Wednesday, November 21, 2018

NYADIFF ’18: Minga and the Broken Spoon

Minga has a lot in common with Cinderella, like an evil step-mother and a selfish step-sister, but her prince recognizes her right away as the woman he loves. They will still have to fight for their happily-ever-after in Claye Edou’s Minga and the Broken Spoon (trailer here), which screens as part of the New York African Diaspora International Film Festival’s school program.

Broken Spoon has already made history as the first animated film produced in Cameroon. Animation fans should grade on a generous curve, because its level of sophistication is a far cry from what they would expect from Japanese and Hollywood animation houses. However, the vibrant colors are pleasing to the eye and appropriate to the film’s setting and story. There are also several virtue-instilling messages parents will appreciate. If you want to really dive deep, you can also pull out a timely critique of polygamy.

Poor Minga is the daughter of her late father’s second wife. When both her parents died from disease, she was left at the mercy of her step-mother, Mami Kaba, who exploits her cruelly. When Minga accidentally breaks a spoon her late father has specially crafted for Mami Kaba, the first wife finally expels the Cinderella-like girl from her home. Frankly, it is the best thing that could happen to Minga, but she doesn’t immediately see it that way. However, thanks to the help of a mysterious hermit, Minga soon finds herself in the company of Prince Lobe and his loyal retainers. She should just declare victory then and there, but she is determined to have a rapprochement, even though she doesn’t owe them anything.

Shrewdly, Edou adapted a beloved Cameroonian children’s book, guaranteeing a large domestic audience for the film, over and above its novelty as the nation’s first animated feature. It is easy to see analogs or models for many plot points in Broken Spoon, including Cinderella, of course, but also Aladdin, several of Aesop’s fables, and the frog and the scorpion parable Orson Welles tells in Mr. Arkadin. However, Minga’s tale rewards hard work, humility, and respect for elders in compelling ways.

It is probably safe to say the third act makes a decisive break from the Cinderella narrative, but that makes it feel rather fresh and different. The closing song is also quite catchy. Again, animation connoisseurs need to temper their expectations, but they should at least give the film its trailblazing due. In fact, it is quite likable in an old-fashioned kind of way. Recommended for patrons of African cinema and supportive animation fans, Minga and the Broken Spoon screens this Friday (11/23), next Friday (11/30), and Sunday, December 9th, during this year’s NYADIFF.