Welcome back to Sound Off!, a semi-regular column where members of Speculative Chic gather together to chat about the latest BIG THING in entertainment. This time, we’ve sailed in from all over to discuss Moana, which premiered in the U.S. on Friday, November 23rd, 2016.
Sound Off! is meant to be a group of reactions, but not necessarily a review. After all, while we are all individuals, even mutual love of something (or hate) can come from different places. You may find everything from critique to fangirling to maybe even hate-watching, but it’s safe to say that if you haven’t yet seen Moana and you read this post, you WILL be spoiled in some form or fashion.
Now, join J.L. Gribble and Nancy as they talk about Moana!
J.L. Gribble: I grew up seeing every new Disney animated film in the theater with my family, and now that I’m a married, childfree adult, that tradition has continued with my husband (who might actually be a bigger Disney fan than I am). We saw Moana opening weekend, despite our tactical error of seeing it at time when many children would be in the audience, and I thoroughly enjoyed the film despite not being its target audience. I wanted to cheer during the “plot twist” in Frozen when Elsa tells Anna that she’d can’t be in love with a guy she just met, and I’m thrilled that Disney has continued this trend by making a “princess” movie with zero love story.
Or should I say zero romance? Because there is plenty of love to go around in Moana: love of family, love of culture, love of friends, and love of environment. And as with Zootopia, which also included a strong message that resonated within the current culture, Moana’s environmental message never felt preachy or contrived. It’s like Disney has grown up with me, and stopped making movies for little girls who want to grow up to be princesses and started making films for all children to grow into thoughtful adults.
So rather than a traditional princess movie, what was Moana? It started out as an epic quest for a chieftain’s daughter to save the world and turned into an awesome road-trip buddy movie instead (where they do eventually save the world). And it was great that Moana and Maui were not the only buddies along for the ride. Despite their lack of traditional voices, Maui’s tattoo, Ocean, and even HeiHei (that ridiculous chicken) were also essential characters to the story. Perhaps because Disney has broken away from ripping off Grimms’ fairy tales for their source material, even the “villains” of the film were a delightful surprise.
Moana has officially moved into one of the slots for my top three Disney animated films, and it will take a lot to dethrone it. Also, I want one of those adorable murderous coconuts.
Nancy: Despite never having had a “princess phase,” I have always been a huge fan of Disney movies. Back when I was a kid, the latest Disney movie was the ONLY movie I saw in theaters every year. And while that element changed as I grew up, there’s still something special about seeing the latest film by the House of Mouse. Much like Tangled and Frozen, Moana is, in its purest form, a Disney princess movie, from its uplifting “I want” song, to its plucky animal sidekicks. But also like Tangled and Frozen, it doesn’t stick to the Disney tropes too aggressively. Moana switches out the typical romance storyline for a seafaring adventure, and the results are a joy to watch.
Part of what makes Moana work so well are its cast of lovable characters. Moana (wonderfully voiced by Auli’i Cravalho) is a great role model to the young girls that will flock to the theater to see this. Moana is smart, brave, and resourceful, yet also has an adorable awkward quality to her, which will make her more relatable then the Disney Princesses of old. The charm that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is well-known for can also be found here. Voicing the heroic Maui, he does a brilliant job of bringing the demigod’s arrogance, and later, his anger and determination to the screen. Both actors also perform the movie’s songs flawlessly. The music is co-written by the crazy-talented Lin Manuel-Miranda (of Hamilton fame) and while the film lacks a song as powerfully addictive as Frozen‘s “Let it Go,” the music presented here is instantly appealing. I foresee an Oscar Nominator for Best Song for “You’re Welcome,” and probably “How Far I Go” as well.
It’s also worth drawing attention to CG animation presented here, which is of the highest caliber. Moana lives in a world of magic and gods, and the animators do a fabulous job of bringing those fantastical elements to life. This is clearly displayed in the movie’s climatic sequence, where Moana goes head to head with a mountain-sized lava-creature.
While Zootopia remains my favorite animated movie of the year (let’s be honest, it’s probably my favorite MOVIE of the year), Moana comes pretty damn close. Much like Tangled and Frozen, Moana proves that the heart didn’t leave Disney when it sadly stepped away from 2D animation. I eagerly look forward to seeing what the studio manages to put out next.