryan and Julie Zackary, discussed the transition from Blue Sky Studios to Netflix and the hurdles they overcame to make Nimona a reality. They all kept emphasizing the joy they experienced in keeping Nimona true to it queer trans narrative and the victory of breaking into the mainstream.
The reception afterwards provided a chance to connect with everyone involved. I’m terrible at networking, so I spent most of my time listening to Kevin speak. And hearing how ND remembered Geeks OUT from NYCC and being a Special Guest at Flame Con 2018 during the Lumberjanes and She-Ra buzz, reminded me of when I first connected with Nimona, which was at MOCCA Fest, in like 2015? Seeing ND’s own journey and evolution fills my queer little heart with hope.
In conversations with Tony Morrision, GLAAD’s Director of Communications and the night’s panel moderator, the veil of networking lifted. We chatted, shared tea, and embraced our queer joy without hesitation. There was safety, comfort – a future I never envisioned for myself as a child.
Seeing Nimona again that night reminded me of my own personal growth from self-destruction to self-acceptance. Geeks OUT introduced me a community that had such a profound impact, showcasing a future that is queer, geeky and beautiful. Nimona’s triumph goes beyond mainstream recognition; it shows us that the queer and trans narratives are universal. You are not alone, we’re here, we’re queer and, you know, get used to it.
Being alive is a trip. There is no beauty, horror, and ass-kicking quite like navigating a lifetime. I don’t have much else to compare that to because, as far as I know, I haven’t not been alive, but one thing that seems apparent to me is that we all get put through our paces at one point or another. We fall on our faces, experience unimaginable traumas, we stagnate, we grow, we repeat cycles, and sometimes we break them. For me, when anxiety begins creeping up my spine or dissociation swoops in to take me out of my body and place me somewhere else, I typically turn to places I know are safe: Bob’s Burgers, Schitt’s Creek, and the show that not enough people seem to know about, Centaurworld. Centaurworld is the story of Horse (Kimiko Glenn), a warrior deep in the trenches of an endless conflict, who magically leaves her world and lands in a bright, musical, bizarro one. Desperate to return home and reunite with her Rider (Jessie Mueller), Horse bonds with a magical ragtag herd of “half-animal, half-man things” and sets off on a journey of self-discovery and home. Created by animator Megan Nicole Dong (also the voice of anxiety-ridden and klepto gerenuktaur, Glendale), the story is about embracing the unexpected and changing in ways previously not thought possible. It could not have entered my life at more prescient time as my own self-concept and sense of my world had just fallen apart.
In May 2021, I was informed I needed to leave my home of three years so the landlord could move back in. Shortly after selling or storing my belongings and driving my self, Gatsby, my cat companion of 15 years, and a couple of suitcases the 6-8 hours from Tucson, AZ, to Los Angeles to stay with my aunt and uncle, my said beloved companion died of stomach cancer. Wound, meet salt. Unlike our hero, Horse, I was not feeling ambitious or focused on a goal of any kind. I felt completely and utterly lost. But similarly to Horse, I was in the beginning stages of finding my herd amidst what felt like insurmountable obstacles, trauma, and grief. Less than a month after the loss of Gatsby and only about two since losing my home, I was sitting in a friend’s living room in Hawaii. Surrounded by my friend’s family and other friend’s visiting from New York, Yahtzee dice and random toys settled on corners of the coffee table and kitchen counters, it was a moment of relaxation and fun that had been difficult for me to cultivate at that time. We all probably had a beer or seltzer in hand, lost in laughs and conversation while on the TV screen, a giraffe with a toned human torso and pear-shaped humanish face appeared, screaming dramatically at a freaked out horse. The horse was also screaming. Through the immense fog of grief and autopilot human-mode, a thought emerged from the depths: “What the fuck am I watching?”
This, my friends, was Centaurworld. I can’t remember if I finished watching season 1 with my friends or if I decided to watch it on my own (season 2 would not come out until the Fall) but an impression was made. Centaurworld is full of topical absurdist humor, first-class talent from Broadway, Pop, YouTube, and the Film/TV worlds, and a soundtrack that will make you want to embark on an epic adventure in one turn and hold your loved ones and aching heart close the next. “I tried to draw from my own emotional experiences… The whole [story] is based on me going through high school, getting ready to take all these [AP] classes and then ending up in a show choir because the only available extracurricular was show choir… Being from one world, thinking that there was one way to do things, and then ending up in this really musical, silly place and having that really change her [Horse] as a character,” said Dong in an interview with the LA Times about where the concept for Centaurworld originated. The relatability of Horse’s story arc, as well as those of many of the secondary character’s, is what keeps the show anchored enough to allow the this place to come alive in all its saturated, hills and moons with butts, shooting-tiny-versions-of-themselves-from-their-hooves glory.
