A PG Movie...because nothing is G anymore. Although there's some scary parts, so whatever.
DIRECTORS: Ron Clements, Don Hall, John Musker, and Chris Williams
This might be the first time I've admitted this to myself: Disney might be something special. I should probably re-read my Zootopia review. I am so used to everything attacking Disney as heartless and commerical, but that might be the most incorrect thing I've ever heard the more I think about it. These are movies with genuine heart and watching Moana really reminded me of that.
It's especially prevalent when I compare Moana with a movie like Trolls. I'm not saying Trolls doesn't have a place in cinemas, but it does feel cheap. I'm also going to break my daughter's iPod if I hear that soundtrack one more time. Moana, however, has a degree of validity that most children's movies don't. I'm speaking from a film reviewer's perspective and also from a dad's perspective. There is something genuninely beautiful about this movie that might have a hard time explaining.
I tried explaining to my wife after watching this movie that I applauded that this isn't a romantic story. My wife is a sucker for romance. When we're at dinner with the in-laws and I'm trying to talk up a movie, the first question is always about how much romance is in the movie. Don't get me wrong, I love a good romance. But Disney and children's movies in general have defined their female protagonists by the relationships they keep. I have to believe that contemporary Disney is aware of this trope because they have gone out of their way to actively comment on this idea. Frozen destroys the premise of "love at first sight." Zootopia made the story about something larger and more important than romance. Moana has an isolated plot and talks about the strength of the person, regardless of gender. This is where the subtle choices really add to the strong theme.
Moana's foil is Maui, a demigod who means well but has been so overwhelmed by his own ego that he hides his fear. It seems like the story is dependent on Maui to succeed. But Maui is an adorable coward who needs Moana to succeed. From watching the trailer, it seemed like Maui was the focus of this story. But the title of the movie is appropriate. Yes, Maui is fun to watch and he has some of the best lines of the movie. But Maui's change is obvious. It is Moana's growth into a woman of confidence that drives the film. If it wasn't for the focus on Moana, the story would have been painfully generic. There's a moment towards the end that I choose not to spoil, but I wish hadn't happened. I know why they did it. They wanted the happiest ending because it is a Disney movie and I wouldn't want my kid destroyed forever while she was watching it. But the Maui's decision at the end was perhaps a bit too safe. Regardless, the message gets across.
I can't help but analyze gender politics while I write anymore. I never thought that I'd be this kind of writer, but Moana invites this discussion. I'm usually a guy who groans when he hears "Bechdel Test", but Moana shows how a Bechdel Test can enrich a story if executed correctly. The balance of women to men in this movie is phenomenal, but the more impressive feat is that it never really addresses that they are women. This movie exists in the real world (with the exception of a creepy lava monster and a demigod who has sentient tattoos) where women can interact without being self-aware that they are women. This creates an interesting pallate of characters that not many children's movies really get to deal with. We've only seen wives, mothers, and children. Not to say that there is anything wrong with that. But Moana, her grandmother, and the antagonist are not simply defined by their familial relations. The women are the brave and the bold while the men hide their cowardice behind their macho exterior. It works and it works well.
Finally, I have to talk about the Hamilton sized elephant in the room. I never really got into Hamilton. I've always been a little weak when it comes to music criticism, so I never really got into Hamilton. I'm sure if I saw the show, I'd be listening to that soundtrack on repeat. But I always need narrative first and that's my undoing. I've finally heard something by Lin-Manuel Miranda in context and I have to say it is great. I honestly have "You're Welcome" running through my head on a daily basis. It's actually a little off putting to hear Jermaine Clements's "Shiny" because it sounds super Flight-of-the-Concordsy, but it still rocks pretty hard.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.