Moana of Motonui has a mission: find the demigod Maui and make him return the glowing green stone that is the “heart” of the goddess Te Fiti in order to stem the growing “darkness” that’s encroaching on her home island.

The Good

  • It’s a beautiful movie, especially during the first part which takes place mostly on Motonui. The lush greenery, blue skies and blue water are all gorgeously rendered. The clothing and the props and the settings are clearly designed to evoke the Pacific islands and they do so very well, I think.
  • The music by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Opetaia Foa’i, and Mark Mancina is generally enjoyable (though not a patch on the Alan Menken classics). The opening music felt to me like a Pacific island version of Frozen‘s opening “Vuelie” – which is not a bad thing at all. My favourite might be “We Know The Way” for its rousing beat and Pacific-ish feel. I’m not as fond of the songs that sound more contemporary.
  • Moana will be even more of a feminist icon than Elsa or Merida, if you ask me. She’s capable and responsible in her capacity as soon-to-be chief of the village. She leaves the village against her father’s wishes not because she’s rebelling or in love or “just feels like it” but because if she doesn’t go to try and find Maui, no one will and the village will be in more trouble due to dwindling food supplies and diseased plants. And when she finds Maui, it turns out that he’s rather stuck up and also insecure minus his magical hook. It falls to Moana in the end to save the day, albeit with Maui’s help. She fulfills the checklist of what’s considered cool for heroines now – independent, capable, smart, brave, doesn’t need a man, has no love story. (Actually, I’m torn as to how “good” this is. In a way it is, and in a way, it’s now the standard template for heroines…)
  • They did a good job of making Chief Tui and Maui sympathetic characters despite Tui’s vehemence that no one should go beyond the reef and Maui’s arrogance. The little insights into their backstories helped.
  • Maui’s animated tattoo was good fun.

The Not-so-good

  • The song “Shiny” was… utterly pointless. It wasn’t as though Tamatoa was the big bad of the show. I wondered if they intended for “Shiny” to be the villain’s song in the same way that Ursula had “Poor Unfortunate Souls” or “Cruella de Vil” represented Cruella. If so, that didn’t quite work. Tamatoa was only one of the obstacles – he wasn’t The Villain in the same way that Ursula was. Parts of the song had a vague “Poor Unfortunate Souls” feel to it, though I’m not sure if I was imagining it or if it was done on purpose. The shots of the cavern above him even looked rather like Ariel’s grotto… Again, not sure if I imagined it or not though. haha
  • I thought the pace was generally all right, although in a couple of parts it slowed down a liiiittle too much. (Having just watched Doctor Strange and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them recently, I’d say Strange had the best pacing, with Moana in second place.)
  • Like Doctor StrangeMoana has the problem of having, at it’s base, the standard storyline. If Doctor Strange was a superhero origin story, then Moana is the journey of self-discovery and save-the-day – pretty much the base of so many other movies? It’s largely because of that that I find it hard to award the movie super high marks. I have a sneaking suspicion that half the glowing reviews are a result of critics being influenced by the sociopolitics of the day and thus having a slightly inflated view of the movie.
  • really didn’t like the trope of sidekick-leaves-then-comes-back. When Maui left, I don’t think any normal moviegoer would have expected him to not come back. It’s just like Han Solo in A New Hope – he leaves for whatever reason, but then shows up at the crucial moment to lend a hand to the main protagonist. It’s so overused and I didn’t see the point of it except that they needed a way to show Moana’s own self-actualization. But… She had already kind of come to that point before that? Did she need another one?

Pretty good movie overall, and I do really love the imagery, but it’s no Zootopia (that’s still the best Disney movie of 2016, and one of the best movies overall of the year).
Rating: ★★★


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