The first season centers on Horse’s trek across Centaurworld to find the missing pieces of a mysterious artifact, and the shamans who hold them, that will help her return to her world and Rider. Accompanied by Wamawink (Megan Hilty), Durpleton (Josh Radnor, and the aforementioned beefy giraffetaur), Zulius (Parvesh Cheena), Glendale (Dong), and Ched (Chris Diamantopolus), this unlikely herd get mixed up in all sorts of shenanigans all the while helping Horse navigate way outside her comfort zone and discover and embrace previously uncharted aspects of her identity. Face-offs with taurnadoes, standing for trial for falling down a moletaur hole, competing in Johnny Teatime’s cattaur competition, ugly crying, and learning the unfortunate origins of glue are all par for the course when going on a herotaur’s journey. All leading to a more connected herd and Horse who becomes more unrecognizable, yet more herself.
Season two widens the focus to ending the war in Horse’s world by defeating the big bad Nowhere King (if Adventure Time’s The Litch and Hexxus from FernGully had a baby with the voice of Brian Stokes Mitchell) while giving more backstory and arcs for the other members of the herd as they attempt to recruit other centaurs to join the fight. The fun thing about growth is we often learn swiftly about the many areas in which we fall short and the deep discomfort of trying to continue to play roles that just no longer fit. Unless you are fan faves Comfortable Doug (Flula Borg) or Waterbaby (Renée Elise Goldsberry) then you are perfection. No notes. For everyone else, falling short doesn’t always mean eventually being able to rise above and conquer the thing, but is actually in the courage it takes to feel our disappointment and grieve the person we thought we were or would like to be but aren’t. Or it’s our envy of those we love being able to do or have what we may be yearning for in ourselves. Sometimes it’s wondering about where we even fit in the world anymore. It’s frustrating feeling brain mushy where there was once a sense of clarity. Hopefully we are as lucky as Horse is to have the modeling of support and acceptance of her herd as we figure out how to answer those questions for ourselves.
Everyone has got some trauma they are working through or from and rarely is anything what it seems on the surface. Durpleton’s distress over having mean farts, Glendale’s habitual stealing and hoarding everything into her portal tummy, and Ched’s outright disdain for horses and Centaurs™ are silly quirks at first, but aren’t most quirks little glimmers of baggage not yet unpacked? The growth from, in spite of, and the empowerment to make it to the other side of hard times is not exclusive to the hero, but is for everyone. In true musical theater fashion each moment of foreshadowing, deep discovery, and major plot twists is punctuated by song. Big white way power ballads like “Hello Rainbow Road” and “Who is She” propel us into action and huge moments of expansion while the contemplative “What if I Forget Your Face” and fierce “Nothing Good” (sung by the equally fierce legend Lea Salonga) are stark reminders of our greatest and most heartbreaking fears about relationships. But, it’s “Rider’s Lullaby” that we hear within the first five minutes of the series that carries us through it all.
Though it’s the main theme of season one, its refrain of “you’re ok, you’re alright” lays the foundation of what the herd are able to build together. The beauty of a theme like, ‘you’re ok” is not in the upholding of ideals of rugged individualism and the notions that in order to conquer our demons, we must do it alone and be better at being alone. No, it’s about staying connected during the toughest, strangest, most surprising times. Things happening may not be ok, but as long as we’re with those who see how worthy we are of protection, growth, and love we will be ok. It’s a misguided and oft repeated notion that “things will work out.” It takes decisive action, risks, support, and a little bit of magic for life to unfold and fall into place. Whether we coincidentally wind up in a show choir class or have lost a home, the world opens up in unimaginable ways and the company we keep can keep us going. My story has yet to reach a conclusion like Horse’s as I’m sure is the case for many out there in the world right now. Whether your path is a rainbow road or a plane ticket to another continent, the opportunities to uncover ourselves and find our communities are endless.
