Silver Screen Resolution: Moana

This year, I resolved to see twelve new-to-me spec fic movies in a no-doubt vain attempt at catching up with popular culture. One movie per month, the results of watching said movie discussed at the beginning of the next month. So I made myself some rules:

  1. It must be spec-fic. For review here on Spec-Chic and for myself. I just prefer it. Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror. Even kid’s movies if they fit one of those genres!
  2. For the most part, the movie must be popular spec-fic. Something people around me have been talking about.
  3. I have to see at least a third of them in the theater, for the truest “in the moment” connection. (This rule has since been modified, since most of the in-the-theater movies I plan to see will show up on Sound-Off rather than as a Silver Screen Resolution review.)

It’s now halfway through the year, and I’m excited because for once I might just accomplish a New Year’s Resolution. Funny how those resolutions about “become a gazillionaire” never work out though.

The next half of the year will see me tackle:

July: Arrival
August: Attack the Block
September: Crimson Peak
October: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
November: Midnight Special
December: Pride & Prejudice & Zombies

Each movie will have my reviews/thoughts posted the month after I watch them.

For June, I chose Moana.


Why I chose it: After Mad Max: Fury Road, I wanted something that was a little… less challenging. And a Disney movie seemed to fit the bill. Plus, I’d wanted to see Moana for a bunch of reasons — the continuing evolution of Disney’s heroines from pretty princesses to more fully developed characters, the non-European setting and mythology, and hey, Lin-Manuel Miranda did the music! That should be awesome, right?

Why I didn’t see it in the theaters: Meh. I figured it would be just as good on home video, and without a theater full of children around me.  I don’t know that I was wrong, either.

Dean, purveyor of good taste, in his reindeer suit.

My cat’s rating: 100% awesome. Seriously. I don’t know what it was about this movie, but Dean started off sitting on a nearby chair, then started watching the screen. Then he moved to the TV stand to better watch the screen up close, and by the time Maui was battling Te Ka, I’d had to stop him from “helping” Maui. Dean kept pressing his paws and his nose to the screen. Entranced. So, yeah, my cat gives it an A+. Go figure.

SPOILERS BELOW

What I loved: (I can’t speak for Dean. His unaccountable love will remain secret in its motivations.)

First and foremost, I loved the story. I loved that for whatever reason I didn’t predict the ending battle, and it was a beautiful surprise. Even better, it was surprising, yet inevitable! Once the truth was revealed, you didn’t need any pause for explanation, because it just made sense. Oh, you think, of course that’s the way of it. Take Te Fiti’s heart away and of course this is what happens to her.

I loved how feminist Moana was. She was a girl with a yen for travel and the general self-confidence to see it through. Her first instinct was curiosity, not timidity. That’s pretty standard Disney fare, really. What wasn’t standard was the lack of love interest. Nope, not a prince to be found. Or a knight. Or even an attractive, supportive island boy. Instead, she had Maui, who alternately tore her down and built her up depending on his own whims. He teaches her how to wayfind, but also belittles her off and on. Really her support comes from her grandmother and her nearly silent mother. The men in this movie are… erratic and kind of irrational, frankly.

Yeah, I kidnapped your chicken, so what?

Her father, Tui, is the chief of their island.  He’s a good man who had one bad experience in the ocean, freaked out, and decreed no one may sail past the reef ever ever ever. Maui is a trickster kind of god. He’s mercurial. He’s more interested in fame and buying mankind’s love. A mixture of selfish and learning better. That doesn’t make either of them bad people. Maui has his own complicated arc (which I enjoyed).

But Sina, Moana’s mother, is there for her. When Moana confronts her father about fishing beyond the reef, her mother’s there to point out that the confrontation with Tui could have been worse. Moana, could, for example, have challenged her father right in front of all the villagers… oh wait, that’s exactly what she did. Sina’s teaching methods are oblique, but definite: if you’re going to argue with your father, how about not putting him in a position where he’ll be forced to defend his rules in front of a whole batch of looky-loos? And when Moana cannot wait a single second longer and flees the village, Sina’s there too, making sure that her inexperienced daughter takes along a sail-repair kit as well as food.

