Monday, July 17, 2017

MOVIES: "Moana" - Let Girls Do Slapstick

Finally getting to see Moana was a much-needed fix for me. I hadn't been against seeing it, but generally all my friends who were going were going as part of special family outings. The single and/or childless, like myself, didn't seem as pushed to go, and I didn't feel like going alone. Fortunately, Netflix had my back.

I was enthused from the start, though. I couldn't wait to hear newcomer Auli'i Cravalho in the lead role, I looked forward to Lin-Manuel Miranda's musical contributions, and of course there was Rock "The Dwayne" Johnson as a trickster demigod. The fact that the reviews were coming in largely good (save for those who need a movie to be perfect to be worth seeing) was also encouraging.

No surprise to hear I enjoyed it, I'm sure. But what I loved most wasn't the music or the visuals or even the overall story. It was the fact that Moana -- a Disney Princess Daughter Of A Chief -- got to engage in a huge amount of slapstick.

It's not often you get to see girls engage in physical comedy. Especially opposite male co-stars. Especially opposite male co-stars three to four times their size. Even in cartoons. And I mean, I can understand why, I guess? I can absolutely see why a director would not want to show a male character being violent to a female character in a humorous context. We may have the vote, but there's still some dudes out there who really do think talking about giving girls black eyes is hilarious.

So I was actually slightly amazed to see that Maui pitching Moana off her boat was a running gag. Like, anywhere else this is a giant dude who could easily overpower her (and did early on) chucking her to her death with absolutely zero concern. Theoretically a writer or director would drop that like the hottest of hot potatoes.

But the writers and animators made it work. And a big part of that was front-loading Moana's safety, I think. Pretty much our first view of her is the ocean not letting anything happen to her. And yeah, we have that tested the first time we try to go out. But the ocean pretty much is a character. And we know that it chose Moana and loves its awkward girl and doesn't much like Maui.

Hence? Safe slapstick.

And I'm so glad. Because it's honestly about time we let girls be physically funny without the "humor" element coming from the fact that it's a girl being awkward.

To be fair, a ton of the credit goes to Cravalho for having awesome comic delivery. The repeated gag would not have been nearly as hilarious without her mounting frustration combined with her "My name is Inigo Montoya" perseverance. But seriously, hats off to the writers for letting those scenes exist in the first place, and for finding a way to keep them from being extremely sketchy.

There are a ton of points to focus on in Moana, sure. Like yeah, I completely noticed that there wasn't a love story at all. There wasn't even a story about how there wasn't a love story. We just got a straight-up Bildungsroman, no bait-and-switch. We got Moana and Maui working as equals, playing off each other in a way you rarely see male and female characters do. There were also parents who were wrong without being bad and stupid. There were flawed characters everywhere. There final boss wasn't a "bad guy," although there were some low level ones, sure.

But yeah. I will keep coming back to the physical comedy. Every time. Because it made me happy. And I want more. Sure it was a cartoon. But I want more. I want more people to realize that not physically abusing women doesn't mean putting them in a plastic bubble and never ever ever letting them ever be seen as anything less than graceful.

Let us fall on our faces. Let us look dumb. Let us be silly. As the kids say: More Like This.
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