The trilogy of films concludes with Fear Street: 1666. I’m not typically a fan of historical horror, but I loved R.L. Stine’s Fear Street Saga. Like its predecessors, 1666 makes a tonal shift for the third part of the story that fits the time period is set in. I appreciated how the color palettes of the films shifted with each movie, and I’m glad that trend continued. 1666 by nature is more somber than its predecessors, but the way that it brought back the cast of the first two films to play each character gave it a sense of familiarity. It dives deeper into the Shadyside mythos and delivered us even more queer energy. I think my favorite part of this was how the filmmakers leaned into the fact that queer people have always existed. I also appreciated how the truth about the curse unfolded. It went in the direction I had hoped it would and still threw in plenty of surprises. On a technical note, 1666 is more like two films in one. The 1666 portion is roughly one hour, but the rest is 1994: Part 2. While it felt a little disjointed compared to the previous movies, I think it worked really well for the trilogy. It might be harder to grade a standalone film, but that’s because it does an excellent job of tying all three movies together. After watching it, it’s hard not to think of the trilogy as a single bloody epic. 1978 and 1666 tell their stand-alone stories, but 1994 is the glue that holds them together. I went into this trilogy with high expectations, and I was not disappointed. 1666 might be tough to score by itself, but it was the conclusion we needed.
Score: 4 Stars
Observations & Spoilers
Keeping with the trend from my Fear Street book reviews, everything from this point on contains spoilers. So you can wait until you’ve seen the movie and come back, or you can read on ahead with reckless abandon. Consider yourself warned.
Most of us who grew up in the United States are familiar with the Salem witch trials witch of the late seventeenth century. It was the original Satanic Panic. We have our own legends about them, too. A lot of people think that the accused witches were burned at the stake, even though that was never the case. Even R.L. Stine’s The Betrayalacknowledges this fact, as it was only in the fictional Wickham Village where witches were burned alive. Fear Street: 1666 played into this beautifully. I loved the way that the curse was revealed to be quite different than the Shadysiders in 1978 and 1994 had been lead to believe. Sarah Fier was never the one who placed the curse; she was its first victim and the only one who ever figured out the truth.
I’m not typically a fan of historical horror. I found The Witch boring as hell. 1666 shares a similar aesthetic, but it never felt slow or inaccessible. Part of this was helped by all of the familiar faces assuming similar roles. It gave us a sense of who each character was without having to say very much. Likewise, the legwork done in the previous movies had already established knowledge of the Union settlement and the Shadyside curse. While 1666 was certainly darker and struck a much more somber tone, it still managed to maintain enough of the campy flair that has made this trilogy so enjoyable.
I was already impressed with the queer love story in Fear Street: 1994, and I’m glad that we got another one in 1666. The love story of Sarah and Hannah felt familiar because of the parallels to the 1994 story. Just like Sam, Hannah had an overbearing mother that didn’t approve. Witchcraft became a metaphor for queerness. Sarah and Hannah’s relationship became a scandal that got them accused of laying with the devil. The original Shadysider was a queer woman falsely accused in order to cover up the evil of man. I appreciated the way that this made the film feel current.
It was a bit jarring to be thrust back to 1994 after an hour in the seventeenth century, but we had a storyline to finish. It felt like an odd fit at first, but it worked when I stepped back and regarded the trilogy as a whole. We got some more 90s jams, we got some more bloody kills, and we got to see the family line that had cursed Shadyside brought to its knees. I will also note that the trilogy is very rewatchable. There are so many things that will jump out from the first two after seeing the final installment, especially the words and actions of Nick Goode. The movie also left the book open for future installments and spin-offs. I could easily see this becoming an anthology series of sorts. I hope that whatever comes prominently features the actual street in its title and that Reva Dalby shows up at some point.
And finally, a few weeks ago I got to interview Leigh Janiak (the director) and Phil Graziadei (co-writer of 1994 and 1666) on behalf of GeeksOUT. We got to talk about the queer elements of the trilogy, what books/movies influenced their storytelling, and whether we’ll be seeing more from Fear Street in the future. Check it out below.
Thank you for reading along on these reviews. If you’ve enjoyed these movies as much as I did and are maybe looking to scratch the nostalgic itch of your childhood R.L. Stine binge-reading days, I’ve been reading and reviewing a bunch of them on my blog for the last few years. My reviews are honest and not always glowing like the reviews for these movies have been. There’s plenty of memes and gif used to illustrate my points and have fun with the ridiculousness of it all. There are also plenty of other Fear Street, Goosebumps, Point Horror, and Christopher Pike books in the mix as well.
