Oh! Hello there, Disney. Are you here to enrich my eyes with magical color and wonder, and elighten my soul with inspiration and thoughtfulness? Then as per usual, you are most welcome into the home of my heart.
What can you say about Disney? It’s an animation titan that’s spanned for generations, giving rise to some of the most recognized stories of the last several decades that are fun for one and all. Despite my love of Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and anything machineguns and blood, there will always be room in my life for the family-friendly Disney.
While long gone are the hand-drawn films that they made so popular, they’ve only seemed to have gotten better with their 3D animated venture that was TANGLED (2010). Of course, as popular as that was, it might as well have been a direct-to-DVD B-movie by comparison to the ever-popular FROZEN (2013). While I liked both movies just fine, TANGLED more than FROZEN, they were still pretty progressive films for Disney. TANGLED being the first of the 3D animated stories and FROZEN being about sisters and one of them being a queen as opposed to a princess. ZOOTOPIA came out earlier this year and the hits keep on coming with the latest installment, MOANA, another progressive tale about a young Hawaiian girl. Branching out with the diversity, ain’t we Disney? While Walt must be rolling in his grave, it’s nice to see this direction being taken with the company. And yeah, it looked pretty good. I was worried definitely worried that the movie would end up focusing more on Dwayne Johnson than the young girl the movie should be about, but bad trailers to good movies exist. No reason this would be different.
Time to take a gander at the voice talent. Lending her voice to Moana is newcomer Auli’i Cravalho, who also sings her songs here. Congrats, missy, quite a big jump forward. Here’s to long, fullfilling, and happy career for this talented young artist. And we all know Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. From his first acting stint in THE MUMMY RETURNS (2001), he certainly climbed the ranks from the butt of every joke of bad actors, to a damn solid performer with a great deal of respect from critics and movie-goers alike by being in some solid dramas like THE GRIDIRON GANG (2006), and some top-notch action films, like the Fast and Furious franchise, and many more. While he’s no stranger to more family friendly material (TOOTH FAIRY (2010) and RACE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN ), this is actually a pretty sweet step up to something more prestigious.
Now for the crew. This film has a whooping four directors, including Ron Clements, Don Hall, John Musker, and Chris Williams, all four came up with the story, as well as Pamela Ribon, and Aaron and Jordan Kandell. Penning the screenplay is Jared Bush. Finally, composing the score is Mark Mancina, who also helped create the original songs alongside Opetaia Foa’i and Lin-Manuel Miranda.
While I do have high expectations, I’m not honestly expecting anything ground-breaking or for the ages, but something really good and fun. This is my honest opinion of Disney’s MOANA.
In ancient Polynesia (to correct myself from earlier, calling them Hawaiian), Moana (voiced by Auli’i Cravalho) has been an adventurous youth ever since she was a toddler, yearning to explore the vast ocean beyond her island paradise home. But her father, Chief Tui (voiced by Temuera Morrison), has forbade any such things due to a personal tragedy in the past, believing that there isn’t anything beyond the island but unforgiving dangers. As Moana gets older and is expected to be the next village chief, the island becomes diseased as coconuts become dry and fish have vanished. Believing their only chance to save the island is to venture out into the ocean to find the demi god Maui (Dwayne Johnson), who once stole the heart of the island goddess Te Fiti, and must convince him to venture across the ocean with her to return the heart where it belongs.
Loved it, and fairly ground-breaking in so many ways for Disney. Maybe not in the ways that should matter, but enough to show that they’re at least open to changes.
Well, what shall I tackle first?
I think I’ll start with the music, as some of people seem to have not realized that it’s a musical. It’s actually pretty good. Cravalho’s rendition of “How Far I’ll Go” stayed with me the most. Never mind that she’s got a gorgeous voice, but the song is very catchy, heart-felt, nice melody, it’s the whole package. I doubt it’ll hit the popularity of FROZEN’s “Let it Go,” but I’m putting my opinion in stone: I like this one better. But I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about “You’re Welcome,” which is indeed sung by Johnson. Yeah, let that jumble with your perception of reality. But before you start asking whether or not he can sing, try to keep in mind: it’s Disney. I doubt they’d have him wail if he didn’t have potential. And… yeah, he’s not bad. Okay, I doubt he’s winning any American Idol competitions any time soon, but he can carry a tune and keep an enjoyable energy.
