Yeah, I finally watched Moana last week. And what an adventure it was, just getting to the cinema with the buses being late and getting their stops mixed up…The type that makes for a long, agonising, lung-burning, foot-hurting, RUNNING kind of story. But I digress! I made it on time for the movie and in the end that is all that matters. But what of the film itself?
The trailer had looked really promising and I was going in not with the highest of expectations but certainly hyped. Aaaaaand promptly got the scare of my life when the customary short started playing and I thought I had walked in on the wrong screening. Mercifully a kid a few seats over panicked over the same thing and his mother reassured as both that we were, in fact, in the right place. Now, I’ll try to keep the SPOILERS to a minimum here but you have been warned nonetheless!
The story is the basic, coming-of-age narrative that Disney seems to be particularly fond of, interspersed with some pretty awesome (and catchy as hell songs!). It was awesome to see the song lyrics being incorporated in the narrative and the dialogue too. I don’t know, maybe it’s the movies I’ve watched lately but in quite a few of them the songs felt a bit…I don’t know…shoehorned… (Love is an Open Door, I’m looking at you!) Not here though! And I also liked how the two main songs (other than Maui’s solo) got a couple reprises. It helped tie the plot together and show the progression of the character(s) through the three acts.
Animation was obviously gorgeous and damn if I don’t want to go swimming in that paradise island (Motunui, which apparently a real place in New Zealand…huh!) with it’s white-golden sand, the crystal clear waters and the absolute lack of anything even resembling a jelly fish -shudder-. I also liked the great variation in the character designs but I swear if I hear one more person calling the titular heroine chubby I will break something!
-Quick tangent here just to get this off my chest. Skip below to avoid the rant and return to the movie fangirling-
No, buddy, she is not chubby. Like, at all. She’s a teenager (I think they mentioned she’s 15), with a healthy, athletic body, which, considering what we see of the lifestyle at Motunui is perfectly understandable. Now she doesn’t have a corset-shaped body figure or prominent cheekbones. And that is a good thing! And maybe her legs do not rival those of a ballet dancer but they can certainly carry her through all the running and swimming and climbing and wayfinding she does during the movie. Come on guys, we went through this whole thing when Brave came out! And remember the backlash when Disney published an image of Merida that was more in line with the figures of the Classic and Renaissance era princesses?
The point is, teenage girls, unless they do some really intensive athletic or dancing regime, will not be as willowy as the heroine of a Gothic romance. And yes, I know this could be considered a generalisation and yes, I have met girls who ate half their body weight daily and still remained thin, but let us go with the common denominator for a moment. It’s puberty. It puts the body through a major roller-coaster and not just because of the raging hormones. So it’s no surprise that the so-desired harmony of body analogies will be a bit of a pipe dream until the body decides what it actually wants to look like.
So what’s wrong with having role models for girls (and boys, you can’t imagine how GLAD I was that Maui, as the main male character, was not drawn like frigging Superman) that come in all shapes and, why not? sizes? Moana is a badass because of her actions and her character, not because she’d be able to fit in a size 6 dress. And to people who see this as encouraging girls to be chubby, well….
- You’re an idiot
- It’s not your body, it’s not your concern
- Some people are just naturally built that way
- I’d rather see a little girl or even a teenager, heck an adult be what you call chubby and happy and self-confident rather than thin and eternally worried about putting on weight
- No one’s body is here to adhere to your standards of the norm or aesthetically pleasing, so kindly keep your comments to yourself and well out of earshot of young people at an extremely impressionate and formative age in terms of self-perception.
-End of tangent, back to our usual content-
Since we’re on the subject of characters anyway let me sum up my views on that real quick. Moana’s conflict with her parents, mainly her dad, had shades of Ariel’s conflict with King Triton in the Little Mermaid. Only here, and I take this as a sign of how much more developed kids’ films have become, we are given perfectly legitimate reasons for her father’s stance. True, Moana needs to break through her family’s fears in order to become her own person but there is a huge difference between “All humans are evil because I said so” and ” Do not go SPOILERS
beyond the reef because I know from experience that that is dangerous”. Also yay for both parents being alive and involved! But my favourite supporting character had to be grandmother Tala! She is exactly the type of crazy old lady I aspire to be sixty years from now. Again, in her relationship with Moana there were shades of grandmother Willow and Pocahontas and -in a non-Disney context- Iroh and Zuko (any A:tLA fans?) She was wise but not on-the-nose about it and most importantly she guided her granddaughter without forcing her down a path necessarily, and I think that was what ultimately gave Moana the confidence boost she needed to start becoming her own person, keeping what she needed from her childhood and its familiarity and shedding what she had outgrown to make way for new experiences.
Maui was a delight and not in small part due to his voice actor’s (Dwayne Johnson) occasional deadpan delivery. At times he skirted meta-awareness and 4th wall breaking territory, which I felt was a bit out of place in a kids’ film but got a few chuckles out of the adults in the audience. I read some people describing as a comic relief character but I honestly didn’t get that vibe from him. Yes, his redemption arc takes the backseat at times (after it’s not his movie) and he is undeniably funny at times, but if you actually look beyond the magic tattoos and snark, his story is actually really dark. Not gonna say more here because we’re keeping this SPOILERS-lite but what little was told and/or hinted of his backstory on the film has me wanting to dig up an anthology of Polynesian myths and get myself sucked in.
Moana herself was a pleasure of a main character. She was a teenager and that included the attitude, the sass, and the irrepressible need to question any and all authority figures, but also the insecurity that comes with being too young to be trusted to make all your decisions by yourself but also old enough to be expected to begin to do so. I can think of quite a few 20-somethings who can relate. She is stubborn to a fault but she is also deeply compassionate. She longs for independence but at the same time freely acknowledges that she needs the guidance of those more experienced than her when faced with an unfamiliar situation.
Really, the only thing the film lacked in my opinion was a clear villain. The Kakamora appeared early on and, to borrow Moana’s line, were “kinda cute”, so no way they’d be our Big Bad. I’ll give them that though. Not since the third Pirates of the Caribbean film have a seen a boat of such bizarre design.
Tamatoa was creepy (like keep everyone you cherish away from him-creepy), a legit threat towards both Maui and Moana and even got the movie’s villain song slot! He appears in the second act of the film and I half-expected him to show up during the climax too, but… I don’t know, maybe I’ve been conditioned to expect whoever sings the “It’s great being evil” tune in a Disney flick to show up for the climax.
Of course when the villain you actually build up throughout the story, Te Ka, looks like this, maybe they felt that two villains, the fate of the world (sort off) and the characters’ own baggage would make for a too crowded and maybe even overwhelming third act. I have some issues with classifying Te Ka as the main villain, mainly due to how the conflict is ultimately resolved, but in terms of being a fiery demon of death and destruction…. Boy, did the animation department deliver!
I don’t have much else to say other than, go watch. Drag the kids along if you have any laying around. Like all good Disney movies this is one for the entire family!
P.S. Oh! And did I mention how much I ADORE the realistic hair?