Fear Street 1978 doesn’t waste any time getting right to the good stuff. Last week’s 1994 had already done a lot of the heavy lifting introducing us to Shadyside and the witch’s curse, so 1978 was poised to hit the ground running. Where the first movie featured an homage to nineties movies, the second part of the story does the same with the greats of the seventies. You can pick up references to Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Friday the 13th, The Exorcists, and probably several others that I missed. It also uses a different color pallet to establish a new feel and tone. We already got the headline of what happened at Camp Nightmoon, so we knew how the movie would end before it even started. The fun was in finding out how the events actually unfolded. The good stuff never makes it into the papers. The principal cast delivered some excellent performances. There were some truly brutal kills. We got plenty of new context to the information we found in the first movie. There were a few contrived items that stretched the realm of plausibility, but there was nothing so egregious that it took me out of the experience. The self-aware approach to old-school horror movie campiness helped a lot in that regard. Fear Street: 1978 works really well as its own stand-alone movie, but it also sets the stage nicely for Fear Street: 1666. I know the film did its job because I cannot wait for the third and final part of the trilogy.
Observations & Spoilers
Keeping with the trend from my Fear Street book reviews, everything from this point on contains spoilers. So you can wait until you’ve seen the movie and come back, or you can read on ahead with reckless abandon. Consider yourself warned.
Fear Street: 1978 takes the Camp Nightmoon setting from the Fear Street novel Lights Out, but it doesn’t take much else from the book. I wasn’t exactly a fan of that book, so you will hear no complaints from me on this point. There weren’t many book references beyond what the first movie gave us, and I was honestly fine with that. I like the fact that these movies aren’t just beholden to a rigid canon, and are allowed to really be their own thing. These movies are for horror fans of all stripes; book fans and movie fans alike will find plenty to enjoy.
1978 was allowed to be a tighter movie in general because of all the heavy lifting that 1994 already did. We already knew about the curse; we even knew how many people were going to die at Camp Nightmoon by the end of it. The fun part was in seeing how events unfolded and picking up on the small ways it all tied together with the events of Part One. If the first movie was already giving you Stranger Things vibes, Sadie Sink helped carry that feeling into the second film. She leads an excellent cast of actors that includes Ted Sutherland as a young Nick Goode. I appreciated how the story made me really feel for these characters, even though I knew most of them were doomed from the start. Alice, who is portrayed by non-binary actor Ryan Simpkins, puts it simply: “Everyone has their own way of dealing with Shadyside.”
There was a really strong undercurrent of women supporting women at the core of this story. Women in movie roles and other sectors of the media are often pitted against each other. As though there can only be one that comes out on top. Fear Street: 1978 featured a really touching story between two sisters (Cindy and Ziggy) as well as between two friends (Cindy and Alice). The tragic way that the curse of Shadyside had infiltrated all of their lives was shown to have more depth than just the psycho killers who spring up every so often. It drove Cindy to strive for perfection to seek a way out. I drove Alice to cut themself and seek joys in the simple pleasures of life. It left the young Ziggy jaded and apathetic about ever being able to get away from Shadyside. It made that hopeful moment after Alice found Sarah’s hand all the more powerful. It also made Alice’s and Cindy’s deaths that much more tragic. I’m a firm believer that character is the key to any good story, and I’m so grateful that these movies have (so far) not lost sight of that.
I had a few issues with Sarah’s hand. I felt like it was found a bit too easily in both instances. The first one is more forgivable. The red moss was a nice touch. There was also plenty of it around Sarah’s grave in the first movie. I like the unnatural bright red look of it and how it represented a physical manifestation of the curse. I also thought it was cool the way that the Shadyside Mall was built around the hanging tree. I’m not sure that the roots of a tree that old and large could withstand being surrounded by a foundation like that, and I also don’t think the hand would just stay buried given all the surrounding excavation that would have needed to happen I don’t know shit about architecture and engineering so maybe I’m completely wrong. Still, it stuck out to me as a little too convenient for the plot that Deena and Josh were able to find the hand again so easily. And that’s not even getting into the fact that they were able to easily break into a mall that was also the scene of a very recent mass murder without getting caught. But again, I was having fun so it was easy to let this point slide.
I found it a little confusing as to why Nick Goode gave the authorities Cindy’s name instead of Ziggys. The only reason I can think of was to save her from the curse since Ziggy is the one who bled on Sarah’s bones. But the cold way that Nick regarded Ziggy when she asked if he believed her about the curse seems to contradict that. There was something shrouded in his intentions. Maybe it’s something that will be revealed next week in Fear Street: 1666. There’s only one way to find out. Fear Street: 1978 premieres on Netflix July 9th.
