Vault Movie Review: "Moana"
Moana (Auli'i Cravalho) is the daughter of her island tribe's chief. She will one day be chief herself, but she has always been drawn to the ocean. Her father has always warned her of the danger that the ocean can bring, but she has always been drawn to it anyway. She knows there are things beyond the island that her tribe has lived on all these years, and knows that these things are just waiting to be discovered. However, her father is very firm in his belief that she is not to feed into that desire. She must remain on the island and learn to be a chief like him.
Unfortunately, and seemingly without reason, the trees on the island start to die and the fish start to go elsewhere in search of food. The island that their tribe has lived on for so many years is rapidly running out of resources, so much so that the island will soon be unable to sustain the tribe. There is hope, however, when Moana learns of Maui (Dwayne Johnson). Maui is a demigod and is responsible for providing the tribe with everything that has given them their life as they know it. That was ages ago, however, and no one has seen the demigod since, with many even believing that he is just a myth. Nonetheless, Moana is determined that she must venture off the island, find Maui, and convince him to restore the island's resources. Unfortunately, Moana will soon discover that finding Maui will only be the beginning of her adventure.
The Pros & Cons
Unique & The Songs (+6pts)
The Main Antagonist (-4pts)
Typical Goals (-3pts)
The Pig & The Rooster (-1pts)
Pro: Unique & The Songs (+6pts)
While this movie had all the beats of any other Disney princess movie, there were enough unique things to keep it feeling fresh. I liked the presence of the ocean—you will know what I mean if you have seen the movie—and I liked the overall mission, as it gave the movie a real sense of adventure. The plot was not as obvious as many Disney movies I have seen in the past. Moana's journey was to find Maui, but once that happened, Moana's adventure had really only just begun. I really enjoyed the relationship between Moana and Maui, as the two started out thinking very little of each other. I also liked that once Moana began her journey, we did not see much of her family or the village where she was from. Some people may not like that, but this movie was about Moana. Her family and villagers were just supplementary characters, so I am glad the filmmakers kept the focus of this story on Moana.
I do not think any song from this movie will catch on quite like "Let it Go" from Frozen. That being said, there were three songs that I thought were catchy. "You're Welcome"—performed by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson—and "Shiny"—performed by Jemaine Clement—were two of the more catchy and memorable songs for me, but "How Far I'll Go"—performed by Auli'i Cravalho—was easily this movie's top song. There were a number of great animated movies that came out in 2016, but Moana had the most catchy and memorable songs. With all the Marvel, Star Wars, and live-action films, Disney proved with Moana that they still rule the animated movie genre.
Con: The Antagonists (-4pts)
This was an idea that the filmmakers used twice in this movie. Two characters that were supposedly bad and mean, but were really just misunderstood. While I liked that this happened the first time, I did not like it the second time at all. While I think it is great to show kids that "bad guys" can sometimes just be misunderstood, sometimes people are just bad. You cannot always reason with it, you cannot always talk about your feelings together and magically make bad characters become nice and kind.
You can probably guess that the first was Maui. I liked how it went for this one, as it showed that legends and myths rarely do justice to the truth. This one worked, but the filmmakers should have stopped there. Instead, they used the sand idea with a second potential antagonist, and this one just did not work for me. The second misunderstood villain resulted in a climax that was cheesy beyond belief, and took all of the steam out of the story. For a movie that I enjoyed for its uniqueness, it had an ending that was very typical and ended up feeling like a disappointment.
Pro: Maui (+8pts)
I really enjoyed how Maui was portrayed in this movie. He was a character that was responsible for pretty much shaping the world as we know it, but that was a long, long time ago. Now his acts have long been forgotten. I liked how the character had to struggle with this, I liked that the character was portrayed as being powerful, but that the filmmakers did not make him too powerful. I also, again, really liked the relationship between him and Moana.
Whenever you hear a non-voice actor is voicing a key role in an animated film, you wonder if they will be any good. I, however, never worried about Dwayne Johnson. He is such an over-the-top, high energy kind of guy and he made his name as a larger than life entertainer—something that I knew would be perfect for this role. I mean the character was basically just him turned up to 11, and Maui even did an eyebrow raise. Dwayne Johnson would be the perfect option for a live-action version of this character, and his personality is one that can bleed through any format, which made him perfect for the animated version of this character as well.
Con: Typical Goals (-3pts)
This was a pretty minor issue and really only came up when I was trying hard to think of more issues that I had with the movie. Anyway, during the setup of the movie, Moana had all the typical hopes and dreams that so many other Disney princesses have had before her. She wanted to see the world beyond the city, town, or village that she had lived in all her life, and her father demanded that she stay and basically forbade her curiosity. Her father wanted her to live a tame, boring life at home and take on her expected role. However, she longed for adventure. You have seen this all before, and in Moana, you will see it again. Just know that these issues were mostly confined to the beginning of the story, and once Moana began her adventure, these issues seemed to go away all together.
Pro: Moana (+8pts)
Moana was a refreshing Disney princess, as she was strong-willed, could handle things on her own, was brave, and other characters did not have stereotypically sexist expectations of her. Sure, she got plenty of help in this movie, but she never asked for it, nor did she ever rely on it. She was a brave character without the movie beating you over the head with how brave she was. She was just brave and it was seen as completely normal for her to be that way.
The movie also never suggested that she could not or should not do something because she was a girl. Her being a girl was just circumstantial, which I think was the right move. Then there was even her physical fitness. She actually had some muscle on her, which I thought was refreshing as well. She was shown as being fit, as opposed to being a skinny twig and guess what, it was absolutely fine. Where body image is such a relevant issue today, this was a kids movie that got it right. Moana was fit, healthy, and could handle things herself—at least as much as any human could in her situation.
Con: The Pig & The Rooster (-1pts)
I cannot put enough emphasize on how minor this issue was for me. However, I thought the filmmakers dropped the ball with these two animals. There was one—the pig—which I liked quite a bit, but the filmmakers gave very little screen-time. Then there was the other—the rooster—which I thought was generic and unamusing, and the filmmakers gave way more screen-time than they should have. Personally, I would have taken the rooster out of this movie all together, and would have given the pig a lot more screen-time, but like I said before, this was an extremely minor issue for me.
Grade: B+ (89pts)
Disney did it again. They delivered on everything you look for in an animated movie by Disney. The movie had catchy, powerful songs, entertaining characters, and a unique, fun story. I liked the character of Moana quite a bit, and thought she was a refreshing departure from the Disney princess formula. I also really liked the character of Maui, as he was a very entertaining, powerful character, had a fun dynamic with Moana, never over-shadowed Moana, and had an interesting character story himself. I had a few minor issues—such as the redundant usage of a misunderstood potential antagonist and the stereotypical goals of the protagonist—but overall I think that this movie was a success. There was a lot to like about it, and I think it is one that both kids and adults can enjoy together.