The visuals are astonishing. The opening is such eye candy and such a wonder to behold. The way the animation team did the water, and the sea life swimming around it is nothing short of beautiful. The water also playing with young Moana’s hair, giving it a fun new style, it’s so charming and cute.
So, good music and good visuals. That’s pretty standard for Disney, right? Is there anything that makes it stand out? Actually, yes. Moana’s parents aren’t dead. They’re both alive and stay that way throughout the story. Not that the writers do anything with it, so having them dead and raised by her grandma who eventually dies wouldn’t have changed a whole lot, but it’s still a fun fact worth noting. Also, and this may be just me, but please let me know if anyone else noticed this… Moana isn’t rail thin. She’s actually got a little meat to her bones. Not overweight obviously, but she’s got a different figure as opposed to previous Disney princesses. Am I crazy? Oh well, if it’s only my eyes that noticed that, then I’ll take it and therefore, I love her design and hope this trend of… “more fleshy” females follow suit in the future. Finally, her ethnicity. Disney has a long track record of creating princesses that are predominantly Caucasian. Not that it hasn’t always been understandable, some of these stories were adapted from countries that had a Caucasian-dominated culture, so it would make sense, but it’s always great to see the company branch out with new ethnic groups to explore the culture of. Moana is a great addition to the ethnic line-up along with Mulan, Tiana, Pocahontas, and Jasmine.
So, what problems do I have with the movie? I know a lot of critics have said that the story itself is pretty formulaic. The central character is a dreamer who wants more than what she knows, yet is forbidden from exploring the world beyond her home for insert poor ancient reasons here, but she goes out anyway. But honestly, complaining about that is like complaining about Marvel’s bad villains. Aren’t you used to that by now? But yes, I do have my own issues with the movie.
First off, don’t get me wrong, I love Alan Tudyk as much as the next FIREFLY fanatic, but Heihei the chicken is about as god-awfully annoying as they come. Joining the ranks of characters that are too stupid to be enjoyable (I’m looking at you GHOSTBUSTERS ), he really takes me out of the scenes. If there’s any comedy that comes out of him, it’s more about the reactions from the other characters that have to deal with his antics. And I thought Olaf was annoying. I would have much preferred the pig. Mostly because, you know, the pig was featured most in the marketing! The pig would have contributed a lot more to the plot than Heihei. I also have grown to dislike modern pop-culture references in my movies that take place in “ancient” times.” “Signing with a chicken’s beak is called… a tweet.” Wow… just, wow, writers. You really get us, don’t you? Maybe someone out there thinks that joke is clever or cute, I found it grating. And… I really couldn’t approve of Maui’s design. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a fun and mostly-well-written character, but his design seems so odd. He’s only a head taller than Moana, and he has no neck. His muscles are almost too big for his seemingly diminutive stature. I mean, how are his arms anatomically capable of crossing? He just looks a little too… Cabbage Patch Kids to me.
Finally, toward the end, Moana and Maui have had their first tussle against the Te Kā. Maui’s fish hook was damaged and he blames her. We get that scene where they separate and Moana is forced to eventually continue on her own and face Te Kā by herself. Which she does… until Maui randomly returns. For absolutely no reason other than… because. I kinda wish we’d have gotten a scene with the God’s parting the sky and talking Maui into forgiveness and selflessness. I don’t know, something to motivate him to return to help Moana other than lazy screenwriting.
Is it a perfect Disney movie? No. Is it truly ground-breaking? Not in the ways that really matter. But is it good? Most definitely. It’s a fun adventure flick. It’s got some laughs, some magic that only Disney can pull off, good music, and characters that are enjoyable and memorable. Here’s to another wonderful addition to our ever-growing library of Disney films that keep us coming back for more.
My honest rating for MOANA: a strong 4/5