If you’re enjoying the Fear Street movies and have been looking to scratch the nostalgic itch of your childhood R.L. Stine binge-reading days, I’ve been reading and reviewing a bunch of them on my blog for the last few years. There are plenty of Fear Street, Goosebumps, Point Horror, and Christopher Pike books already up there. If you like what you see, find me on social media and follow along. I will also be involved in the Geeks Out trivia event next week. We put together some really fun questions, and there may even be some appearances from the cast. See below for details.
There wasn’t as much explicitly queer content in this movie beyond the opening scenes with Deena and Sam. I still enjoyed the hell out of this movie. If Fear Street: 1666 takes things in the direction that I think it will, there should be more queerness on the horizon. For those of you that can’t wait, Netflix has been organizing several Queer Street events across the country. This Saturday it will be hitting New York City. Check out the details below if you’re interested, and maybe I’ll see you there!
It’s been over 30 years, but we finally got a Fear Street movie! And not just one, but three of them! So let me take a moment to first acknowledge my excitement as a Fear Street superfan. This is a big moment. So you can only imagine how excited I was that they decided to center the movie on a queer relationship. You read that right: these aren’t just some minor side characters who will be killed just as soon as things start getting good. The new Netflix movie is also filled with plenty of homages to the Fear Street books. Some of them even make a very literal cameo. Nostalgia aside, this is a solid slasher horror movie. In fact, my favorite thing about them is how they tied the “cursed town” of Shadyside to the isolated slasher style of the main Fear Street series. This is what I had hoped they would do, and they delivered. My biggest complaint was the excess of nineties jams in the first half of the film. I am a child of the nineties, I love some good nineties jams, but the beginning of the movie overdoes it. 1994 also does some heavy lifting in order to set up the two sequels, making it a bit information-dense at times. The good news on that front is it sets things up beautifully for next week’s sequel: 1978. Overall, Fear Street: 1994 accomplishes what it set out to do. It keeps the self-aware camp of the books, delivers plenty of gory fun, and is worthy of several rewatches.
Score: 3.5 Stars
Observations & Spoilers
As I do with my Fear Street book reviews, everything after this jump is filled with spoilers. So you can wait until you’ve seen the movie and come back, or you can read on ahead with reckless abandon. Consider yourself warned.
I had a lot of fun watching Fear Street: 1994. It did exactly what I was hoping to do with the Fear Street canon, and focused on the cursed town of Shadyside. What I didn’t expect was the way it tied supernatural elements ofThe Cheerleaders Trilogyand The Fear Street Saga to the predominantly slasher horror feel of the main Fear Street series. Deena, the lead character in the movie, takes her name from the main character of the iconic title The Wrong Number. The setting of the second movie takes the name of the summer camp from Lights Out. I’m sure there will be a catalog of Easter Eggs from titles that I missed, but those were the big ones. I wasn’t expecting a by-the-book adaptation to a series with 80+ titles and spin-offs. I think the creative team did an excellent job at keeping with the spirit of the books while making a movie that can be enjoyed regardless of having grown up reading them.
One of my favorite aspects of the movie was the decision to center the main story on a queer relationship. Queerness in the nineties was rarely acknowledged and representation was often problematic at best. Queer people have always existed, and that’s exactly how it’s presented in the movie. I had a feeling that Sam was a girl well before it was revealed, but I was also screening the movie specifically for queer content. Regardless, I think the creative team here can be commended for getting it right with Deena and Sam. Their relationship felt true to their characters, and their characters felt true to the queer women I have known. I certainly can’t speak for everyone in that regard, but after a lifetime of queer-coded straight main characters and cartoonishly stereotypical gay side characters, Deena and Sam felt honest and refreshing.
I did have some questions regarding Beddy, the nurse/drug dealer who sneaks the kids into the hospital after visiting hours. The character read as queer to me but wasn’t really around long enough for me to be sure. It felt like they had a backstory that got cut for time, and I wanted to know more. If Beddy were the only character with a hint of queerness, their limited presence and death would have been problematic. But the fundamental rule for breaking out of the bury-your-gays trope in a horror movie is to have so many gay characters that it doesn’t matter if some of them die. On that count, Fear Street: 1994 succeded. It also did a good job representing Black characters. Deena was the star, and Josh was the brains of the group that kept (most of) the kids alive. For a book series that was very much a product of its time, it wouldn’t have taken much to improve on this front. But to their credit, the creative team gave us a diverse cast of well-defined and memorable characters.
