By: Muneeb Arshid
These animators from Disney are pretty good, aren’t they?
The past few years, Disney and Pixar have taken a hold on the animation genre. From Frozen back in 2013, all the way to Moana now this year, Disney Animation and its subsidiaries have made it their focus to excel in this genre. And, that’s not putting off the fact that the films prior to 2013 were bad, absolutely not the case; but the combination of animation with story and characters have elevated their game in recent years. This is also keeping in mind that there are very strong animation studios outside of Disney and Pixar which is a great sign for the genre. Now, we just need the Academy to do some recognizing for the hard work of those involved.
The newest addition to the lineup of princesses sees us introduced to Moana (Auli’i Cravalho), a young girl on a Polynesian island with dreams of taking to the open seas, something that her father is openly opposed to and would rather see her succeed to become the chief of her island. Moana’s love for the sea started from an early age when she found a powerful stone that chose Moana and gave her strong powers. This stone found its way to her after the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) lost the stone when he lost to the lava monster Te Ka a millennium ago. When the island that they live on starts to lose all of its resources, Moana’s grandmother (Rachel House) encourages her to take her leave and to find Maui and return Te Fiti’s heart back to its place of origin which would lift the curse from the island.
Now, where did Disney find their princess?
Holy, is Cravalho good or what? For an actor in their first acting gig as well as being only 15 years old, Cravalho is a natural in her character as Moana. She is kind-hearted, but also rash because she’s a child, but she’s also very bold, wanting to take initiative and have a good time. That’s none too apparent than when she builds her character with Johnson’s Maui. Johnson has really found his groove in his acting. He was always seen as a one-trick pony giving very stilted, inflexible performances that had cornered him into being type-cast as the big hunky action actor. However, recent films have really shown his development as an actor, taking on genuinely comedic roles such as in Central Intelligence and now in Moana where he gives his character, Maui, a great personality that draws the audience into him. It actually takes a while to realize that it is The Rock voicing Maui and not someone else, which is a great compliment to where his acting has come. And anyways, who knew The Rock could sing? Huh!
Back to Cravalho, she really takes on her character of Moana head on and the story lends it way to a novice actor to begin her career with Disney. The plot of the film is essentially another formulaic, origin story that is being propped up by everything around it. Moana wants to follow her dream of sailing out on the open seas but is prevented by her father as she is next in line to become chief. She has to deal with him for a while until a tragedy occurs and she is required to help her family. This provides the means for her to sail. During the journey, Moana suffers difficulties along the way and must confront herself to motivate and re-motivate as to why she is on the journey. Eventually, she prevails and succeeds. We’ve seen stories like this before from other Disney entities such as some of the Marvel films that Disney now owns. The story itself doesn’t grip you, but when you add in the strong characters with the beautiful animation and great music, it works and it works in a way to make you appreciate the story because of the peripherals scaffolding it.
Disney animators are once again able to justify their use of a massive budget to provide an animation that looks like it’s worth parts of a $150 million budget. The location based scenery is closer to what we saw in The Good Dinosaur with beautiful serene landscapes rendered in photoreal animation (extremely photoreal!). The actual characters themselves are far better rendered than The Good Dinosaur, where they don’t actually look cartoony but actual animated characters that fit the rest of the scenery and don’t stick out like sore thumbs. The setting of the Polynesian islands is also beautifully depicted and makes you feel as if it is 30°C and clear blue skies, and you’re also sitting on the white sand beaches of the island.
Complimenting the animation is the gorgeous soundtrack composed by Mark Mancina, Opetaia Foa’i and Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda. The mixture of English and the Tokelauan language (very closely related to Samoan) is mesmerizing. Just like the cinematography that makes it feel like you’re vacationing in Bora Bora, the songs also want you to do a jig in your seat and makes you long for a vacation in a sunnier place. The native language songs feel much more authentic and make you realize the setting of the film.
There were times during the film that were much darker in tone than the rest of the film. I didn’t necessarily notice it, however, a few of the kids that were in the audience were audibly complaining that the film was slightly scary for them. The best animations always have some sort of a storyline that is “more adult” in nature but in the case of Moana, the tone itself gets slightly scary.
That is not to say that the film does not have a higher purpose. There is no doubt that the film is about empowering girls to do and be whatever they strive to be. But, at a broader look, Moana is about empowering all children to do what they want to do and to never give up on their dreams which is where this film ultimately succeeds.
Oh, and there is a great homage to Mad Max: Fury Road as well, which is always great in my book!
Moana receives a very strong grade of B+ (8.4/10) from TFL.