Film Review: Moana (dir by Ron Clements and John Musker)


Look, I get it.

Everyone’s depressed right now.

You’re depressed.

He’s depressed.

She’s depressed.

That random guy over there is depressed.

Your cat’s depressed because you’re so depressed that you’re probably not feeding him on time.

I’m not depressed but I’m currently pretending that I am in order to show solidarity for the people.

Everyone’s depressed!

But you know what?  No matter how depressed you are, don’t take it out on the movies.  I actually had someone tell me recently that he didn’t see how I could worry about movies with so many terrible things happening in the world!  Well, listen up — the world may be a terrible movie but movies help to make it a lot more bearable.

For instance, there’s Moana.  Moana is the latest Disney film and it is a burst of pure joy, a wonderfully entertaining animated adventure that also carries with it an important, timely, and welcome message of empowerment.  Some day, when I have a daughter, Moana is one of the many films that I look forward to watching with her.  We’ll watch Moana and then we’ll watch Brave.  And then we’ll close things out with Frozen.  I can’t wait!

moana

Now, I’ll be honest.  The film’s plot, in many ways, sounds like almost every other Disney princess film.  Moana (voiced by Auli’i Cravalho) is the headstrong daughter of the chief of a Polynesian tribe.  Moana dreams of sailing to the ends of the Earth but her loving but protective father refuses to allow her to go beyond the reef.  However, when a force of darkness threatens to consume the island that Moana calls home, she defies her father and sets sail with her pet rooster.  The only way to stop the darkness is to track down a demigod named Maui (Dwayne Johnson) and go with him to return a sacred stone to Te Fiti, the island Goddess.  (The stone is Te Fiti’s heart.)

Now, that may all sound like typical Disney fare but the brilliant thing about Moana is that it realizes that the plot sounds like typical Disney fare.  When Moana finds Maui, he asks her where he animal sidekick is because all princesses travel with an animal sidekick.  Moana argues that she’s not a princess but then realizes that, as the chief’s daughter, she kind of is.  Moano is full of self-referential humor, the type that tells the audience that we’re all in this together.

Maui himself is a brilliantly animated, written, and voiced parody of the type of muscle-bound character who, in the past, would have automatically been this film’s main character.  Dwayne Johnson has always been willing to have fun with his persona and he continues to do that with Maui.  For that matter, Heihei the Rooster also pokes fun at the typical Disney animal sidekick.  As opposed to the usual all-knowing, often snarky sidekick that we’ve come to expect from Disney, Heihei spends most of his time searching for something to eat.  It doesn’t matter if it’s edible or not.  He’ll eat it.  As a result, Heihei doesn’t really do much to help Moana on her journey but he’s still adorable.

But ultimately, this film is all about Moana and what a wonderful character she is!  Strong, independent, intelligent, and occasionally just a little unsure of herself, Moana is perhaps the most 3-dimensional Disney character since Brave‘s Merida.  It’s her character (and  Auli’i Cravalho’s voicework) that brings the film its humanity and makes it a truly special viewing experience.

Moana is wonderfully animated and if you don’t fall in love with the coconut pirates then there is no hope for you.  (Is this film worth seeing in 3D?  I would say that it is.)  The insanely catchy songs are provided by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Opetaia Foa’i and I’m looking forward to the inevitable Broadway adaptation.

So, seriously — stop feeling sorry for yourself for two hours and go see Moana!  You’ll be glad you did.

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29 responses to “Film Review: Moana (dir by Ron Clements and John Musker)

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