I appreciated the references and homages paid to the great slasher horror movies of the nineties. The opening scene especially took a lot of cues from Scream. Having Maya Hawke be the movie’s first kill was very reminiscent of Drew Barrymore’s role in Scream’s iconic opening scene. I do wish the Skullmask killer had been a little more distinct in that respect, but as we got into the history of Shadyside killers I became more forgiving of the choice. I found Ruby Lane, the milkman, and a few of the others way more compelling. But the Skullmask was definitely the most nineties of the bunch, and that was the point.
My biggest complaint about the movie was the overuse of nineties jams crammed into the first thirty minutes. It was great when Garbage’s “Only Happy When it Rains” introduced us to Deena. It gave us a great sense of who she was right off the bat before she even said her first line. But as the kids entered Shadyside High we got berated with song after song. All of them worked in their own way, but it was akin to sensory overload. The songs never got their own moment to land. Thankfully this tendency doesn’t carry throughout the movie, and it wasn’t enough to take me out of enjoying it.
Fear Street: 1994 set things up beautifully for Fear Street: 1978. You can look out for my review on that one next Thursday. In the meantime, if you are feeling nostalgic for the paperback horror stories of your youth, you can check out my ongoing reviews of the Fear Street books over on my blog.
Three movies, three weeks, three times the scares! Make this the MUST-SEE movie event of July aka “the summer of FEAR”. Be among the first to have a chance to see the “Must-See Movie Event of July!”
Geeks OUT has been given the opportunity to offer 100 screening passes for the Netflix movie trilogy Fear Street! 100 screening passes means we’ll have 100 winners that get a near-week head start on watching the horror movie event of the summer.
For your chance to enter in, please fill out this google docs form by Thursday June 24th. Winners will be notified via email and receive links to the movies as they become available with 24 hours to watch.
The dates for the screenings are as follows:
FEAR STREET Part 1: 1994 – Monday, June 28 FEAR STREET Part 2: 1978 – Thursday, July 8 FEAR STREET Part 3: 1666 – Wednesday, July 14
Scroll down for more information on the Fear Street trilogy.
FEAR STREET PART 1: 1994 A circle of teenage friends accidentally encounter the ancient evil responsible for a series of brutal murders that have plagued their town for over 300 years. Welcome to Shadyside.
FEAR STREET PART 2: 1978 Shadyside, 1978. School’s out for summer and the activities at Camp Nightwing are about to begin. But when another Shadysider is possessed with the urge to kill, the fun in the sun becomes a gruesome fight for survival.
FEAR STREET PART 3: 1666 The origins of Sarah Fier’s curse are finally revealed as history comes full circle on a night that changes the lives of Shadysiders forever.
I had the pleasure of sitting down with the writer/director of the movie “Arlo the Alligator Boy” – Ryan Crego (Puss & Boots), and the two stars, Michael J. Woodard (American Idol) and Mary Lambert (singer) to ask them a few questions about this heartwarming animated musical, now out on Netflix.
Kevin: I was very lucky to be able to catch a sneak peek of the movie, and there’s a lot of queer coding in the film, from the pink furball with a mustache, wearing heels and nails, addressed by she/her pronouns named Furlicia, voiced by Jonathan Van Ness. We also have the main character, Arlo, discovering his found family. and also the theme of learning to embrace our differences and focusing on what makes us special. Was that a concerted effort, or was the queer coding just a happy accident?
Ryan: I, you know, I guess in some aspects you don’t tell a story about, accepting yourself and accepting other people for who they are without thinking about that without thinking about, you know, the queer community, without thinking about the black community, all of the above. And so for me, you know, it’s something that I think I took seriously, knowing that the implications of what this story could mean, and if you get it wrong, what the damage that it could do, you know. And so, along the way, I made sure that, not only through the casting process and the design process, but my staffing process that I had voices around me that were diverse, that spoke to all of these characters. I think with Jonathan Van Ness, that was a character that could have gone a number of different ways. It really became about asking Jonathan if he would collaborate on that character, if he would step into a role of consulting and sort of developing that character with me, because I didn’t want that character to be, you know, Jonathan’s got such a powerful presence and he’s such a special person, he brings that to the table every day, every time he records. And so for me, it was like, I did not want to make that character, the butt of a joke, or to make, you know, I wanted that character to be funny, to be, for us, to all have fun with that character, but not to make fun of that character. So it was very important from the beginning. And that’s why, you know, we talked about pronouns, we talked about (the) outfit, we talked about, you know, Jonathan was actually the one who was like, “if it’s a fur ball and it’s going by she/her, sex it up. You know, we need more.” And I was like, okay, but it’s also a kids cartoon. (Everyone laughs) But we did, you know, to the degree that we could. And so, so yes, I mean, I was aware that would be part of the meaning of this film, of the thematic meaning of this film, and so, I had to think about it and consider it and partner with people who could give me insight and so we could do something that was meaningful and respectful.
