By Blake Nelson
It’s been quite a few years since I truly appreciated a Disney film. Come to think of it, I can’t really remember a Disney movie (that wasn’t a Pixar film) that really touched me since “The Lion King.”
“Moana” finally broke the Disney dry spell and was a landmark in a few other areas as far as Disney goes.
The best comparison I can make is with “Frozen.” So yes, this will be somewhat of a slam piece against “Frozen” but for good reason. In my opinion, “Frozen” was pretty much everything that is wrong with Disney, with slick packaging and a dash of updated gender roles.
In contrast, it seems that with “Moana” the studio wanted to make a movie in which the main character is actually a woman — better yet, a person. A person in the sense that at no time was there ever an issue of Moana falling into stereotypical gender roles for the sake of the plot or for a joke. Also, Moana doesn’t have a love interest, which may not seem like a big deal, but holy moly, every Disney movie has some kind of a romantic subplot.
The voice actors’ ethnicities are also mostly representative of the characters. Again; may not seem like a big deal, but if you want to see what it looks like when a character’s ethnicity is not represented by the actor, then you simply have to look at Matt Damon’s next movie, “The Great Wall.” Suffice it to say that it looks terrible.
So now that I got all of the PC-housekeeping stuff out of the way — thanks for sticking around if you have — I can finally get on to how great the movie actually is.
“Moana” hits every note in the hero’s journey pretty nicely. Moana has to leave home, journey to new lands, learn, fight and ultimately grow as a person.
The Polynesian mythology the story is based on helps add flare to the film and is perfect fodder for character development and beautiful animation.
Throughout the movie, you can really feel Moana’s struggle and experience her inner turmoil right along with her. I’m not sure about the rest of the audience, but Moana’s conflict between staying on the island and leaving really resonated with me. The decision on whether or not to stay with your family or follow your desires is one I think many college students can empathize with. Auli’i Cravalho, the voice of Moana, really brings the character’s intricacies to life.
As for the mythical demigod Maui, a better actor could not have been chosen for the role than Dwayne Johnson. Johnson embodies this type of character in real life as well as in the movie.
Maui is a boisterous, strong and gifted character who seems to be the biggest thing in almost every scene. Johnson is much like this in interviews and some of the other roles he has played. But beyond the strong exterior, Johnson, much like Maui, is contemplative and smart. Maui is easily one of my favorite Disney characters.
The greatest achievement the film has to offer are the visuals. The animation is so crisp and clean that even if you watched the movie without the sound on the film would still be able to stand on its own merits. A scene underwater was truly breathtaking and hearkened back to “The Little Mermaid.”
Here comes another “Frozen” slam — the songs in “Moana” blew the songs in “Frozen” out of the water. “How Far I’ll Go” is a great song with actual song parts, not just a chorus played ad nausea. After the fifth “Let It Go” I wanted to puke. Johnson also crushes his song, adding yet another skill to his ever-growing resume.
This movie finally proved that Disney might just be able to change with the times while still making quality material. I can’t wait to see what the studio comes out with in the coming years. Hopefully it stays on par with “Moana,” but by looking at some of the projects on the way right now, it seems Disney will be milking the “Frozen” cow for some time.