Released in November of 2016, Moana is the latest Disney princess movie that’s not about a princess. Seriously though, it’s starting to sound bad when we automatically refer to a Disney movie with a female lead as a “Princess” movie, and perhaps Disney was aware of this when they made the film, as Moana, the titular character, makes it clear that she is not a “princess” (even though she’s the chief’s daughter…).
As spoiled movie-goers, we have come to expect the following from Disney: stirring stories/characters, beautiful visuals, catchy and touching songs, and a good sense of humour. This will be the framework for the current review, and we’ll talk about the good, the bad, and whether or not this movie truly stands out from the typical Disney fare.
The film has a good cast of characters and a decent story, and that’s really all you need to keep an audience entertained for an hour and thirty minutes. The majority of the film follows Moana (regular girl), Maui (demi-god), and Heihei (special chicken) as they travel the ocean in order to restore a goddess’ heart. The three characters combine to form a compact yet funny relationship (though it is more of a duo). Both Moana and Maui have weaknesses, and they bounce off of one another effectively to strengthen and pick the other up. It’s a convincing and dynamic partnership.
The visuals are outstanding and the colours are vibrant, but although this may seem a given, there are still sometimes bad examples of suboptimal colour palettes and uninteresting environments and animations (see The Good Dinosaur). The same goes for music as well. Disney has built an empire on memorable songs, and although Moana falls short of the bar set by “A Whole New World” and “Beauty and the Beast” (for example), the songs were good for what they were, and it’s actually nice that they mixed it up a bit by going back to the same theme (Moana’s main song) and tweaking it slightly to fit the atmosphere and situation at different stages of the plot. I’d like to see more of that, as it brings a sense of continuity to the film in a novel way.
Finally, just to be a little political here, it is nice to see a female lead in a Disney film who isn’t interested in romance in the slightest. I doubt this will have any major effect on “feminism” or make any serious impression on little girls or the feminist agenda, but it is still a step in the right direction to encourage girls to strive for something other than securing a boyfriend (saving the world ain’t bad either). I’m a little embarrassed to even have to mention it, but even Rey, a Jedi warrior, wasn’t immune, so good on Disney for at least trying.
There are a couple of major plot holes in this film. Spoilers ahoy!
1) Why does Maui come back at the end?
Past the midway point of the film Maui and Moana get into an argument and Maui states that he’s leaving for good. And yet, during the final battle he comes back just in the nick of time to save Moana. There’s no reason given other than “Oh yeah, I’m the hero.”
It cheapens the whole argument and conflict they had beforehand, which in turn makes the audience feel cheated by a fake mis-tension (it’s like misleading, but with tension).
2) Why was Moana the Chosen One?
Moana is chosen by the ocean as a little girl to rescue the world, but the nature of the “ocean” is never explained (is it supposed to be another Goddess?) and there is no real reason why Moana is special other than luck of the draw.
If you wanted to inspire girls by sending the message that anyone can do anything, then why not get rid of the “Chosen One” part of the story? The story could’ve worked just as well if Moana had accidentally found the heart of Te Fiti. As is, the story sends a contradictory message, if its goal was indeed to inspire girls to follow their dreams. Moana’s dream was to sail the ocean, but she had to be “chosen” to do it. I’m more of a fan of teaching kids to take control of their destiny.
Does Moana offer something different from all that’s contained within the Disney Vault? The answer is both yes and no.
We’ve seen a tropical Disney movie in Lilo and Stitch, and Hawaii is indeed part of Polynesia. However, the earlier Disney movie dealt with aliens accidentally invading the planet, which rendered the setting irrelevant. The focus of the movie was also on family. Moana, on the other hand, has a reason for taking place on a Polynesian island, and the plot itself is steeped in the culture’s history and mythology.
We’ve also had a few Disney movies that featured protagonists trying to find out who they are and where they belong. Hercules, Mulan, and Tarzan all being noteworthy examples. Now that I’m thinking about it, I seriously think Mulan does what Moana is trying to do but better, because Mulan wasn’t a “chosen one”, but rather an ordinary girl who made a significant decision, rather than have that decision made for her. But hey, it’s still a difference.
And finally, there’s also been a Disney movie that has a female lead who doesn’t care a whit about romance, and that would be Merida from Brave. In fact, the movie makes it a point that Merida isn’t seeking marriage, and that actually points out a subtle difference between these two movies. In this case, Moana succeeds in diverting attention away from romance by not even mentioning it all, and although this may sound dystopian, but sometimes not talking about something may be the best way of avoiding something. It’s radical and incompatible with Western thought, and would require some philosophical debate (I’m talking about Aristotle-level rhetoric), and we just don’t have time for it, so decide for yourself: does Brave or Moana do a better job of showing girls there’s more to life than finding a boyfriend?
Watch it! It’s a great movie with good laughs and a solid story. This review dug into some serious political talk at certain parts, but when you take all of that away, what remains is an entertaining and fun movie, for both kids and adults, although the former ought be forewarned that there are some scary parts, namely a scene that takes place in a literal “monster’s realm”. It triggered more than one kids crying in the theatre.
Disney’s been on a roll as of late, and despite having Star Wars fever at the moment, it’s great to see they haven’t forgotten what made them originally endearing to our hearts.
This has been a gamobo review. Thanks for reading.