Kevin: Mary and Michael, did either of you pull from personal experience while portraying these characters and what was that experience like?
Mary: Totally. I think, I mean, initially reading the script for Bertie, I was just so excited that there wasn’t a single fat joke about her. And I also loved that once I saw the visuals and started seeing the animation, that Arlo was sort of this epitome of imagination. And I think that’s what like happens in queer culture, is like the bounds of what is possible is limited by imagination. And I love that this storyline centers around chosen family and community. And for me, it was really cathartic playing somebody who was a big girl. And I thought about my younger self watching this and how healing that would have been and how much I craved representation for big girls when I was younger. I had, you know, Lindy West talks about this in “Shrill”, but she’s like, you have the Teapot from “Beauty and the Beast” you know, a matronly inanimate object, or Mrs. Trunchbull from “Matilda”, you have the villain. And so it’s exciting to be the hero, like Bertie is super strong and she protects Arlo and she’s vegan and she’s sensitive and can sing, and she is complex. And I think that’s so exciting and healing to be able to play that character.
Michael: I would say definitely I pulled from experience and things like that. And also just my natural personality. I think I didn’t have to stray far away from myself in order to really portray Arlo. I am very blessed and lucky to have that be a part of the character. And you will see moments where Arlo is conflicted in the movie, and that, yes, he’s happy and he’s optimistic, but he is human. And there are parts of his journey where he is pretty, disgruntled or just conflicted about life and where he should go, what he’s doing, and he’s confused. So just seeing those moments and me being in and having to portray those moments, there have been times in my life where I have felt that exact same way. Especially the high school period of my life. I think that was the time that I felt that way. Like what the freak am I doing? I’m young, I know where I want to be, but I’m not there yet. And it’s hard. So just pulling from those experiences, even to give life to those moments that Arlo was going through, was definitely a plus and helped me a lot to be able to portray those emotions.
Kevin: Why was it so important that this story be told as a musical and what role did the music play in the development of these characters?
Ryan: To answer the first part, I grew up playing music, I’ve been in bands my whole life, and been a songwriter for a long time. Not nearly as successful as the two (Michael and Mary) that I’m sitting here with, but that’s okay. (laughs) I love music, and I was always surrounded by it when I was young, and so it’s had an impact on me. When I got the chance to actually make my dream project, to do something that I thought would be like, this is me on a platter, it had to be musical. I didn’t anticipate actually writing all the music. I kind of had my friend, Alex Geringas pinned for that, and I was just gonna feed him the story and he was going to do it. But, he insisted when we got into our first couple of sessions that he wasn’t going to write without me. So, that was a big part of it, when I was writing the story, I was also writing the music at the same time.
Ryan: So we were kind of going back and forth between the script and really pushing. And then we found Michael and Mary, and the songs evolved even more because we knew who the voices were, what they were capable of and then started to write songs additionally, after the recording process. It was a pretty organic thing. I’d never made a musical before, I’ve worked in animated projects that have had musical elements, but I’ve never actually made a musical. So I kind of literally went onto Google and said like, how do you, how do you make a musical? (Mary & Michael laugh) And then watched everything I could and started studying, and listened to a ton of top 40 stuff. I really pushed myself into like a good two year cocoon of music, where I was just thinking about, what is this project going to be, how are we going to do this musically? And I’m super proud of the work we’ve done. I feel like the songs are touching, the voices of these two really reach out of the screen and just grab you in the heart and just make you feel for the characters. And I couldn’t ask for anything more, when watching a musical, to have that kind of emotional grip, and attachment to the songs. So, I’m pretty proud of what we’ve done.
Kevin: And I really enjoyed watching it and I enjoyed both of your characters (Arlo & Bertie) and just the love that’s there. And I’m really excited for other people to experience it and also for us to see their adventures continue, in the series “I ❤️ Arlo”.
In this special episode of the Geeks OUT Podcast, Kevin talks with the creators/EP’s of Kipo and the Age of the Wonderbeasts, Rad Sechrist & Bill Wolkoff, as they discuss the rich world they created, our new favorite queer character Benson, and the inspiration for all the great music from this new animated series from Dreamworks Animation, now streaming on Netflix.
