Even since the release of Frozen, fans have been crying out for more female characters to take the lead. Even though they ALREADY had them in the films Mulan and Pocahontas – but hey, I guess it only matters when the film is a big hit, right? ;)
Mini rant over...
Anyway… Moana is Disney’s latest release to feature a kick ass heroine. It’s a film that’s been acclaimed as much as it’s been criticised – mostly for it’s portrayal of Polynesian people and the now infamous Maui outfit. But I can’t really be bothered to look into that, I’m just gonna let you guys know what I think about the film.
Moana herself is part of a Polynesian tribe and soon to become the chief of the island. However a darkness, that had been brought on when the demigod Maui stole the heart of Te Fifi (a goddess that created life) is starting to damage their island. Moana is chosen by the Ocean (her name means Ocean – get it?) to find the demigod, restore the heart and bring peace to the Ocean. But her father doesn’t want her to leave, so Moana stays behind and looks after her village – of course she doesn’t!
So that’s the plot – but as you might expect with a Disney film, just because the plot is basic doesn’t mean that it’s not enjoyable. It’s a fun filled journey with colourful characters, beautiful animation and fantastic songs. Watching this film made me feel warm and fuzzy, even though the cinema was kinda cold. The length and breadth of the Ocean was incredible and felt epic in scale. You could almost smell the sea air whilst watching it. No complaints about the special effects here.
Moana, the central character, is the latest in Disney Princesses – even though she isn’t technically a princess (and this is actually satirised by Maui in the film as an in joke). She is, to describe her in one word – awesome! She’s a little bit Mulan with a touch of Anna from Frozen and a touch of Rapunzel. Like all great characters, she has to balance her own wants and desires with the needs of her people and the destiny that’s put before her. She is a great character that is no damsel in distress. I did think that, like Anna, she was dangerously close to being a mary sue in places. I think she could have been a little more flawed – as she seemed a little TOO good at times. Even Mulan made mistakes after all. But on the whole she was extremely likeable.
She’s joined on her journey by HeiHei – a stupid rooster. He’s the source of much of the comedy in the film – and his antics will make you laugh out loud. He’s been described as one of the most stupidest characters in Disney history. Some people might get annoyed with the repetitive nature of his antics, but younger members will no doubt be entertained.
Moana is also joined by Maui – the demigod that actually caused all this kerfuffle in the first place. In slight contrast to the “heroic” image he usually is portrayed as in legends, here Disney give him a much more grounded look. This version of Maui is an egotistical jerk that loves himself a bit too much and is constantly fighting with Moana and bemoaning his situation. Think Gaston mixed in with a bit of Hercules. However, at heart, he’s actually a big softy with an inferiority complex and abandonment issues. It perfectly balances his big attitude and makes him less like a god and more like a human. I actually enjoyed this portrayal of him – and the fact that he’s played by Dwayne The Rock Johnson gives him extra points. However – and this is just a nitpick – ultimately he’s little more than just a tagalong character in the long run. And whilst the film would be a lot duller without him, there really isn’t much reason for him to be in the film other than because the plot says so. Moana could have easily gone through this film without him to be honest.
Now, I don’t want to sound like an SJW or MRM spokesperson – I am neither – but this film has a similar issue that I had with Frozen. Whilst both these films have incredibly strong female characters (and they do) it’s often at the expense of the males. And whilst Moana doesn’t do this to the same extent as Frozen, I was a little disappointed that Maui didn’t really get much in the way of redemption. People often complain about female characters that are made just to make a male character better; and don’t be me wrong, that is bad – but surely it’s JUST as bad to have a male character that’s only there to make a female better?
This is also shown in the character of Moana’s father. I really wish he wasn’t so antagonistic to Moana’s motives here. I get that he wanted Moana to be the chief as he was trying to protect her (considering he lost a friend to the sea), but I was hoping that, when the time came, he would openingly let her go when he realised the higher cost. It didn’t happen, which I was disappointed at. I don’t really like this whole “This parent is trying to protect their child, so we’ll make them look like the bad guy” thing Disney has going in some of it’s films. But that’s just me.
Anyway, I don’t want to sound like I’m whinning because I do think Moana is a strong character. And there are scenes between her and her Grandmother that were really moving and powerful. The above I’m just stating as an opinion rather than a fact.
On that note, I was kinda surprised that after Moana left her island, her parents and other character felt more like an afterthought. It would have been nice to have a few cutbacks to her home, showing how the darkness was affecting their land and (hopefully) have a few scenes where Moana’s father wished he hadn’t held her back. Just SOMETHING to show he wasn’t a bad guy. I dunno, maybe these types of scenes will be shown in a DVD release or something. By not having scenes like this, I didn’t really get the feel of a major threat that was going on. Frozen did this pretty well, cutting back to Arendelle now and then so that the threat of Elsa freezing everyone was real.
On another positive, the music in Moana was fantastic. Ranging from upbeat tribal beats to sombre ballads, the music is as uplifting as it is fun. And even The Rock has a little go at singing – who would have thought he had such a great voice! And props to Auli’I Cravalho – who has one of the most beautiful singing voices I’ve heard in a Disney film since Mandy Moore. It’s not the best musical score, but it is very well done.
Like Frozen, Moana has a few issues with character balance – but luckily it’s to a much lesser extent. Maui is a fun character and HeiHei is hilarious, so I don’t think any guys watching this film will be left in the cold too much. And it would be unfair to compare this film too much to Frozen – as I think this is a much more enjoyable watch in my opinion. Bright colourful visuals, stunning music and well thought out characters make this yet another classic for Disney – and proving that they aren’t running out of steam soon.
Moana gets an island sized 4 out of 5.