Friday, April 25, 2014

ENOUGH With The Comedic Relief!

Please... no more...
The other day I finally ripped off the Frozen band-aid, so to speak. I know you’re probably not here to read my opinions on Disney movies, but rest assured this isn’t some kind of review. It’s just that certain things grated my nerves. Something that extends far beyond whatever beef I had with this particular movie. It wasn’t even a matter of trying to pinpoint what it was, because it became blatantly obvious the moment it reared its ugly bucktoothed head into the story.

Since Frozen was out all I kept hearing from friends was how Olaf, this goofy-looking snowman character, was not as “annoying as I thought he’d be”. Once I finally decided to give the film a chance, I wondered “What if I actually wind up liking Olaf?”

Spoilers: It didn’t happen. Here’s why.

Nothing pisses me off more than comedic relief characters. Characters that serve no other purpose other than to bounce around the screen making humorless jokes. Characters that could simply be written out of the script and nothing would change. Throughout the movie I was thinking to myself just how much these scenes would’ve been impacted had Olaf not been written into the script, and here’s the thing – I got nothing. Literally nothing would’ve changed, save for the removal of an obnoxious musical number and maybe a scene towards the end that could’ve been easily altered without his presence.

Frozen is hardly the first culprit to this crime, and definitely not going to be the last. It’s a reoccurring theme in a lot of animated movies, and even live action ones. I don’t know a single soul who would lament the absence of Jar Jar from the Star Wars prequels or Ruby Rhod from The Fifth Element – characters whose screentime practically render my viewing experience into a miserable depth of self-loathing when I realize there had been a thought and storyboarding process that went into the creation of them. That people paid an actor to wail into a soundbooth or flap about in front of a camera to say stupid lines and do stupid things for the amount of money I could probably buy a house with. It makes me want to sit the writers down and introduce them to this really novel concept.

Comedic relief characters don’t need to exist.

That’s it. You really don’t need them. Even my experience with Frozen had earned some chuckles, and none of them from Olaf – but mostly Kristoff, this dude who sells ice. I liked him! Despite hating the movie more than I did, my roommates even have a Kristoff doll in our living room, and after seeing the whole bloody affair I can finally see why! I also enjoyed the tête-à-tête between the two main characters. It was really the only thing I can say I thoroughly had fun with.

"Comedic Relief" - probably the best thing to happen since herpes!
So here’s the skinny, and I’ll say it again: Comedic relief characters don’t need to exist, because you can write funny jokes with your main characters. Shocking, I know. Who would’ve thought you could have a witty protagonist and still have drama happen to them? They can still take things seriously when things need to be serious, and crack a joke to keep the tone light.

Having rewatched How To Train Your Dragon recently, I realized how flawlessly DreamWorks pulled off a balance of wit and drama. Hiccup is a perfect example that you can have a hero who can be funny and still save the day – because he’s written like a normal person (which is ironic considering the time period, but you don’t exactly refer to a kid’s movie for historical accuracy). Even the characters you could arguably consider “comedic relief” do serve a purpose in the climax of the movie, and aren’t just ugly props of bad jokes. What more, it’s still entertaining for both children as well as adults. I could seriously go on about how ideal How To Train Your Dragon compared to Frozen is, but I digress.

Whether you’re writing a story, a comic, or even a movie script, I think all writers should reevaluate the importance of a character, especially if they’re just there to dish out “humor” and nothing else. Basically, if they’re not important to the story but to serve as a distraction to your audience and script, you probably need to consider how your main characters are written. Because you can just as easily put a balance of the two into one character without having to toss in an insufferable stereotype whose only function is to burn screentime that could go into serving more well-rounded, more interesting characters.

So no, I don’t want to build a snowman.

Especially one as goading and pointless as Olaf.

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