The Dragon Prince recently dropped a 3rd season on Netflix, and continues to break ground in its diversity of representation, which is as vibrant, unique, and exciting as its fantastical setting. But it also teaches some had lessons which other children’s media shies away from.
The first season gave us a mixed-race royal family in which a black man is the king. In pseudo-medieval fantasy settings, this is almost unheard of, unless the nation is exclusively made up of dark-skinned people. It also gave us a particularly loveable female knight who is hearing impaired – though I’ve found that every character in this series is loveable, even the antagonists. What brought particular joy to me was watching this character speak so expressively through sign, sometimes without another character vocalising for them, and never with any subtitles. The incredible effect of this is that the viewer begins to learn her sign, and when it is not translated, is excited to learn it. I can only imagine how exciting these extra bits of dialogue are to viewers, especially children, who communicate through ASL themselves and almost never see themselves represented.
Season two introduced a character with lesbian parents, who’s heroic demise is shown in flashback. Though this certainly falls into the Kill Your Gays trope, it doesn’t make them any different from most of the parental figures on the show, who are either heroically dead, toxic, or estranged.
This third season gave us something which is extremely rarely seen in children’s media – a male couple who are not just wholesome chaste companions, but shown sharing a passionate kiss. The Dragon Prince has a few ley lines which connect its various characters, arcs, and history. These are:
Questioning Deeply Held Beliefs. It is established from the start that humans are appropriators, who steal and corrupt magic because they cannot wield any on their own. There is nothing in the continuing establishment of the lore to refute this. Yet, one of our main characters discovers he is capable of innate magic through study and concentration. At this time, there is no explanation as to why this has happened. There is no Chosen One motif, no mystery of his birth – simply a passion to learn, and to question the status quo.
Being the First Generation to Break a Cycle of Violence. The main premise of The Dragon Prince’s politics involves a small group of young people trying to stop a war which has been perpetuated by the generations that came before. But it appears in other places too – for instance, the child queen who lost her lesbian mothers is told that her parents would have wanted her to arm her nation for war, and answer the call of her allies. She agrees. Yes, that is what her mothers would have wanted. But they also raised her to be her own person, and her own judgement was to say no to war. It is not a betrayal of her family’s values, but her own way of expressing her independent ones. Before there is ever any hope for peace, The Dragon Prince shows us an assassin refusing to kill in cold blood, a child caring for a baby dragon who is the offspring of the dragon who killed his mother. A regiment of soldiers who lay down their arms and are branded cowards for refusing to fight a war they do not believe in. The show shines with small acts of gentleness that require great bravery.
Recognising Toxic Behaviour in a Loved One. Season three takes on a topic which is almost never handled by children’s media with any subtlety or realism: Being gaslit by a toxic parent. In Disney’s Tangled, our heroine needs to be a naive, isolated shut-in to be duped by her mother and not considered a complete idiot. The mother is earmarked for villainy to the audience from the very beginning, and therefore they learn nothing about how to spot a truly manipulative adult. In The Dragon Prince, Lord Viren is not depicted this way. He is styled as a villain by his profession and color palette, but so are Claudia and Soren with their respective dark magic and bullying. The three of them are depicted as more complicated than just the colors they wear. Viren’s two children are accomplished young adults with their own careers and passions, and yes, it is the cleverer one who remains trusting of him even when he has slowly turned into a monster. This is another valuable lesson – when you are the favorite child, it can be more difficult to see the warning signs, and easier to dismiss the alarm of your less-loved sibling. That is perhaps the most difficult lesson The Dragon Prince manages to get across – someone can truly love you, and be a villain too.
The pattern the antagonists in The Dragon Prince go through is almost a mirror opposite of Steven Universe, which presents binary evildoers and slowly reveals there is more to them, and inevitably, gives them all a chance to redeem themselves. The Dragon Prince Begins with a vast array of characters from different sides of a political conflict, some with duties to their nation, their race, their profession, or their family. As the plot develops, decisions need to be made, and lines in the sand need to be drawn. Some give up duty to better serve their moral compass. Some manipulate their position to achieve their goals. Characters who were once troublesome to the protagonists come to fight for them, and some who were beloved turn into radicalised monsters.
It is very rare that a piece of media for children should pull no punches when it comes to the hard lessons one learns when growing up. Your nation is not always good. Your family is not always right. And sometimes being kind is the hardest thing you can do.