Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Review: Moana


A whole lot of animators got to expense a Hawaiian vacation during the making of this film. And they clearly had a blast. I can tell by the loving way they captured so many details – how a starry sky looks from the sea, what it feels like when a big angry hunk of weather rolls up, the rough texture of barkcloth.

“Moana” means ocean and the ocean is the real star of this movie. It pulls all the plot strings, literally flinging the characters into place whenever they get petulant and head for fourth walls and distractions. 

Moana is also the name of a little girl. A prepubescent, non-romancing, seriously intelligent and brave girl whose skills are having magical interaction with the ocean, leadership, climbing and hula dancing, and she picks up sailing and navigating from the demigod Maui himself. She can be an annoying little girl, or at least Maui thinks so occasionally, chucking her into the ocean (don’t worry, the ocean always brings her right back).

Moana’s island is running out of food, and as the chief’s daughter and successor, she desperately wants to save her people. Doing so requires that she sail beyond the reef, to find Maui, a shapeshifting trickster demigod covered with animated tattoos.  He’s whiny, vain, boastful and goes around breaking the hearts of islands. I can see people comparing The Rock’s voice acting to Robin Williams as genie, and it’s in the same league but on different planes. Maui is full of angst and personality flaws, which Moana helps him conquer, while the genie is from some non-Euclidean surrealistic universe detached from human passions.

Temuera Morrison, does the voice for Moana’s father, the ultimate isolationist. The catalyst for the plot is a daddy-daughter duel, sort of like Little Mermaid, except here Moana’s being an altruistic savior rather than just wanting to go meet boys like Ariel. 

I’m wondering if political correctness is finally dead, and whether I should even bother to mention the potential triggers in this movie. And I think I will, while trying to include conservative triggers too.

First of all, the characters are drawn in a lumbering, exaggeratedly sexual dimorphic style that reminds me of the Simpsons, and the Flintstones, and the Draenei in World of Warcraft. Women are slender and curvy; men are stocky and blocky even when sucking their bellies in. Nobody in this movie is really sexy except maybe that anthropomorphic island. Still, I can imagine the idea of absurdly large males next to fragile little females might probably offend some people – the kind of people I wouldn’t like to hang out with, but still.

Moana, meanwhile, is not an action girl out to swash buckles and make points. She’s an adventurer, and she’s brave, but she’s not a fighter and she’s not looking to model any roles. She’s only doing what’s right for her people, because she loves them. She’s a pesky little girl with a kind heart. I liked her.

For those concerned with race, this movie has more Poly than any other movie I’ve ever heard of. Maori, Hawaiian, Samoan, plus the characters have the right kind of features and comfortable, familiar-sounding accents.

For those who are religiously conservative, there’s lots of paganism, and a little bit of revamping Polynesian myth to be more goddessy than what I recall reading. The main message is one of self-reliance, however, and being true to one’s nature.

And most of the story is glorious nonpartisan adventure that the whole family can enjoy. Human beings surviving the hell out of water, weather, coconut pirates, an evil glitter rock crab and a scary lava demon. Plus there’s scenery porn, every last pixel of it inspired by real life. Yep, that’s what things look like there. There are plenty of audio earworms to go along with the pretty pictures, including a Rock rap and a diva ballad that will clean that wretched Frozen song right out of your head.


My rating: this is the best movie in the world and I could cheerfully watch it a hundred more times. It made me forget all about Donald Trump for several minutes. Yeah, yeah, call me a Disney shill if you must. They finally got around to making a Disney princess who comes from my hometown, and they did a bangup job, and I’m glowing with something that would be nationalistic fervor if Hawai'i hadn’t been stolen by colonial superpowers. This movie gets all the stars. Moana no ka oi!


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