Friday, July 6, 2012

Starkid's Starship and Disney's The Little Mermaid: Similar Stories, But Which is Better?

Let me start off by saying that I am a big fan of Team Starkid. I am a recent fan considering that I am not a huge fan of Harry Potter and they began their franchise with their first ever musical A Very Potter Musical, so I didn't watch it when it first came out. I was inspired to watch it this past summer of 2011 because I was very into "Glee" and Darren Criss, who started off with Starkid, is now a cast member of "Glee," and I was YouTubing "Glee" the same night the final Harry Potter film was premiering, so I figured I'd watch it to see what the hype is all about. I must say I am very impressed with their talents and pleasantly surprised. As someone who did not necessarily grow up with the Harry Potter series like the rest of my generation, I find myself able to enjoy it regardless.

For those of you who don't know who they are, Team Starkid is a theater troupe consisting of a bunch of theater students who attended the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Darren being one of them. They come up with their own original pieces and eventually perform them and put them on their YouTube channel. They have all graduated now but still continue their Team Starkid franchise together. They actually just recently completed their S.P.A.C.E. Tour this past November and their Apocalyptour this past June. I definitely consider them an inspiration to aspiring performers everywhere because of their creativity and passion.

A recent Starkid staged musical is Starship, which is what I am going to focus on in this post. Starship has been compared to the story of The Little Mermaid by the Starkids themselves in this video. I've noticed similarities as well, now that they mention it. So which is better? My vote is for Starship. Here is a nice compare and contrast piece of Starship and The Little Mermaid.

*Beware of Spoilers.*

Bug, played by Joey Richter
The Story
The story of Starship follows a human sized insect, appropriately named "Bug," living on a planet called "Bug World," whose greatest dream is to become a Starship Ranger. He gets inspiration from hanging out in an abandoned starship on his planet and watching the old starship footage he finds there. However, he cannot achieve his dreams because the rest of his bug colony gets in the way. They all, including his best friend Roach, try to convince him that becoming a starship ranger is way beyond his reach and that each bug is supposed to do his or her part for the hive, which is where all of the bugs live (Except for one. We'll get to him soon enough.) The Overqueen, an insect who is the ruler of the hive and looks like a vagina (I just found out as I write this that I'm not the only one who thinks this lol), is the one who dictates what each bug does for a living, though also takes into consideration what the bugs want where reasonable. Bug, unsatisfied with the job the Overqueen gives him, comes across February, a human Starship Ranger who has been captured while doing some inspection of the planet by the bugs to implant eggs inside of her. Her eyes are also covered with bug slime, so when Bug talks to her, she doesn't realize he is an insect as well and thinks he is a Starship Ranger like herself. Bug, seeing that February is just as misunderstood as he, feels that they have a connection and instantly falls in love with her. He then rescues her.

At this point we can make connections to The Little Mermaid. Ariel is a small mermaid, the youngest in her family and the daughter of King Triton. Her greatest wish is to live on land. However, though she has this interest towards the beginning of the film as well, this interest is further instigated by rescuing Eric, a sailor with whom she falls in love, from shipwreck during a storm. Then is the only time we truly see her wish to live on land deepen so much whereas Bug's wish to be a Starship Ranger is strong as soon as we meet him. I feel that meeting February did nothing to trigger a greater urge in Bug. His urge is great from the beginning. Bug's inspiration is falling in love with a career and Ariel's inspiration is falling in love with a man. Though he does fall in love with February, and this does have something to do with it, he was convinced he would become a Starship Ranger one day whereas Ariel's wish to become a human and live on land seems more like a curiosity, though she does have this hope to become a human from the beginning as well.

As I am writing this, I'm noticing that Bug and Ariel aren't as much different as I thought.

The Bad Guys
You know what's really awesome about the villains from both Starship and The Little Mermaid? They are all so devilish. Sometimes you have a corny bad guy with useless henchmen and an even more useless plot, but Ursula and Pincer work their way into the minds of the protagonists to get what they want, showcasing some awesome villain strategies that only Satan himself could influence. They both convince the protagonists that they wish to help them whereas they are just in it for themselves. Plus, they both also have two of the best "bad guy songs" of all time:

What I really find interesting is how both sets of lyrics incorporate the villain coercing the protagonist to "make a choice." Another observation I've made is how both characters have long extensions that float around. Pincer has his claws and Ursula has her tentacles.

The only thing I don't like about these villains is that I feel like they are both poorly developed. Their agendas don't seem too clear. For example, Pincer makes it known that he wants to devour the humans, but he also says later on that he does what he does because he is simply a bad guy. Ursula is pretty much just known as the underwater witch and wants to take over the ocean, so therefore she fits the villain description perfectly. I just keep wondering "What is in it for them? Why are they like this? Why are they outcasts? Why are they defiant? Where is there motivation?" I just don't accept the idea of them simply being themselves as their only motive.

However, I really like how huge Pincer is when he enters the stage. When I first saw him, I was in shock with both fear and awe. When I was a youngster at Disney World, I saw the "Voyage of The Little Mermaid," which is a live action stage production of the movie incorporating with some movie clips in it as well, much like what Starship does. When Ursula came onstage, she had the same affect on me. She literally took up the whole height of the stage. She was both frightening and amazing to look at.