Moana’s grandmother Tala…. How much do I love her? Enough that her fate brings me to happy tears. Some of the most evocative magical moments come from her. She’s there to urge Moana on to finding herself. She’s there to whisper the secrets that Tui would prefer to forget. When Moana’s at her lowest, her grandmother offers her comfort and, without judgment, offers to guide her home again, though her mission is incomplete. Moana would not be the strong character she is without these two women. Tui’s fear-based personality would have seen Moana quailing in the face of adversity instead of striving to show up Maui.

I adored Moana. She’s as spunky as Ariel, but… let’s face it, smarter. She doesn’t mindlessly rail against her fate of “stuck on island forever,” but she tries to come to terms with her duty. She does her best for her people until it becomes clear (to her, at least) that the best for her people is for her to leave the island on a crazy quest to restore the heart of Te Fiti. I loved that the ocean chose Moana, not because she was “special”, but because she was kind and brave; as a toddler she went out of her way to help a baby sea turtle to the waves.

I loved how the storyline shifted. It begins with Moana being given a mission: force Maui to board her boat and take him across the sea so he can return what he stole. She’s transport. She’s supposed to be Maui’s courage and kind of his conscience. But at the sticking point, when Maui’s turned tailfeather, and she’s left with the choice to go home or go on… she goes on. Moana rewrites the mission: she will go across the sea, and she will return the stolen heart to Te Fiti, even if it means facing the lava death god Te Ka.

I liked her relationship with Maui. It felt like siblings. So much one-upmanship. They egged each other on and stood together when needed, even if they’d had their moments of doubt.

I liked the weirdo coconut pirates.

Who wouldn’t like these guys?

I could talk about all the things I loved all day long, so I’m just going to hit a couple more highlights.

  • The rooster, Hei Hei, was exactly the right amount of comic relief. I loved that this was not the standard “clever animal, wise-cracking sidekick” of so many Disney movies. Nope, Hei Hei was a rooster, a slightly substandard rooster, just like Moana was neither a princess nor a demigod. She was just a mortal girl choosing to be extraordinary, choosing to listen to her heart instead of listening to fear. Anyway. Hei Hei was the most idiotic and peculiarly long-lived rooster ever, but he made me giggle.
  • Shapeshifting mishaps will never be not funny. I giggled a lot in The Emperor’s New Groove. I giggled a lot here.
  • I liked that there was no overt villain, which feels like a major change in Disney movies (though I’ve missed a lot of the recent ones). Instead, there are just people striving to do things alongside demi-gods, monsters, and strange little coconut pirate people. And of course, the Ocean. All of them have wants and desires. The closest thing to a villain, Te Ka, the lava god that is contaminating all of the islands, turns out to be sinned against more than sinning.

  • Dwayne Johnson. Okay, I like the Rock. I do. But everything I’ve seen him in, he’s been the Rock. I expected to hear the Rock every time Maui opened his mouth, but I didn’t. He’s a good voice actor! Go Dwayne! You were a character and not yourself! Very pleasant surprise.
  • And I know I said a “couple things” and this is a fifth thing, but I’d be horribly remiss if I didn’t at least tell you that this movie is 100% gorgeous. Gorgeous. The ocean and the Ocean, the islands, the … everything.

Things that disappointed me:

  • Small things: the first segment, after the wonderful first two scenes, just dragged on and on. To be fair to Moana, I’m not sure it would have dragged so much if I hadn’t just seen a similar arc in Wonder Woman — girl who wants to leave the island. But we had to watch Moana grow up from infant to young woman, and it didn’t compare to Diana’s transformation.
  • Some small writing choices were distracting: The most maddening was Moana declaring that she was not a princess and Maui’s rebuttal: “If you wear a dress and have an animal sidekick, you’re a princess.” It just made me think about Disney’s marketing machine and not the movie. There’s a time and place for meta and this was not it.
  • The pig bugged me, okay? It’s a minor side character at best, and yet, it kept bugging me. What kind of pig stays a piglet for ten plus years? Biologist at heart here.

I had one big disappointment, and I’m braced for everyone to tell me why I’m wrong.

I see you all coming at me, fire in your eyes.

I. Didn’t. Like. The. Music. Some songs I actively disliked, and even the “best” ones felt more neutral than good. Sacrilege, I know. It’s complicated, because on the one hand, as someone who’s taken a lot of music classes, I can hear that the music for this movie was more complex, more musical, better arranged, and so forth, than the usual thinly veiled pop songs.

