Age-wise, i should’ve outgrown Disney’s fairy-tale princess-y movies long time ago. And while not too big on them now, i’m weak whenever the new one is released, especially when accompanied by gorgeous visuals, quirky characters, and adorable animals/sidekicks. Those are the appealing qualities Moana has in abundance.
Therefore, although not fully grasping what it is all about from the trailer alone, i entered the theater full of youngsters and parents with their kids to watch Disney Animation Studios’ latest offering anyway. It’s a Disney film after all. What are the chances of it going wrong?
And sure enough, Moana doesn’t disappoint…for the most part. It’s easy to list the winning, if obvious, points of this adventure animated feature — the titular heroine’s traits, heritage, figure, prince-less end — but it also comes with a big bummer regarding the main animal companion. I came in expecting copious cuteness of Pua the Pig but ended up undergoing gazillions of nonsense that is the cuckoo rooster. What a bait and switch =(
The team may label Heihei as “the dumbest character in the history of Disney animation,” but to me he’s simply the most annoying and useless one. I never found him amusing. He’s so dumb he has only one antic, and they can only milk it so much before it gets repetitive and downright aggravating. I wasn’t alone; even the ocean was so tired of his brainless act that it locked him away in the boat’s compartment. Much thanks!
After sitting through the entire 103 minutes, however, i wonder if Moana (voiced by Auli’i Cravalho) could be hailed as a Disney Princess not only due to the nonexistence of a prince, but also because it feels more Brave or Mulan than say, Frozen or Tangled. She herself doesn’t think so, but demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) has a point: “if you wear a dress and have an animal sidekick, you’re a princess.” Heh. To be fair, she ain’t no ordinary folk. She’s the only child of the tribe’s Chief, the future leader of her people, “the chosen one.”
The last bit remained a mystery to me till the end. Why did the ocean choose her? Is it because she’s drawn to the sea? But Gramma Tala (Rachel House) was too, and no one’s too bothered about it — Moana is told off for being near the shore since young. So I decided to just roll with it, but then another huh moment surfaced: the ocean is being friendly to her only occasionally, and mostly for comic relief. It toyed with her when she was little, but didn’t “help” when she went beyond the reef to look for more fish, when she’s ambushed by Kakamora the coconut pirates, or when she’s facing the lava monster Te Ka. The inconsistency made me nod in agreement when Maui pointed out the obvious: if the ocean is smart and alive, why doesn’t it return Te Fiti’s heart back to its rightful owner by itself, or bring them his fish hook? The answer is a no-brainer one: we would have no story or adventure if that’s the case. But ain’t that true, his rhetorical question.
Yep, there are a few of logic lapses in this movie which are too niggling to overlook. Like why the ocean isn’t on Maui’s side when he’s the demigod of the wind and sea, the time Moana chooses to defy her father’s order to stay out of the sea upon learning why, or the completely incomprehensible decision of the Polynesian chief to let his only daughter, the tribe’s future leader, embark on the voyage by herself. I was like, couldn’t you at least send someone to accompany her into the supposedly dangerous open water journey? I know Disney has moved from damsel-in-distress heroines to spunky ones, which i love, but sending a girl who doesn’t even know how to sail, star-read, or way-find on a solo travel is quite a stretch, regardless of how capable or independent she is.
Oh, if you’re reading this for some kind of synopsis, it’s an advent of a legend story wherein a hero together with Maui travels great length to restore the heart of Te Fiti stolen by the cheeky yet huffy demigod himself to save the world from looming calamity. To reach the final destination and accomplish the ultimate mission, Moana first needs to locate the disgraced demigod following the upside-down hook constellation, convince him to cooperate, retrieve his magic hook (his shapeshifting power source) from the Realm of Monsters where we’re subjected to a neverending shiny giant crab song (seriously, villains should be given NO soundtrack to sing. I hardly like them!), and defeat Te Ka to get to Te Fiti.
The plot provides a good foundation for a thrilling escapade, which we got. I’m also very pleased with the animation — which only gets better, richer, and realer with every project — and the music sequences, whose folk scores remind me of Brother Bear. However, the heart of it all is the story, and it’s thus really unfortunate that it is Moana’s weakest link. I can’t really put my finger on what’s missing, but it lacks the oomph factor to make you invested in the story or characters. It didn’t tug at my heartstrings. I didn’t feel the emotional bond between the heroine and her family, grandma in particular, or the strong camaraderie between the duo voyager. That’s quite a big flaw to not deliver for a family movie.
It wasn’t as humorous as i’d anticipated either, but i can’t deny the fact that Moana is a beautiful movie replete with dazzling graphics, engaging musical, likable characters, fun banters, and gripping battles to boot. Some sequences or creatures may be too scary for the little ones, though. The bulky tatooed demi-guy can be a jerk at times, but he’s never annoying, which is always a plus, especially since he’s my favorite. Okay, my true favorite is his mini 2D version, but still i enjoy his antics so much that i even prefer his song, the upbeat You’re Welcome, to the soaring How far I’ll go.*
Director: Ron Clements and John Musker
Production: Walt Disney Pictures, Motion Pictures, 2016
Cast/Voice talents: Auli’i Cravalho (as Moana), Dwayne Johnson (Maui), Rachel House (Gramma Tala), Temuera Morrison (Chief Tui), Nicole Scherzinger (Sina), Alan Tudyk (Heihei)
Genre: Action Adventure, Animation, CGI
*) While a good song, i don’t think it’ll be as sensational as Let it go. It may be easier to sing without the latter’s high notes, but its lyrics don’t roll off the tongue as easily, and its melody isn’t as anthemic. But let’s see? 😉