Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Moana review


Demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) steals the heart of the goddess Te Whiti, intending to gift it to humanity. Without her heart, which has the power to create life, the world is beginning to die out. Moana (Auli'i Cravalho) is a young girl from the island of Motunui. The daughter of the village chief,  she yearns to go to sea, but is forbidden by her protective father. When the world's produce begins to die, threatening her people, Moana goes on a quest to find Maui and return Te Whiti's heart.

Moana is a really good movie. The characters are well drawn and while the story is fairly traditional (I've seen some people map the plot onto the Lord of the Rings), its the interplay between Moana and Maui which keeps the show moving.

As the title heroine, Cravalho is winsome. There are a few moments which ring false, and feel like a middle-aged writer trying to write neurosis into a teenage girl, but other than these few minor bumps, she's a strong character who makes for the most interesting Disney female leads since Mandy Moore's Rapunzel in Tangled.

Johnson is his usual dependable self as Maui. I read a bunch of books about Maui's various adventures, and it was fun to note the various nods to his escapades. While I cannot speak with any authority (the figure of Maui has several different iterations across Polynesia), there has clearly been an effort made to craft a version of the character that at least echoes the basic outline of the mythic figure.

As a cinematic character, Maui is a delight. For adults, he could be seen as a way in. The most meta character in the movie, Maui knows he's in a Disney movie, and is constantly throwing shade at the well-worn formula (particularly in his jibes about princesses, animal sidekicks and the dreaded musical numbers).

As far as the music goes, the songs are pretty good. I don't know if they are as ear-wormy as classic Disney flicks, but they're a solid collection of tunes. The most memorable track has to be 'We Know The Way', a rousing ode to Moana's sea-fearing ancestors.

What helped make my screening so much fun were the reactions of its intended audience, the kids. There was one kid in the row in front of me who provided a running commentary through every key beat. Notable soundbites include: "I think she's dreaming!", "That crab's scary!" and " Hahahaha! Again! Again!" (whenever Maui tries to throw Moana off the boat).

Young or old, Moana is definitely worth a watch.

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