“How Far I’ll Go”Analysis (Re: criticism)

Moana’s soundtrack is lauded as one of Disney’s absolute greatest, though there have been some people who disagree. Some people think Lin Manuel dropped the ball compared to his previous work.

While I do enjoy most of the songs for this movie (I can watch the “Shiny” sequence over and over again), I do have a few problems. Mainly, for Moana’s main songs, it ends up TELLING (rather than showing) her character.

Let’s look at “How Far I’ll Go”.

I’ve been staring at the edge of the water / long as I can remember / never really knowing why

So far, so good. It’s been established in the previous song that Moana has been attracted to the ocean but we’re not sure why.

I wish I could be the perfect daughter / but I come back to the water / no matter how hard I try 

Alright, stop right there. When did the movie establish she wanted to be the ‘perfect daughter’? At least when Mulan lamented on how she couldn’t be the ‘perfect daughter’, we knew WHY: she couldn’t fight into the cultural norm and bring her family honor. Sure, we see Moana get into a scuffle with her Dad, but there was nothing to establish before that she was desperate to make him proud/gain his approval.

She continues to sing about her desire to travel the sea and how she yearns for it. Which…we already knew. They’re nice lyrics, and Auli’i Cravalho sings them wonderfully, but it doesn’t really move the plot forward.

Then she gets to the next verse where she uses the word “island” FOUR. TIMES. That’s not good songwriting. It just sounds repetitive. She talks about how happy and content the islanders are with their role in the island (which was already established in the previous song) and how she wants to settle with her role (again, we already kind of settled that with the preceding song).

I can lead with pride / I can make us strong / I’ll be satisfied if I play along

Hold up. We saw that she is a competent leader, but nowhere did the movie show her leading with PRIDE. When we see her interacting with the villagers, she doesn’t look prideful. She looks rather nervous when she leads. Previous moments made it look like she did NOT really feel satisfied being the chief. And where did the movie say Moana could make her people ‘strong’?

But the voice inside sings a different song / What is wrong with me?

*sighs*

No, Moana, what IS wrong with you? You live in a village where everyone adores you, you have supportive parents, and you’re set for life as a chief, and you’re complaining that something’s wrong with you because you’d rather be a navigator?

Well no matter, because as soon as she said that she’s happy to rush back to the beach, sing about how the ocean calls her, and gets ready to set sail.

So you can see why the lyrics aren’t very strong. Instead of moving the story forward, it either rehashes what we already know, or TELLS us what makes Moana so special.

Which leads to my biggest problem. I don’t see what makes Moana so special.

Like…she literally has no flaws. She was chosen by the ocean to restore the heart of Te Fiti. She’s going to be the chief, no question, and is competent at it. Everyone loves her, and she loves them all. She is physically and athletically strong but still manages to look conventionally attractive. She is able to learn how to properly navigate and sail in almost no time at all. She snaps a demigod out of his funk. She outsmarts several monsters. She saves the day, not needing help. And in the end, she doesn’t have to choose between her role and her passion. The whole movie sets Moana up as someone special and powerful…yet I’m supposed to feel sorry for when there are contrived moments when Maui tells her “you think you’re something you’re not” and cheer for her when she almost immediately realizes “I AM MOANA”.

Jasmine, Pocahontas, Mulan, and Tiana all had realistic flaws. Jasmine’s impulsive decision to leave the palace puts her in danger. Pocahontas keeping her rendezvous with John Smith a secret, rather than being upfront with her father, caused the death of one of her people and escalated tensions between the Powhatan and the colonialists. Mulan aggressively does not fit her culture’s gender roles (either as a man or as a woman). And Tiana’s drive to get her restaurant wears her down and interferes with her ability to socialize with others. They all have to learn from their mistakes and fix them, or grow and develop as characters, or cause SOME form of change. And ultimately, they all become lovable, sympathetic characters. But Moana is literally perfect. TOO perfect.

I legitimately could not sympathize with Moana after she sang her song. Not only did it remind me waaay too much of “Reflection”, but there was nothing that really warranted her to feel so sorry about herself. Why not make Moana an outcast? Why not have her villagers actively challenge and doubt her future role as chief? Why not have people find her love for the ocean as weird? Why not have Moana be weak (both physically and as a chief) and come back stronger when she returns? That way it would make her bond with her grandmother and Maui more poignant, and her desire to restore the heart more altruistic. But no, she just REALLY loves her people and sailing and can do anything.

Yeah, I’m frustrated. I don’t see Moana as a three-dimensional, compelling character. I see her more as a role model, someone people can admire, but not relate to. I’m disappointed because she was being built up as this great badass character but she’s really not.