The one thing that's different in regards to bad guys is that in Starship, we also have a human bad guy who eventually teams up with Pincer. His name is Junior. He is originally a Starship Ranger whose father is the captain of the starship. He has his own agenda, which is to use what he finds on Bug-World to get a profit to buy some weed. This is actually another pretty weak motive for a villain, but I really enjoy how Brian Holden plays him.

What the Protagonists Do For Love
Okay so now that we have two such persuading bad guys, what exactly do they persuade the protagonists to do? Well, Ursula makes Ariel trade in her voice for legs and Pincer makes Bug trade in his physical appearance for a human body. They use this machine to transfer Bug's mind into the body of a lifeless Starship Ranger Pincer came across. So the question I pose, which was my initial reason for writing this piece, is, what is worse: giving up your voice or giving up your original looks?

Having a voice is very important, so this is poor decision-making on Ariel's part. A person should be able to have the freedom to speak his or her mind in whichever form. At least Bug has the ability to communicate with others considering he keeps his voice and is able to speak both English and his native bug language. Outward appearances don't necessarily matter when it comes to voicing opinions. Well, okay, that's kind of a lie considering how looks get people's attention in the first place, but I think you know what I mean.

My friend Kelly posted this photo on my Facebook wall awhile ago.
This photo is the inspiration for this blog post.
The Moral of the Story 
When we finally meet the Starship Rangers, we find that they have a lot of issues, especially with robots and insects. At the end, Bug becomes the connection between the humans and the insects, helping them all live in peace and coexist with each other. The lesson I personally learn from this part of the story is to not judge based on rumors and initial perceptions. I'm even going to go deeper and suggest that the moral is to not judge through stereotype and racism.

With The Little Mermaid, I feel there are no morals to learn. For one thing, I'm under the impression that the humans in this movie have no problems with the undersea creatures. In fact, they seem to go after them more than flee from them. Ariel's union with Eric doesn't seem to solve any issue between two groups like it does in Starship with Bug and February's union. The lesson I get from it is that you must change yourself for a man and once you get the man you must leave your family forever to be with him. This is my friend Kelly's favorite Disney princess and film and she feels that these morals are realistic to everyday life. Though I agree with her to an extent, I still find it anti-feminist and unrealistic.

It may seem like I am praising Starship and constantly knocking The Little Mermaid, but there are two different ideas in Starship that I strongly dislike, which I will share with you now.        

Two Minor Details That Annoy Me About Starship
I understand that Starship is a parody of science fiction films much like the other Starkid production are parodies, so perhaps I shouldn't take anything about it too seriously, but I really cringe every time they refer to God as the "dead god." Being a Catholic, I believe in Jesus Christ dying for my sins and rising from the dead and gaining eternal life, and I feel like this is Team Starkid's way of mocking my religious beliefs. We don't believe that He necessarily "died." His spirit was always alive. In other words, there's no such thing as a "dead god." God is never dead.  

Starship is a story about science fiction. Religious beliefs have nothing to do with this. In fact, we constantly have this debate going about evolution (science) versus the Genesis Creation Story (religion). The two are never really connected so I don't understand why this is used at all. They say it often too. I can see if they want an interjection to use, but the "dead god?" I also have been hearing that a handful of the Starkids are Jewish, those who believe in God but not Jesus Christ, the man who "died." I'm not sure if there is any truth to their Judaism, but if there is and they used Starship to poke fun at my Christianity and Catholicism, that doesn't sit too well with me.

Then there's something else about Starship that hits me on a personal level. My aunt passed away four years ago from breast cancer, leaving behind a six-year-old son. Since then my uncle has remarried a woman he met online. She is very good to my cousin, don't get me wrong, but it is still a depressing situation for my family. Starship takes this whole concept and makes it a joke. I think it partially explains why Junior is the way he is. Junior's father, Dr. Space-Claw, has a tendency to keep Junior on his toes throughout the musical. We see them converse only once, via webcam, though we don't see Dr. Space-Claw's face. Dr. Space-Claw nonchalantly reveals to Junior that his mother died right after he left for his starship mission. We then cut to Junior's new stepmother and the back to Dr. Space-Claw, who tells Junior he met her online. There is random laughter throughout this scene. The scene plays from 2:07 to 3:11:

I'm sorry, but this hits too close to home for me! There are certain things you just don't joke about, and this is one of them. This scene isn't necessarily needed either. The only reason for it I can think of is to give Junior another reason to go off the deep end, but he is evil to begin with anyway. Just like my issue with rape scenes, people need to take into consideration who their audiences are, for there is a good chance there is someone who lived the exact same scenario you are portraying. It should be done tastefully. There are times I refuse to watch this scene because I find it so offensive and inconsiderate.

However, to conclude this piece on a positive note, the bottom line is, Starship is a very well put together retelling of The Little Mermaid with a happy ending, produced creatively by young people who are just starting out in the business. I think what makes it better too is the fact that it was performed in front of a live audience as opposed to being a cartoon film. Theater is different from film in the way that every show is always live as opposed to film which is watching the same material over and over again. This, and the fact that it was theatrically performed by upcoming artists somewhat straight out of college. That is just very impressive to me and from what I see, we'll be seeing a lot more from them!

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