AEL: Moana again, AtLA North and South Part 2, Will Save the Galaxy for Food, BtAS again

Moana again — So since the first time I watched it back when it came out, Moana has crept up and become possibly my favorite Disney movie of all time. When it became available to watch on Amazon, I had my parents watch it, and was pleased that mom did actually enjoy it; she specifically praised the unbelievably gorgeous animation and Moana’s fabulous voice.

For mom, The Emperor’s New Groove will probably never be surpassed as the best Disney movie evar… and I have to say that I do technically think that one is better than this one. But I kindof enjoy Moana more despite certain complaints I have about it; I don’t think I’ve ever watched another movie (well, actually, 2012’s Rurouni Kenshin) that filled me with so much sheer joy from beginning to end. Every movie ever makes me cry, but I think Moana has the fewest and the shortest moments of not-crying of anything I can think of.

I have to say, though, that the more I’ve come to love Moana, the more and more disappointed I am with its predictable story. I don’t want to say it’s bad, because it isn’t, but it’s pretty damn cookie-cutter… and I think Disney stuck so closely to formula for the plot precisely because they’d defied tradition in so many other ways and needed something they could be certain would still make them money cling to for security.

One of the things I adore about the movie, however, is that, while it is full of trite plot elements, it manages to play them in ways that avoid what makes those elements problematic in some (often many) other stories.

For example, we practically lead with the tired old “seemingly tyrannical authority figure angrily forbids main character from going to the place/doing the thing, which is the exact place/thing the main character longs for.” But in defiance of tradition, this authority figure has a rational and specific reason based on his own experience for the mandate, and that reason is explained to the main character in understandable terms. This changes the narrative from “main character defies authority/breaks rules and is eventually rewarded for it” to “main character understands the reason behind the rule, but is required to break it in response to a higher call.”

And incidentally, that aforementioned longing for the place/thing? In this context it’s more than just a teenager’s whim that she would probably have forgotten about after a while anyway; it’s a driving desire to reclaim a people’s heritage and live up to the promise of antiquity, as well as an actual summons from supernatural forces to go forth and right wrongs in order to save lives and civilization.

And speaking of reclaiming a people’s heritage… there’s a running theme of restoring something that was lost, and hand-in-hand with that the idea that what was lost, while absolutely valuable and definitely worth getting back, is not essential to the worth of whoever has lost it. Maui is a demigod, worthy of the notice of the gods, even without his fish hook. Te Fiti is a badass not defined by the loss of her heart. And Motunui is a happy, functioning, worthwhile society despite having ceased exploring the ocean.

I freaking love that. I love that this is a story about a brave, visionary leader bringing back something her people once had, something that enriches their lives and expands their horizons, without ever undervaluing what they have now. I love that the idea “you can find happiness right where you are” is never undermined by the rest of the story.

And you know what else I love? That Tala could have been a fridged woman and isn’t. Killing off a maternal figure to motivate the main character (or sometimes just traumatize them into maturity) is so irritatingly trite… and yet here her death serves more to provide inspiration and, eventually, even direct assistance to Moana on her journey.

Every woman in this story is a badass, and that Tala is allowed to be one both before and after her death really sets her apart from insipid dead mothers throughout movie history. Oh, and how about Moana’s actual mother, who is not dead at all and is a touchstone of common sense and support whenever she appears? HOLY SHIT I LOVE THIS MOVIE.

I do feel it has some moments of awkward dialogue, though. Also, the entire scene in Lalotai is weak and therefore too long, with Tamatoa’s song being the least memorable on the soundtrack. Those are my biggest complaints besides the trite story, and they’re not very significant. We’ll just have to wait and see whether or not this remains my favorite Disney movie :D

Avatar: The Last Airbender – North and South Part 2 — So it’s not just all the questions I mentioned last time, though those continue to be, perhaps, of the most immediate importance. It’s not just about changes to a society; it’s about cultural elitism, and who should have the rights to natural resources — and, in fact, whether it’s right or wrong to be drilling for oil at all — and corporate involvement in this type of cultural conflict, and personal love contrasted with patriotism and whether one might get in the way of the other… Seriously, these comics are amazing.

I especially love to watch the seeds of what will grow into all sorts of concepts we’ll see later in The Legend of Korra, what with (among other things) the varying philosophies about benders vs. non-benders and boundaries among the four nations dissolving to create melting-pot communities just as susceptible as the South Pole to the questions raised in this particular storyline. I love to see so many factions, so many groups of people with differing beliefs that aren’t merely opposing one another but pointed every which-way. It’s such a wonderful world to follow in its development!

Will Save the Galaxy for Food by Yahtzee Croshaw — I’m not sure what to say about this book, which, in part (the other part being concern about a little dog) is what has delayed this AEL so much. It’s a good book and I enjoyed it — I’ll start there — but I don’t feel like the story overall comes together nearly as well as that of either of his previous books, and the ending in particular doesn’t quite work. And I can’t help thinking I’m going to get sick of this recurring protagonist — the regular Joe just on the jerk side of average without much more personality or character to speak of — after not too many more novels featuring him.