But then again, I’m in the minority. I know a lot of people who love Moana, and I can’t fault them for that. But for me, I’m going to stick with Mulan, Pocahontas, Vanellope Von Schweetz, Belle, Jasmine, Tiana, and Honey and Gogo. These are characters I can connect to and relate to; I’ll leave Moana to those that relate and connect to her.

Compare and Contrast: DC Animated Sex Scenes

While we’re all fighting over how good or bad the live action DC Extended Universe are, I would like to take a moment to remind people that a DC animated movie series exists.

DCU Movies.jpg

These are direct-to-video, hand drawn animated films, usually based on popular comic storylines, and they tend to vary in quality. Some of them are really great, others…not so much. And I think right now two animated movies are very relevant: Batman: The Killing Joke (the newest offering) and Batman: Assault on Arkham (which is basically the ORIGINAL Suicide Squad movie).

Batman: Assault on Arkham is amazing. It’s just as good–if not better–than most Hollywood blockbusters out right now. It’s genuinely exciting and compelling, with a plot that’s layered but not too complicated, characters you actually like and feel sorry for, and it’s graphic without being overly gratuitous. Batman: The Killing Joke is…pretty bad. The main reason for this is because it chooses to have a long prologue dedicated to Barbara Gordon, which makes her out to be an insecure, sexually frustrated young woman who loses more than she wins, and does make her own choice to retire…only to get shot, paralyzed, and assaulted later.

But I think the main thing that illustrates what makes Arkham great and Killing Joke not is how they deal with the sex scenes regarding the main female characters, Barbara and Harley Quinn.

This is the sex scene between Batgirl and…Batman. You know, the man who is much older than her and is supposed to be a father figure. And who she’s never had a real romantic or sexual relationship with in the comics (she had one with the first Robin). Throughout the scene, she is extremely angry at him, and he makes it clear that he doesn’t see her as an equal. She fights him and pins him down in anger…and awkwardly kisses him. They embrace, and she takes her clothes off and we get an offscreen sex scene. On a public rooftop. Where someone could see them. Oh yeah. *Insert erotic music here*

(Image via Time.com)

It doesn’t look like either character is truly enjoying it. It also feels like it comes out of nowhere. Why are these two having sex? Why don’t they look like they’re into it? Apparently it’s to make us feel more sorry for Barbara when she gets shot, but it just makes the situation infinitely worse, especially since their relationship only gets more awkward from there.

See, The Killing Joke is an INTENSELY misogynistic story (to the point where Alan Moore, the original writer, disowned it). Not only is the Joker’s main reason for going insane the (offscreen) death of his wife and unborn child (yay for fridging women!), but the treatment of Barbara is disgusting. She only appears two times: once, when she’s at home and shot (and there’s even a pause between when she sees Joker and when she gets shot, she doesn’t even fight back) and again when she’s in the hospital, frightened and paralyzed. And we never see her again. The movie tries to remedy this by giving her an extended role, but rather than humanizing Barbara by expanding on her relationship with her father (which would’ve made her paralyzing actually tragic), the movie focuses almost entirely on her sexuality, having her lust after characters and characters lusting after her (which causes her to nearly go over the edge and kill someone, after which she decides to retire), thus making what happens to her all the more insulting. It reinforces Barbara as a body, not a person, and as a plot device, not a character. Course, that might have to to with the fact that the writers and producers are literally ALL MEN, but hey, the glass ceiling is thick.

Honestly? If the movie wanted to be respectful to Barbara, they should’ve written her out entirely. You don’t have to add any of this. Just have Joker kidnap Commission Gordon and try to drive him insane with all the horrors of the world. Focus more on the dynamics of Batman and the Joker. You don’t need to bring Barbara into this mess.

By contrast, here’s a sex scene between Harley Quinn and Deadshot in Arkham:

Look how into it they both are. Harley has found someone to move on from the Joker, and Deadshot has found a companion. It’s also very quick and contained. Both partners are willing and enthusiastic. And later, you see them have a steady relationship, where they both look out for one another and work together. And Harley Quinn isn’t objectified one bit; here, she owns her sexuality, and has her own character, and is important throughout the movie (and we don’t need to have her defiled)! She even helps save the day in the end! And it’s important to note that there are also two other women (Killer Frost and Amanda Waller) who have their own character development and role in the story (unlike Barbara, who was the only woman in her movie and had a lot to bear).

In short, how a female character expresses herself sexually can tell a great deal of what her character is like and how the narrative treats her. And considering how a lot of superhero movies are struggling with how they represent their female characters, these two movies can be used as lessons on what to do and what NOT to do in handling them.

