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Sails, drums, and fish hooks

November 27, 2016

Wait, what’s this?  TWO Disney Animation movies in one year?  High on the wave of the Disney resurgence comes Moana.  Gorgeous visuals, songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda, and an exploration of Polynesian culture on an ocean adventure?  How awesome could this be?

— Spoilers Ahead –

Not really quite that awesome, as it turns out.  Yes, the visuals are indeed stunning, (some of) the songs have oomph behind them, and it’s great to see Disney venture into new territory and expand their repertoire of princesses beyond the typical European blend.  That said, on the whole I found Moana a rather paint-by-numbers affair.  The journey is a well-sailed one, the story beats are quite expected (Maui leaving in a huff, character doubts herself, Maui returning to help save the day),  and the character’s personal journeys are not all that challenging nor deeply explored.   The storytelling itself is of passable quality; not as ham-handed as it could be, but with some bits and scenes chunky enough and without enough connective tissue to be noticeable.

Overall, I think the movie ekes out a Fair rating.  It’s solid enough, but nothing extra noteworthy on either end of the spectrum.  Worth seeing for a light romp.  Tighter storytelling, with a greater exploration of the characters and their inner challenges and growth (Moana being torn between duty and the sea; what does it mean to be chosen by the ocean and how do you deal with that; what’s up with Maui being literally thrown away by his parents (!!??!) and the heartbreak of him trying to be accepted; and a message beyond the tired “believe in yourself/listen to your inner voice”) would have made this ring more solidly.

Some thoughts:

  • Again, the visuals, absolutely gorgeous.  The water, especially during the early baby Moana scene, is incredible.  With lush islands and blue sky and water, a job very well done.
  • There were many jokes that came across as jokes, as in, they were there to be jokes, not necessarily flowing from or arising from the story.  “Hey, let’s tell a joke here!”  The animal sidekicks especially.
  • And did we really need a pee joke?  (Didn’t help that the short shown before the movie (which was cute in its own right) also had a similar pee joke)
  • And a note:  lampshade hanging is a time-honoured technique to help deal with an element of the story that might break illusion.  If you need to lampshade the entire princess story (“you are a daughter of a ruler, and you have an animal sidekick”), that might be an indication that there’s some weakness there.
  • The living tattoos were a nifty idea.
  • Delightfully, there was NO love interest or romance plot in the film at all, not even a hint of a potential one like in Zootopia.  This is perhaps the most brave step taken in this, a princess movie.
  • I’m also very delighted that there was no need to fight to win the day, instead seeing clearly and understanding was what was needed.
  • I would have preferred, I think, to see more interaction with Moana and the ocean.  They make a big deal out of her being chosen, and the sea supporting her, but it shows up really only a few times (mostly for humour).  Having the ocean be a more involved character, and seeing Moana working with it, would have been sweeter.
  • “We know the way” is my fav song of the movie, full of vigour and I really like how it started with and incorporates non-english lyrics.

Moana was alright, ekeing out a Fair rating for a solid enough movie.  I enjoyed watching it.  Worth a see.

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