Friday, December 16, 2016

Film Review: Moana

Sexuality/Nudity No Objection 
Violence Acceptable
Vulgarity No Objection
Anti-Catholic Philosophy No Objection

The biggest problem with Moana is that it feels like I've seen this movie before.

A common problem in the movie industry is returning to the well one too many times to try and repeat the formula for success.  You can see this especially in superhero origin films.  And it is hard to argue against the financial sense that this makes.  And the same is true of Disney Princess Movies.
And Moana is no exception.

The story takes place in the Pacific on the island of Motunui, a small tropical paradise.  But the chief's young daughter Moana (Auli'i Cravalho) longs for adventure in the great wide somewhere beyond the reefs of the island.  She finds reason to venture forth when something starts corrupting the island's resources.  It turns out that a demigod named Maui (Dwayne Johnson) stole the heart of a Te Fiti (a small stone with the power to give life) and unleashed a darkness that slowly began to corrupt the oceans and eventually touching Motunui.  Moana has been chosen by the ocean (portrayed here as a sentient being), to find Maui and return the heart of Te Fiti and save her people.

Visually, the movie is gorgeous.  Motunui in particular looks so beautiful that it is actually presents a problem: why would anyone ever want to leave?  We are meant to sympathize with Moana's wanderlust, but Motunui feels to comfortable for that.

The music is fairly good as well.  But Disney has set the bar incredibly high for their songs.  I am firmly convinced that one of the reasons The Princess and the Frog did not catch on was because early 20th Century Jazz is not a big crowd pleaser.  There is nothing to the level of "Let it Go" or "A Whole New World" in here.  But there are about 3 or so songs that have very pleasing melodies with very passionate swells.

And it is when compared to its other Disney predecessors, the movie feels like a bit of a retread.

Moana's relationship with her father Chief Tui (Temura Morrison) feels exactly like Ariel and Triton from The Little Mermaid.

Moana is constantly called to remember who she is and where she came from like Simba from The Lion King.

The anthropomorphized relationship with mother nature is incredibly reminiscent of Pocahontas.

The independent non-Princess mentality comes right out of PIXAR's Brave.

Maui has the same personality issues that were found in Hercules (and his tattoos are reminiscent of the Grecian singers from that film).

And there is a thematic connection which I will not spoil here regarding the main villain and Frozen.

Speaking of the villain, there is no strong personality like Urusla, Gaston, or Jafar to be found here.  Yes, when they visit the realm of monsters, they encounter gigantic crab named Tamatoa (Jemaine Clement) who shoots out several one-liners.  But the existential threat to the people never feels personal.

Another frustrating thing about the movie is that it never lays out its internal logic.  As mentioned before, the ocean is a sentient power that often acts supernaturally to aid Moana and Maui.  But there are times when our heroes need the ocean's help but receive none.  There is no explanation of why or under what circumstances the ocean will play a part in the narrative.  I kept thinking: "This movie would be over in minutes if the ocean kept helping them."  You may object and say that it is only a children's movie.  But even the simplest children's films should hold to some kind of internal logic and consistency.

Despite these complaints, I would not categorize Moana as a bad film.  There was nothing in it that I found offensive or bad.  Yes, it relies on pagan imagery and religious mythology, but those are acceptable modes of telling a legendary story.

And children will greatly enjoy it, especially the silly chicken HeiHei (Alan Tudyk).  And the adventure is wide in scope with dazzling vistas.

I just wish it didn't feel like I'd seen it all before.

3 and 1/2 out of 5 stars.

    1 comment:

    1. Alan Tudyk- brainless chicken or killer robot, an interesting contrast