The Shrek Effect

You all remember DreamWorks Animation’s Shrek, right?

Of course you do. It was HUGE hit back in 2001, raking in $484 million at the box office (which may seem like a more modest hit nowadays but was a big deal back in the early 2000s), winning the the very first Oscar for Best Animated Feature (this was before Pixar took over the world for awhile), and spawning an abundance of merchandise and (to date) three sequels.

So why is that today, nobody seems to talk about it besides making fun of it?

Seriously, this movie has sparked a lot of Internet memes, some of them rather disturbing (don’t Google “Shrek is Love Shrek is Life”, and I might avoid looking up Shrek on Google Images as well), jokes about how it has an infinite number of sequels, cheap shots at all the merch it spawned, and questions as to whether or not any love for this film is genuine or ironic. A lot of posts in general on Shrek are sarcastic or, well, weird.

While most people can agree that the second film is actually good (thanks in large part to the “I Need a Hero” cover) and the last two films are bad, nobody can really seem to agree on whether the first film is a true classic or a parody onto itself.

I think I can call what happened to Shrek (and DreamWorks in General) the Shrek Effect.

When Shrek first came out, it was rather unique. You had a main hero who was ugly and crude and pretty much the opposite of Prince Charming and proud of it. You had a Princess who knew martial arts and could also be pretty crude and turned out to be happy with her ogre form. You had the two of them getting married and remaining ugly and living happily ever after in the swamp. You also had a lot of pop culture references, scathing parodies of Disney, a snarky overtone and lots and lots and LOTS of crude/rude/sexual humour that wouldn’t let up. In short, it was different, and people, at the time, loved it. So much so, that DreamwWorks decided to copy the formula for almost all their other films (mainly their CGI films, as their more original 2D films weren’t very successful), and other companies followed suit.

What happened was an oversaturation of crude, snarky, and almost bitter films that tried to be edgy and in-your-face. Whereas Pixar stuck with making heartfelt, down-to-earth movies, DreamWorks would create cynical counterparts (or rather, ripoffs) that would try to convey a positive message while being weird and sometimes gross. Walt Disney Animation Studios, which had been struggling to keep up in the 2000s after having ruled the animation roost during the 1990s, tried to ride DreamWorks’s coattails with films like Home on the Range and Chicken Little, which ended up hurting the company even more until they bought Pixar.

While DreamWorks did enjoy some success during this time, now they’re in serious financial trouble and their reputation has been forever tarnished. While Disney has managed to recover from their Shrek-inspired days (thank you, John Lasseter), and other companies have gained a new life, DreamWorks is still widely seen as a crude company that cribs inspiration from Pixar and makes too many sequels and merchandise to films that weren’t that great. The only franchise DreamWorks has that seems to be universally loved is How To Train Your Dragon, and even that series isn’t making enough. And, of course, the film that started it all is now ridiculed.

I think what a lot of people fail to realize is that, where other films failed, Shrek actually WORKED.

Shrek wasn’t just an asshole misanthrope for no reason; you understood how he felt he had to shut himself off because no one liked him. Fiona wasn’t just a princess who knew kung fu; she also had some hidden depth (mainly she thought she had to be beautiful, but realized it was better to be ugly and loved). Donkey wasn’t just a comic relief sidekick, he was Shrek’s truest friend and companion. And the movie has an important message of how looks don’t matter as much as what you are inside. But because of the neck-deep crassness, dated pop cultural references, constant middle finger to Disney, the excess of sequels and merchandise and other weird moments (mainly the fact that the Donkey had an intimate relationship with a dragon much bigger and less sentient than him), and how a lot of other DreamWorks films did almost the same thing, nobody really remembers Shrek that fondly anymore. It does have some loyal fans, but generally speaking, Shrek has become nothing more than a collective joke for a lot of people.

It’s kind of sad that while Shrek only hurt other companies for a brief period of time, it’s still hurting its parent company. While I do have some problems with DreamWorks Animation (I’ll probably get to that in another post), I don’t think it’s fair for them to be suffering just because they’re not allowed to move on for their early days. What’s really upsetting is that they feel like they have to make all their films squarely for young children now just to make a profit (though there is no excuse for them to do this because they feel only children are watching their films; Disney has proven people of all ages are flocking to see their animated works).

I refuse to see Shrek as nothing  more than meme fodder, but I will unfortunately remember it as the film that helped and harmed the animation industry, especially DreamWorks. As it stands, Shrek will likely not be remembered the way DreamWorks would like it to be in animation history.