Reviews: Moana

Good but still a letdown

The production design is great. Motunui and the Mother Island are beautiful, the Kakamora fortresses are stunning, and Lalotai is as spectacular as it is deadly. The cast is a great one, with one exception, and Dwayne Johnson steals the show. The songs are the most beautiful I've heard from a Disney musical since Princess and The Frog, and the score is great. Personally though, I would have gone with John Powell as the composer. The animation is the best computer animation that Disney's done thus far, and the 2D animation is no slouch either. However, this blend is nowhere near as impressive as Treasure Planet's blend. That film still remains the directors' magnum opus. Moana is sadly a big step down from it.

As far as character designs go, I'm not seeing any specific reason they absolutely had to go with CGI over hand-drawn animation.

Moana herself is a pretty generic protagonist. Auli'i Cravalho's singing is sublime, but her acting is just all right. I can't help but feel that one of the previous actresses was a better fit. This wouldn't be a problem if it wasn't for the fact that Maui is such a better-developed character. Pua would have been a better companion for Moana since he's an actual pet of hers, and a true friend.

Maui's backstory would have been better shown through his tattoo's. He should have been a quarter-god: not enough deity to join the gods, but not human enough to be accepted by his people, and so he was cast out into the ocean, rescued by his goddess grandmother (or the Mother Island herself) and given his fish hook.

Tamatoa steals the show for the few minutes he shows up, and that's it. He should have been Te Ka's second-in-command to make him a true villain instead of a mere obstacle. The Kakamora should have been her mooks. Te Ka herself should have had dialogue and given more complexity. She could have been a truly insane villain and given lines such as "Te Ka? Is that who I am?" And it's not like there's a shortage of actresses that would have been fitting for her.

They should have add in forgiveness as a theme of the movie, and although the theme of identity isn't badly-handled, it is damaging when a previous film (KP 3) handles the theme so much better. They should have hired Terry Elliot & Ted Rosso as screenwriters instead of Jared Bush. I would have loved to have known how xenophobic Chief Tui is. They should have added a scene where someone from another island washes up on Motunui's shore. He could have mentioned "the Taint" and its spreading, which would have justified so much of the movie taking place in open water. Instead of an epic adventure we are just given an adventure.

In the end, although it is a good movie it is far from the greatness we've come to expect from masters of the Disney Renaissance. In fact, by the end of the movie, this feels like some sort of origin story, as if they're just setting up for a sequel. Personally, I would prefer another movie being a prequel entitled "Maui."

Sometimes, Formula Works

Sound familiar?

The sheltered daughter of a nation's leader wants more

A family figure gives support before their death

A monstrous entity ravages the world and must be stopped

A jerk party member is needed for success

A special item must be brought to a special place to save the world

These are all in Moana. We've all seen it, a lot of it in Disney, no less. But this film transcends those tired story elements and makes it work.

First off, the heroes. Moana isn't lacking for anything like Anna or Rapunzel- she just has an adventurous heart, and still loves her home and cares for her people. She pushes to leave one last time because her island is in danger, not to fulfill her fantasy. She eventually learns that she is the one who has to ultimately save the day, and grows in skill to do so. She actually stays the same throughout- she's selfless and determined from the beginning, and so the lessons she learns are that she can do it on her own, and how powerful empathy can be, not anything pertaining to her morals. That works for me. Maui, her companion/mentor is the lovably arrogant type we all know, but there's some good backstory for it, and he eventually gains hope when he sees what Moana is made of.

Gramma Tala may die fairly early, but she gains sympathy and attachment very quickly, and the Ocean and Mini-Maui are lots of fun.

Credit to Disney for subverting the classic animal sidekick- and rather blatantly, too. There's a normal option in Pua the pig, but instead we get stuck with Heihei the chicken, a total idiot of an animal who has no relatable aspects and is useful only once...because of his stupidity. Some hate it, but I think it's a clever way to isolate Moana emotionally while keeping her accompanied. He's funny, too.

Villains? Also great. The classic Disney villain has been subverted, too. What one would normally be the Big Bad under Disney logic is just a One-Scene Wonder, and the true enemy in the film is handled beautifully and poignantly without a word of dialogue, which keys into the power of Moana's empathy- much like her affection for Heihei, she manages to relate to a silent stranger and, doing so, ends their reign of terrror.

The music for the film is fantastic. The "I Want" Song is performed beautifully and is annoyingly catchy, "We Know The Way" is an epic piece, and "Shiny", the Villain Song, is delightfully out of tone.