But for an animated feature, I genuinely prefer the short, simple songs with the ear-wormy tune and the basic lyrics. I came out of Frozen with “Let It Go” stuck in my head. I came out of Beauty and the Beast with a half-dozen earworms. The Little Mermaid, ditto. Even Tangled.

I think of Disney songs as a collection of songs from the id. Characters explaining that they want something and they want it desperately. “When will my life begin?” Rapunzel mourns. “I want to be part of your world,” Ariel pleads. And Belle hopes that there must be more than her provincial life. They’re simple songs thematically, lyrically, and often musically, with easy melodies. And I bet most of you heard each of those melodies as I mentioned them.

But Moana? Nope. If I try, I can recall fragments of “How Far I’ll Go,” “You’re Welcome,” or “Shiny,” but only fragments. And the villagers’ song in the beginning drove me out of the room. Stop telling me about your freaking uses for coconuts, how is this an “I Want” kind of song, this is just world-building! And I don’t care!

I liked the Wayfinders’ songs in the start, but then they started explaining again, instead of letting me feel the freedom of sailing over the seas. Disney music is a shorthand that suggests how you’re supposed to feel and drags you deeply into that feeling. We all love Ursula, right? It’s because she sings “Poor Unfortunate Souls” and drags us into her wicked ways. Ditto most of the Disney villains.

There are some big monsters on monster island. They are still not villains.

In another Disney movie, my distaste for the music might have sunk the viewing. But the story. Oh, this story. I love it so very much.

Did I mention how feminist it is? That Moana returns and teaches her people, including her father, to sail the open seas? And there’s never any pushback against her being the expert? That even before she leaves, there’s no issue with a woman as the next chief?

It’s a damned beautiful movie. Moana’s a great character. Well worth putting up with disappointing music. And right now, it’s on Netflix.  Just pretend the freaking immortal ungrowing piglet isn’t there.

All screencaps from Disneyscreencaps.com

12 Comments

  • Shara White July 5, 2017 at 7:04 am

    Spunky like Ariel? I so need to see this movie already…..

    I will say I do disagree about your assessment of all Disney songs. The Little Mermaid did have “Fathoms Below” and that was setting the scene, for sure. 🙂 And catchy: it was the opening tune!

    Reply
    • Lane Robins July 5, 2017 at 1:53 pm

      The chicken is worth it….

      Reply
      • steelvictory July 5, 2017 at 2:12 pm

        Hei-Hei for the Iron Throne.

        Reply
        • Merrin July 5, 2017 at 2:53 pm

          My favorite part about the chicken (besides everything) is that he’s voiced by Alan Tudyk.

          Reply
  • steelvictory July 5, 2017 at 8:08 am

    I gasped at your proclamation against the music, but I think that was just out of habit. Because then I realized that I don’t have any of the songs from Moana memorized, and that’s probably the first Disney movie I can say that about. 🙁

    Reply
    • Merrin July 5, 2017 at 1:12 pm

      I have all of them memorized and for one cannot wait for our first Spec Chic karaoke party, when I will sing them all in movie order.

      Reply
      • Lane Robins July 5, 2017 at 2:06 pm

        Maybe that will make them memorable to me. 🙂 I’d at least like to be passionate about Moana’s theme song! (I still maintain you can not make a song about making nets from coconut fibers that entertaining.)

        Reply
        • Merrin July 5, 2017 at 2:52 pm

          In the interest of fairness I’m gonna go ahead and give you that one. Although I still cry every time the grandmother breaks in at the end with the lines “and if that voice starts to whisper/to follow the farthest star/Moana, that voice inside is/who you are.” (And yes I came up with those lines from memory.)

          Reply
          • Lane Robins July 5, 2017 at 4:41 pm

            Well that grandma was tear-bait! I cried happy tears every time she showed up after her death. She was awesome.

          • Merrin July 6, 2017 at 12:45 pm

            She really was!!! I loved her so much. When she showed up toward the end!! I’m tearing up just thinking about it.

  • Nicole Taft July 5, 2017 at 7:06 pm

    I think it was great how they tricked everyone into thinking the pig was going to be her traveling companion since he was all smart – and then they turned all of that on its head by having the dumbest rooster that ever lived go with her. I freaking LOVED that rooster. He cracked me up every time.

    Reply
    • Lane Robins July 5, 2017 at 8:10 pm

      I was So Glad it was not the pig. So glad.

      Reply

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