So I was reminded of Firefly in that a decent portion of this story takes place on or at least refers to a settlement started by Asian people and even named after one but without any actual Asian people in sight. In fact this is one of the whitest futures I’ve ever seen, and this line in particular made me wince pretty hard: His tanned complexion was turning the color of a normal person’s skin. What exactly defines someone as a “normal person” in terms of skin color? (Evidently it’s something paler than a dark tan… yikes…)

Along the same lines, star-piloting seems to be the malest profession ever devised, with no reason ever given why there don’t appear to be many or any women involved. I kinda have to call Women In Star Wars Syndrome, Yahtz.

However, the individual characters (besides the main one, as I mentioned above) are pretty solid. The Donald Trump stand-in (if that wasn’t on purpose, I’ve suffered some kind of lasting brain damage) and his son and their relationship are particularly amusing. I also appreciate that Yahtzee never inserts a line-dancing competition into stories that don’t necessarily need (or have room for) it.

The philosophical issues raised in this book didn’t quite work for me, though. The question of what people can and should do when their way of life has become obsolete is brought up very pointedly, almost painfully, but never really answered. And maybe the idea is supposed to be, “There is no solution to this problem; everyone just do what you can…” but it felt diluted, like I had to extrapolate in order to reach that conclusion.

Likewise, the question of where to draw the line between tribute and exploitation comes up and then is more or less left dangling. And once again, maybe Yahtzee was trying to make a statement about the monumental difficulty in answering this question… I just don’t think that statement (or any other response) was made definitively enough.

And the Jacques McKeown question… OK, I have to digress and talk about Mogworld for a moment. It’s my favorite of Yahtzee’s three books so far, and one thing I love about it (ironically, after what I’ve been on about for the last few paragraphs) is some of the unanswered questions it raises. Slippery John in particular is (besides an incredibly funny character) an unsolved mystery I really enjoy. What is his deal, really? How much does he actually know, and how does he know it? We never get to find out.

Of course in reality this happens all the time. You don’t get to know every detail about every person or situation you encounter, and in life you never give that much of a second thought. I mean, I did wonder about the hot lady I saw in the grocery store the other day and why she seemed so happy (almost relieved) when I complimented her hair — but not knowing everything about her and why she reacted the way she did was totally normal and didn’t give me pause.

So I feel like, by not give us complete insight into Slippery John’s personal history and motivations, Yahtzee was very effectively adding a touch of excellent realism to his story. It was a sort of vignetting — a limited window into a broader reality, implication rather than full detail — you don’t often get to see in a full-length novel rather than a short story.

And the problem is that I don’t think it worked nearly as well with Jacques McKeown. The setup was so delicious — I was doing a little dance of anticipation from the instant Warden told our narrator she wanted him to stand in for an unnamed star pilot, and then I held my breath (almost literally, but it was a little too long for that) waiting for the real Jacques McKeown to show up — but the payoff was lackluster and unsatisfying. Rather than seeming like the aforementioned vignetting, not getting to find out who the real Jacques McKeown is and what his motivations are just felt like Yahtzee had lost interest in that aspect of the story.

Despite these complaints, however, I did, as I mentioned above, enjoy the book pretty thoroughly. The physical story — the adventure — is quite good, and the worldbuilding is even better. I think I wouldn’t mind having more novels set in this specific future, if we could maybe get some characters of color and more women in there. And am I reading too much into things, or was having the action climax take place in a ship’s rec room maybe a little nod to 7 Days and its rec room where literally nothing ever happened (and Yahtzee actually laughed at you in the commentary when you first went in there)?

Of course I waited attentively for a reference to Jam, and was quite happy when it appeared, but I have to wonder… “Once you’ve gone into space, everything after that feels like a step backward unless your next film teams you up with Freddy Krueger.” Can his next novel possibly have a reference to this one? I certainly look forward to finding out!

Batman: The Animated Series again — Quite a few episodes into this show, my opinion has changed very little. Once I got used to the one-shot format, I did ease up a tiny bit on my complaint about lack of continuity, but the one-shots themselves haven’t done much to raise my opinion of the series. And like clockwork, every time an episode or two starts to restore my faith by being fairly well written, it’ll be followed up by the stupid, kidsiest nonsense imaginable as if to compensate.

And, yeah, I use “kidsy” as a pejorative. I know this series is lauded for dealing with some serious issues a little better than many children’s programs (in particular, it sometimes uses words like “kill” and “die” when appropriate), but in between what it gets right it sure packs a lot of bullshit as if it were straight out of the 70’s or something. Because, you know, kids are morons.

So this is a CDBA rant, the crux of which is that just because children are the target audience of a work does not mean all artistic integrity should be abandoned. I can forgive a decent amount of defiance of physics and a certain level of basic logic fail, especially in a (super)hero story, but there is no excuse for the type of shoddy dialogue that’s constantly going on in this show. And honestly I can’t even figure out why it happens.

Were they so rushed for time they couldn’t look back over the dialogue they’d written even once? Dialogue that was, perhaps, originally written under the influence of sleep deprivation because they were on such a tight schedule they weren’t allowed to go to bed until the scripts were done? I literally do not understand how dialogue that poor could make it into a finished product. Editing… did it just never happen?

I could go on about this Batman debacle, but I need to get this AEL posted so I can start on the next one. As I mentioned above, distracting life things prevented me from working on this much, so I’m behind again. Gotta get back on top of things!

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