Here we are again! Moana (2016) was released last summer as Disney’s 56th animated feature film. Based on stories from Polynesian mythology, including those about the demigod Maui, this is Disney’s first princess film with no romance! The traditional history behind this film is fascinating. For example, depending on the island, Maui is a culture hero, who is a central figure among many in the Polynesian islands. I’m essence he gives them essential aspects of their culture through invention, discovery and innovation like music, agriculture, religion (etc.)
Moana is interesting because it takes their cultural hero Maui and shifts focus from him onto a strong feminine character. Maui himself is flawed and susceptible. He took the goddess Te Fiti’s heart, causing a disturbance in their world. Consequently, the story takes place on an island many years later whose people are living on the remains of a semi-forgotten culture. As I watched, it was clear the islanders could feel something was wrong on their island but most chose to ignore it. Instead, they lived life the fullest they could in the world given to them. And they were happy, though unaware the world was so much bigger than they could dream and it was in trouble.
I have thought a lot about this movie as a musical and as a story. It was certainly a fresh idea and a joy to watch. I remember living in Astrakhan and being so excited to see it when I got home! And now, here is my review.
This was a very creative story. I lived and breathed Polynesian culture as I watched it unfold! When I go to see a movie I always go anticipating something magical, especially with animated films. Many of my favorite films are animated (Beauty and the Beast(1990), The Wind Rises (2012), The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) ). I love to experience new places through these films. Honestly, I had that kind of experience while watching Moana.
I loved how Moana’s quest was really a journey to find out who she was. Beneath all the action was her question, “Why did the ocean choose me?”. Through her journey, an audience sees beautiful views of the ocean and islands and meet classic characters from these island cultures like Maui, Te Fiti, the Kakamoras (aka, the pirate coconut things) and Tamatoa. They also discover the answer to her question.
I think this film truly created (for children especially) a creative and beautiful world to revisit and love.
Now, for its execution I felt there was only one thing lacking: I did not experience her journey as thoroughly as I would have liked. There were to many pin point marks in the story. (For example, She is on her island, now she will leave to save her people, now she found Maui, now they must find his hook, now he must learn to use it again….etc.) This type of story telling is used mostly through video games, where you have to go through a series of points to reach you final deatination. I have noticed this pattern turning up in movies lately. I call it A, B, C writing. I also had the same problem when I watched Frozen (2012). I put it this way in my review.
“Watching the film, I kept thinking too linearly, almost like I was solving a math problem that determines how long it will take Jimmy to go from point A to point B. As I watched it . . . I fell into that silly pattern; (they are at point A now they are at point B, Point C, so on and so forth….). What would have made this film’s execution and screenplay great would have been more scenes showing their journey to and from each of these points.” I would add now, I really wanted to see the characters grow more, to gain depth and experience.
A, B, C execution does not flow very well on screen. The trick is this. I know how well a film is executed by how invested I am in its story, when my attention is not on critiquing but on its characters, how they change and develop. The best films are those where I don’t notice these transitions from different points at all. In Zootopia (2016), (I will review this movie soon) I had this kind of experience. I was actually disappointed when the movie ended, because I was thoroughly invested. For Moana, it was not the same for me.
Unlike Frozen, I did like the many instances they took the time to wind down from the action. To talk things out. To LISTEN. In those moments, I felt as though I could really experience their ocean journey and the islands diversions.
I also had many smiling moments. Little things would just make me smile like the chicken, her grandma, the ending, some of the music etc.
I was not as invested in the characters as I would have liked. Which was sad. The hardest thing for me was seeing how. . . none of them really developed or changed.
Moana herself was by far the most interesting character. She had an inner fire and love for her people that was incredibly charming. She didn’t rebel out of selfishness but because of this love she carried. By the end, it was clear the ocean chose her because she, even as a child, wanted to care for others. Te Fiti needed healing, not destruction. I really loved the scene when she realized Te Fiti and Te Ka were the same being and gave Te Fiti release from her pain. But. . . in the end I did not feel Moana really changed. She simply realized who she was and how it was a good thing.
Maui. . . was okay. I liked his design a lot and got super excited when I saw the promotional poster! As for his character, I would have liked it better if someone else voiced him. I felt like I was seeing Maui as Dwayne Johnson playing an animated character and not as the cultural figure he really was. Yet, despite all of this he was still charming to me. I didn’t hate him. He was just not exactly what I was expecting. What was I expecting? Well. . . a cool Polynesian man with a deep voice. In the end, my dreams were not realized. But that is okay.
Other characters left hardly any inpression on me: her parents were loving (and alive!), her father over protective but not in a destructive way, her mother. . . was sort of just there; the pig was thankfully not eaten; the chicken Hehe was also not eaten and a funny side kick who still basically acted like a chicken, the coconut things were cutely scary; her grandma reminded me of Grandma Willow from Pocahontas (1995).
Last. . . Tamatoa was interesting. I liked his glowy (is this a word?) form and appreciated his funny lines. He made me chuckle but beyond that he sort of confused me.
Also, did anyone else notice there were no villains in this movie? That was refreshingly interesting for me.
I almost loved the music. As with the story, the music did so well at representing Polynesian culture. It was energetic, had beautiful harmonies, and made me smile. But. . . I was not thoroughly invested in the songs. I sat and thought about it a long time, then on a whim turned on the soundtrack for The Lion King (1994). Within seconds I realized what Moana was missing. It’s music was not the heart of the movie.
Howard Ashman, one of the music writers for Beauty and the Beast said, “. . . when the characters can’t speak anymore, when they are simply so emotional because their life is changing under their feet, that’s where you put the song.” When reviewing Beauty and the Beast I noted, “Whenever the story turns, the songs act as guides, taking the audience gracefully to the next important moment in the plot.” In the best musicals, not only does music guide plot it also moves us at deeper levels as an audience. I did not feel as I listened to the songs they did this at the same level as classics from the Disney Renaissance .
- Did I enjoy its music? Of coarse! It was hard not too. I mean, “Shiny”‘s chorus was grating at times (though the rest of the song was cool to listen too) and “Your Welcome” was very random but the songs really are so fun! It was written by Opetaia Foa’i, Mark Mancina, and Lin-Manuel Miranda i and they did a really wonderful job. My favorite song was “We know the Way” with the cool men singing. (I love when men sing!)
Phenomenal. The animation in Moana is simply phenomenal. I was blown away by the way they animated the ocean, islands, characters and especially Te Ka. I really don’t know what else to say about it. Animators at Disney really outdid themselves in this film.
PERSONAL ENJOYMENT: 4.5/5
Is this my favorite new animated film? No, but i enjoyed it nonetheless. It had an innocence and magic about it that was heartwarming. Was it what I was expecting? Not entirely, but hey it is well done. I recommend it whole-heartedly.
FINAL SCORE: 4.4/5
- Tamatoa: Are you just trying to get me to talk about myself? Because if you are… I will gladly do so.Moana: Huh?Tamatoa: In *song* form!
- [after Moana attempts to sail a boat for the first time and crashes it]Moana: Are you gonna tell Dad?Gramma Tala: I’m his mom. I don’t have to tell him anything.
- Tamatoa: You’re a funny looking little thing aren’t you.[Tries to take Moana’s necklace]Moana: [snatches it back] Don’t! That’s my gramma’s!Tamatoa: [mockingly repeats] “That’s my gramma’s!” I ate my Gramma! And it took a week, ’cause she was absolutely humongous.