Monday, November 28, 2016


Hi there! Welcome to I'm So Glad My Suffering Amuses You, a small sailboat blog on the great ocean of the internet. I'm Dave-El and I know the difference between rocks and food... mostly. 

As I noted here on Saturday's post, the El family ventured forth from the Fortress of Ineptitude to go see a movie on Thanksgiving Day, the first time we've ever done that. The movie in question was one my daughter Randie wasn't going to wait one more day to see, the newest animated feature from Disney called Moana. 

That the film features songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda (yep, the guy who brought us Hamilton) would be a big enough selling point for Randie to be really excited to see this movie. But as a lifelong fan of Disney movies but with a changing sensibility that's come with her teenage years, she was particularly interested in Moana. 

A lot of Disney's animated catalog is based on the princess concept. A young woman must overcome an obstacle to find true love. The young woman in question may be a princess or her true love may be a prince. It's a concept that's been there from the beginning with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Cinderella. The denouement of such stories involved some variation of the prince character or others acting on his behalf saving our female protagonist. The concept got a bit of a makeover in the 1980s and 90s when the woman was less passive and more proactive in her quests but nonetheless romance found its way into the story. There have been some significant deviations from that norm with Tangled and Frozen. But the element of a prince or a prince stand in with a romantic interaction for the respective princess characters is present in both films. 

Even as Disney movies have evolved and have provided stronger, more self-assured female characters, the  mission of finding romance, of finding true love still remains a significant factor. My daughter's view on this is, "Why does it have to be that way?" 

Moana promised a profound break from the Disney princess formula. Yes, Moana is the daughter of royalty and she even comes with a goofy animal sidekick. But that's as close as Moana gets to being a typical Disney princess movie. 

Moana is a teenage girl being groomed to one day succeed her father as chief of her Polynesian tribe and the island on which they dwell. Moana has a longing to explore the ocean but her father is adamant that the island provides all they need and they are safe there. 

But then the fish start disappearing from the shores of the island and the coconut trees begin to rot. Moana's grandmother attributes this to the legend of Maui, a demigod who a thousand years before stole the heart of Te Fiti, an island goddess who created all life and became an island . Moana heads out into the ocean to find Maui, convince him to return the heart to Te Fiti and restore balance to life, saving her people. 

Maui is located on an island which he shares with his own ego. Maui has no interest in returning the heart to its original owner but Moana convinces him otherwise. After risking all in an epic journey and devastating battle, the heart is returned, life is restored to as it should be and Moana's people are saved. The end. 

And no, that does NOT begin to convey the depth of feeling and the scale of wonder that is on display in this amazing movie.  

Let's start with the title character. Moana is voiced by newcomer Auli'i Cravalho who imbues her character with a sense of heartfelt realism. Moana sounds the most like a real teenager than I ever seen in a Disney movie. 

Moana's design is also unique; yes, she is what may be described as traditionally beautiful with soft features and expressive eyes. But she lacks that fragility that often defines the design of even the most self assured Disney princess. With her brown skin and the intricate curls of her black hair, Moana is beautiful on her own terms in a way that is different from all the Disney princesses that have come before her. 

Moana's story arc is rooted in a Disney convention, the young woman pushing against the boundaries set forth by her father. But even here, the story takes on different directions. We learn that Moana's desires to explore beyond the shores of her island are rooted in a magical encounter she had as a toddler with the ocean. We also learn that her father was once prone to exploring the ocean as well until it cost the life of his best friend. Moana's own experience trying to push against her father only proves the rightness of his concerns; Moana realizes going so far out is very dangerous. However, when Moana does finally leave the island, it's not for a selfish reason to explore or to seek out her true love or anything like that. No, she leaves to save her people. What may be viewed as an irresponsible act, leaving the island and her people, is the ultimate act of responsibility. She's taking this action not for her own self-fulfillment but for the salvation of those she will one day lead, even if means risking her life. 

Moana is not perfect. She struggles with the weight of this responsibility she has assumed to return the heart to Te Fiti. In one heartbreaking scene, she pleads with the ocean that has guided her and protected her to get someone else to do this. But she rises up to meet the challenge but it takes considerable courage. 

Her companion on this journey is the demigod Maui, voiced by Dwayne Johnson. It's still a bit weird to think of this former pro-wrestler known as The Rock as an actor but Dwayne has gotten better with experience and delivers a very effective voice performance (including singing!) as a dude with all the ego of a demigod but also a human heart that has known hurt and loss.  Maui's relationship with Moana is like that of an older brother or uncle as it grows over the course of the film from annoyance to acceptance to respect. If there is any love there between Moana and Maui, it is one born of friendship, almost family. 

A discussion of Maui is not complete without talking about the tatoos. Maui's body is covered with them and rendered in 2 animation, they are an amusing addition to the story. Sometimes the tatoos corroborate Maui's stories but more often, they call him out for embellishing his feats and not being honest with Moana. 

There's a lot more ground that I could cover in Moana. It is a complex and rich tapestry that invites consideration and thought through almost every part. But instead of addressing all of that, let me turn my attention to the chicken. HeiHei the rooster is... just plain stupid. This bird pecks away at rocks thinking its food. This is one dumb chicken! And that dumbness produces some of the best laughs.  

Oh, and the music. Lin-Manuel Miranda strikes again with a number of songs that capture the spirit of movie and moves the story along.  

Story, acting, visuals, music and more, Moana is an extraordinary achievement. 

Now the question is, how long can we hold off on seeing it again? Trust me, Randie keeps asking. And I don't blame her. I hope we get to see it again real soon.

That's that for today's post. I'll be back with another tomorrow. Until then, remember to be good to one another.

Action Comics#1000

Shhhhhh! I'm reading Superman in Action Comics#1000!   And it.... is.... AWESOME!!!