Nov 24, 2016

Moana - The Ocean is Calling: Movie Review

I first read about Disney's Moana many months ago in a mom's group.  There was quite a bit of buzz about a new princess of color - Polynesian, to be exact - and the general consensus was hopeful.  When I was presented with the opportunity to see the movie for free in exchange for this review I jumped at it!  My 8 year old daughter and I were so thrilled; a mommy/daughter date (on a school night!), plus we got to say "we're with the media" for the first time ever! The only downside to being with the media was that I couldn't take my phone inside, so I have no original photographs of the evening.  Small price to pay!


As for the movie itself, I knew little about it beyond the soundtrack. What I did know revolved around Lin-Manuel Miranda (whom I follow on Twitter because he is a fantastic human being) as a songwriter on many of the tracks. I purposefully stayed away from any other discussion about the movie plot because I loathe spoilers, so I really had no idea what we were about to watch.  The official press release info is as follows:

MOANA: Three thousand years ago, the greatest sailors in the world voyaged across the vast Pacific, discovering the many islands of Oceania. But then, for a millennium, their voyages stopped – and no one knows why. 
From Walt Disney Animation Studios comes “Moana,” a sweeping, CG-animated feature film about an adventurous teenager who sails out on a daring mission to save her people. During her journey, Moana (voice of Auli‘i Cravalho) meets the once-mighty demigod Maui (voice of Dwayne Johnson), who guides her in her quest to become a master wayfinder. Together, they sail across the open ocean on an action-packed voyage, encountering enormous monsters and impossible odds, and along the way, Moana fulfills the ancient quest of her ancestors and discovers the one thing she’s always sought: her own identity. 

My version:
Moana, the daughter of the village chief on the island of Motonui, is torn between two worlds: the island that she loves, and the every-present sea that beckons to her.  We truly get a feel for how hard this decision is for Moana.  The villagers depend on her as the new Chief to be, and not only that she truly loves and respects all around her.  However, the sea also calls her and it's a call she can't ignore. But add in a dash of her father's backstory and we can understand why her parents forbid her from going beyond the reef.

When the island suddenly stops providing the villagers with what they need to survive (coconuts, fish, etc) it's time for everyone to stop ignoring Moana's grandmother's "silly tales" and heed her dire warning: the island - and their people - will die if Moana doesn't take action.  Moana needs to find the demi-god Maui so he can restore the heart of Te Fiti (a legend with whom he shares some serious back story).

Sounds good, right?  Well, it was great.  Phenomenal even.  I cried. (I may be a crier, though.)

Disney's Moana
Side note: while we waited for the movie to start we talked about this preview image.
I asked my daughter what she noticed about the title character and she immediately
said that Moana looked "so strong. I mean, look at her arms!" Be still my heart!

So, what do we know about Disney movies?  #1) Something horrific happens. Usually a parent dies a tragic, untimely death, catapulting our young protagonist headfirst into the plot; #2) The animation is top-notch and awe-worthy; #3) The songs are catchy and moving; #4) The characters are easy to relate to and we inevitably fall in love with them.

I am trying to stay spoiler-free here but I feel the need to tell you something... #1 does not happen. It's true!  There is no family dysfunction.  There is no horrible "how could this happen but why am I surprised what the heck am I watching this for" moment.  Life happens.  Yes, death happens.  But death is not always a tragedy, and I'm so thankful that it wasn't portrayed that way in Moana.

The rest of the stuff I mentioned above is completely true to Disney form, though.  The water in this film is truly a character on its own; it actually elicited emotion from the audience at various turns and plays a major role in the climax. As for the music, as previously mentioned I'm already a Lin-Manuel Miranda fan but I literally purchased the deluxe edition soundtrack immediately upon walking in my front door that evening. Nearly the entire soundtrack is backed by native Pacific music (with most sung in one of the native languages of the Pacific islands, Tokelauan).  And the characters!  Oh, the characters.  Moana is my new favorite Disney princess.  Move over, Ariel!  Why?  As my daughter would say, "She was strong and sassy, and she followed her dreams, but she wasn't rude to her parents."  Something else my daughter said that blew me away: "Basically... every single princess besides Tiana is white, and I think that people with brown skin should be represented, too."

I'll leave you with that so you can discover for yourself what lays beyond the line where the sky meets the sea.

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