The animation is gorgeous. 'Nuff said.

Negatives? While the parents survive the movie, I feel like more could have been done with them at the beginning or end. The Maui arc is messy- he gains faith in Moana and then does a complete 180 after one mishap and leaves only for him to come back minutes later in the film. It feels like sloppy pacing, like his abandonment of Moana was meant to come at another time.

But otherwise? I really liked the film. Sure, the pieces aren't all that new, but the whole has enough originality and freshness to be a great Disney film.

Beautiful, if slightly flawed

The movie is really great. I really liked it.

I absolutely adore the animation. I am usually not that kind of person, but I have to admit, it's my favorite part of the movie. It's beautiful, colorful and I love the way they animated light, water and nature. You could watch the movie without sound and see the effort.

The music is also really great. I throught the background music was really authentic for this kind of movie and the songs are really catchy - my favorites are 'I am Moana', 'Shiny' and 'You're Welcome'.

The characters were likeable enough. Moana is a symphatetic protagonist who continues the theme of likeable, kind-hearted and optimistic female protagonist of last few Disney movies and she has some genuine flaws. Maui is a pretty likeable character too, he is funny and has a lot of energy, but can still do genuinely sad moments.

So yeah, the movie succeed at almost everything... except for maybe the most important part - the story. Don't get me wrong, I don't think it was terrible, but I just found it to be the clichéd - it's the chosen one story and of course, it starts with Moana wanting something more and her Overprotective Dad forbidding her from doing something she wants. It could have been much better, honestly.

But other than that, I think this movie is great, I really liked it. It's really no masterpiece, but it has the same ol' Disney magic.

Good but lacking

Moana is a gorgeous movie, as you'd expect for one based on Polynesian islands. The characters are all likeable enough, with special credit to Dwayne Johnson who was happily hamming it up.

Unfortunately, it's no Zootopia or Tangled. Moana is well, formula. A princess (who's not a princess) looks to find her place in the world after getting told to settle into a role she was born in. Meets some mythical monsters, and ends up saving everyone.

Which is a real pity, because how often do you see a movie about Polynesian mythology?

What Moana gets wrong is that the plotline doesn't naturally flow along. It hits beat after carefully-timed beat, but none of the scenes feel like the build into each other or offer anything refreshing. Refuse the call. Tragedy. Answer the call. Meet the sidekick. Face monsters with no explanation. Go find more monsters. Go find more monsters. Have a crisis of confidence. Get over it and face monsters. None of the monsters are naturally related to one another, and none of them truly challenge Moana on a psychological or emotional level. In fact, the most-loved part of this movie is the Big Lipped Alligator Moment glam song which... still doesn't actually have anything to do with Moana herself. And the musical numbers... which more often than not are forced into random places and break up the whole scene.

It's not bad, and the twist at the end is clever enough on a meta level. But it feels like phoning in the plot a hero movie should follow, not something new and different. If that's what interests you, try out Princess and the Frog or Mulan instead.

Competent, but...

Moana ticks a lot of boxes for me, before the movie even has a chance to start. Everyone has a secret list of things they will give a movie extra credit for, if it simply has them in it. Kevin Smith joked that his thing was giant robot spiders. Movie Bob said his were superheroes and Kiaju. Mine are chickens, the sea, and tikis. Moana ticks all those boxes.

What it also has is a neat little adventure story, in which a promising young daughter of the chief must save her paradise home by delivering the magic thingamabob to the hidden glade of wherever. It is a standard fantasy quest, but transplanted into a fresh, new and gorgeous setting. Stale medieval Europe is swapped out for a Disnified Polynesian Triangle. With that also comes a nice buddy movie, in which the heroine, Moana, has to work with/babysit a petulant demigod. Their relationship, like the one in Zootopia, is perfectly plutonic, and I'm glad Disney has come around to the idea that boy and girl doesn't always mean marriage. Here it makes sense that two pragmatic, singleminded heroes are more interested in getting the job done than making goo goo eyes.

There is a cost though. Moana is a competent film, but we have come to expect more from Disney by now. Zootopia looked at microagressions, Frozen examined sisterly love, and Moana gives us nothing more than a formula. There is the barest hint of a parable about environmental responsibility in there, but not in any meaningful sense. Moana is worth watching for its good nature, colour and excitement, but not for an awful lot else.
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