I saw “Moana” last night.
It’s a Disney movie, with a charming (if somewhat depressing) short before it, and it hits all the classic Disney notes: hero who is chosen for a great task, an old mentor, a wisecracking sidekick, an animal companion, and great music. Long live classic Disney.
The skin in this movie looks really good. I realize that that’s a strange thing to notice, but there are plenty of tattoos on display, and some characters have crow’s feet or other marks of age that really look great.
The use of color is very striking, as well. This film is tremendously vibrant, visually, lush greens and bright reds, oranges and pinks of flora contrasting against the rich, sparkling blue of the sea. It’s very effective, and was one of my favorite things about the movie.
The acting is solid across the board. I’m becoming increasingly convinced that Dwayne Johnson can do no wrong- even in terrible movies, his performance usually shines- and this movie is far from terrible. His character, Maui, is tremendously likable, a headstrong, self-absorbed, good-hearted funny man. He’s great the whole time.
Most of the rest of the cast are a bunch of talented New Zealanders, with the exception of the lead, Auli’i Cravalho, a young actress from Hawaii whose turn as the titular Moana is impressive. Moana is a young woman, caught between her duty and her passion (a theme that Disney has definitely never explored in film before), and Cravalho’s performance captures the blend of frustration and youthful exuberance. Also present is Alan Tudyk, who plays a chicken. A chicken that has no lines, apart from chicken noises. Mr. Tudyk is a curious fellow.
I enjoyed the music quite a bit. This is unsurprising, given that Lin-Manuel Miranda was the composer. I can’t say that I thought the music was particularly original, exactly- Moana’s ‘Disney princess’ song is essentially ‘Reflections’ by way of ‘Just Around the Riverbend,’ sung in a style that was reminiscent of ‘Lilo and Stitch.’ Dwayne Johnson’s song- which, for the record, I thought was very good- reminded me very much of something from ‘The Road to El Dorado.’ All in all, it’s not something that should be lauded for its originality, but could very well be commended for its quality.
That theme of the music being high-quality, but somewhat derivative, continues to the film as a whole. Nothing about the plot was a surprise to me. At a point during the film, one character abandons another, shortly before a climactic confrontation with the antagonist, and I began a mental countdown once said confrontation began, to the moment when the character returned triumphantly to save the day, a la Han Solo from ‘A New Hope.’ There is even a scene that is just the Ghost Mufasa scene from ‘The Lion King,’ just lengthened a bit. It’s a story that one could call ‘classic,’ rather than cliched, if one was being generous, and there’s certainly a lot to like in the presentation, but if you were looking for Disney Animation to deliver something new, deep, and refreshing, then you’ll need to wait a little longer.
It’s a great Christmas film for the kids, and it’s worth the watch if you’re a big fan of Disney’s style of storytelling, or their music- especially if you’re also a fan of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s work- or of Dwayne Johnson. It’s not a standout entry in Disney’s catalog, but it’s a perfectly serviceable one.