Moana, 2016 Disney
Polynesian heritage is explored in the new Disney film “Moana” and is an interesting dynamic for this type of film to portray with Samoan, Maori, Hawaiian as well as other cultures influencing the narrative.
Moana (pronounced “MOE-AH-NA”) is the story of a young girl named “Moana” who is chosen by the ocean to return a gemstone representing the mystical heart to the goddess Te Fiti with the help of the demigod Maui (played by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) who originally stole it from her. It’s a sea voyage following destiny and rising above adversity to achieve your goals to protect your family.
Moana has to deal with the responsibility of one day taking over the tribe currently ruled by her father Chief Tui (Temuera Morrison) alongside her desire to become a sea voyager and her deep connection with the ocean that she’s felt since a young age. It’s a classic concept of choosing between responsibility handed down over generations versus going against the grain and following your own path which is a tale relevant across all cultures.
Visually this film is stunning. With ocean sunrise/sunset scenes being the real standouts, you honestly forget you’re witnessing an animated film. Controversy has come from the depiction of the Polynesian people for being portrayed as overweight in the film. Personally, the thought never crossed my mind whilst watching the film and only showcases them characters as powerful, hard-working, loving and spiritual.
My somewhat controversial view, when comparing thoughts with others, is that the songs aren’t memorable. Disney set a precedent with “Let It Go” which broke into mainstream chart popularity and now every film they release is having its songs compared to that level of success. Moana, whilst still having well-constructed songs which carry the narrative seamlessly, are not memorable. I honestly can only recall how one song goes 24 hours after watching which doesn’t mean their bad songs, it’s just they haven’t got that captivating quality that made Frozen’s soundtrack so successful.
With 2016’s highest earning actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson on board as the standout cast member in a very small cast (only eleven in total!) a lot of pressure was on him to deliver a performance to carry the film… he did not disappoint. His comic timing, quick witted rebuttals and cocky demigod self-importance plays perfectly into Dwayne’s arsenal of talent. It’s a part made for him as a larger than life, happy go lucky demigod who has to right his wrongs in order to restore the balance of the world depicted. His song number, which he does sing, doesn’t feel forced like Johnny Depp’s attempts in Sweeney Todd and actually works very well with his character.
Auli’i Cravalho does a fine job of playing the stubborn protagonist Moana which is a strong female lead (now becoming the norm with modern Disney films) whereas the rest of the cast (including Jermaine Clement, Nicole Scherzinger and Alan Tudyk) all play their roles to create a group of characters that you truly care for and hope do not come to harm. When a character does come to harm, Disney does what it does best and tugs the heartstrings not so you’re bursting into tears but certainly have a trickle down your cheek.
Overall, the film is not Disney’s best outing, but it does come close and hits all the notes you expect to have an enjoyable experience with this film. Whilst the songs may not be all time classics, there is still a catchiness to them which means revisiting may be more poignant. One thing is for sure, this film has an identity which is unique to Disney’s collection of media and is a rich tale you’ll want to return too when you need some sunshine in your life.
In the wake of Frozen, Disney is experiencing a revival of sorts and, as a massive Disney fan, this make me very happy. That’s not to say I thought Frozen was the greatest thing ever – I didn’t. It was good fun, and I like the feminist ‘don’t need a man for true love’ thing they started, but it was massively overhyped and after a couple of months of letting it go, I think we all got a bit fed up.
The other recent Disney features need a mention too. The Princess and the Frog is beautiful and different and shows Disney starting to make some effort on the diversity front, Brave was almost entirely ignored by the world and yet began the feminist revolution for Disney as Merida, the red-haired force of nature who leads the way here, actively avoids the romantic element of her story. I saw Tangled in the cinema when I was at university and immediately fell in love. It’s light-hearted and silly, though I still maintain that ‘I see the Light’ is one of the most beautiful Disney songs in recent years. The other one I need to mention is Big Hero 6. Baymax, the robot health care assistant created by Hiro’s brother Tadashi, is one of my favourite Disney characters ever, and the film is full of quotable lines and emotional moments.
Right, Moana. My dad, despite his two tiny daughters, had never even heard of this when I mentioned it to him a week ago. This to me suggests that, like Big Hero 6 and Brave, this perhaps isn’t getting as much press as it deserves.
I didn’t know an awful lot about it before going to see it. I knew that it was based in Polynesian culture, and that The Rock was in it (big fan of The Rock, he just seems nice), but of the story, I knew nothing.
The story is pretty awesome actually; it’s brimming with Polynesian folklore, which is rich and passionate, and also kind of fun. It’s all about a small island that, due to a demi-god stealing the heart of the mother-earth equivalent a thousand years ago, is beginning to die. The chief’s daughter, Moana, is chosen by the sea to restore order, and must hunt down this demi-god and get him to restore the heart.
The songs are interesting. Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda has taken the helm and there is a distinctly different feel about them. I had ‘How Far I’ll Go’ stuck in my head when I woke up this morning and have downloaded a couple of my favourites already.
The cast is good; still a big fan of The Rock, and it’s also a really small cast too, as Moana and Maui spend most of the film at sea, this means that you come to care deeply about these characters. I’m not ashamed to say that I welled up a couple of times at the more emotional bits!
It’s a beautiful film to watch. The use of colour is just amazing and the animation has just come on so much. I was utterly in love with baby Moana – she was just so cute!
There were some accusations that Disney was just playing on the stereotype of Polynesian people being overweight in their creation of the characters, but I really didn’t get that. Maui is all about being larger than life, powerful and strong, and this is reflected in his body shape, the same is true of the whole cast. These aren’t lazy, overweight people, these are powerful and capable people who take care of themselves and others and need to be forces to be reckoned with.
Overall, I really enjoyed it. It wasn’t perfect by any means, there were a couple of moments I just didn’t like, such as the cavern of monsters scene (I forget if that’s the right wording), and the song where Moana sings to the lava monster just made no sense to me (she’s moving in slow motion yet singing in normal time – it doesn’t work) but ultimately it’s a nice Disney film with some great and memorable characters and a fun story.