Thursday, March 16, 2017

"Moana": one-paragraph review

"Moana" is a 2016 Disney animated musical-comedy-adventure directed by Ron Clements and John Musker, with a heavily rewritten screenplay by a whole team of writers (Jared Bush gets sole credit for the final draft), and starring Auli'i Cravalho as Polynesian chieftain's daughter Moana, with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as the shape-shifting trickster demigod Maui. The story kicks off with the retelling of a primordial legend: the world begins as water, then the goddess Te Fiti bestows life on the world. Maui steals a magical stone that lies in Te Fiti's heart, intending—like Prometheus—to pass along its powers to humanity. The theft causes a plague of darkness to dominate the earth, and Maui is attacked by a demonic laval being named Te Ka. During the fight, Maui loses both the stone and his giant magical weapon, a god-wrought fish hook. Fast-forward a millennium, and little Moana is in love with the ocean. The ocean loves Moana back, as is evidenced by the playful water-tentacles that prod, pat, and carry Moana to and fro along the shore. But Moana, like the rest of the island's people, is forbidden by her chieftain father (Temuera Morrison) from ever swimming or sailing beyond the reef; later in the film, we find out why. The creeping darkness reaches the island and begins killing off the plant life and shooing away the fish, and soon Moana must choose between keeping tradition—she's the next chieftain—or following her "inner voice" to sail afar, find Maui, and take the sacred stone, "the heart of Te Fiti," back to where it belongs. With songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda (of "Hamilton" fame), "Moana" bumps and bops along with stunning visuals, its own brand of feminism, and plenty of Polynesian mythology. I found some of the lyrics unintentionally funny, such as the generally non-rhyming song the islanders sing to explain their own way of life, but other songs proved deeply, and surprisingly, touching. The death of one character hit me a little too close to home for me not to feel a tightening in the throat. One interesting bit of trivia is that, in keeping with the feminist themes, there's an action sequence involving piratical coconuts that is supposed to be a homage to "Mad Max: Fury Road." The Rock, meanwhile, proves capable of holding a tune, and he sings one of the more memorable songs: "You're Welcome," Maui's arrogantly self-directed hymn of praise. The movie features a self-aware joke about Disney princesses and their goofy sidekicks, as well as a gross-by-implication joke about pissing in the water. I was fascinated by all the religious tropes, even though I know next to nothing about Polynesian mythology. I couldn't help thinking, though, that Disney would never dare make a movie like this involving one of the Big Three Abrahamic faiths.* And that's too bad. All in all, "Moana," despite some uncomfortable parallels with "Tangled," is a sprightly tale told briskly. Auli'i Cravalho, with her Hawaiian-Portuguese name, her enormous talent, and her mere sixteen or so years on this earth, is probably set to follow Hailee Steinfeld on a successful career path; it's hard to believe this is Cravalho's cinematic debut.

*Then again, there's "Prince of Egypt." But that's Dreamworks.

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