Saturday, December 3, 2016

Moana review; One of the Best Disney Movies in Years

For a while there, Disney's 3D animated films were often confused with that of Pixar films.  Then came long monster hits like Wreck it Ralph, Frozen and Zootopia; which helped the studio distance itself from it's subsidiary (Pixar).  Now, the latest film in their lineup has been released, it's Moana.  The film stars new comer Auli'i Carvalho as the titular character; and Dwayne Johnson as Maui, the demigod that must help Moana save the world. Lot's to talk about, let's go!

What I liked about the film:
The Story
My wife and I had the pleasure of visiting Hawaii earlier this year.  We met so many people that were incredibly proud of their heritage and the history before them.  That trip really made me appreciate Moana's story.  It is creative, and important to the characters in the film.  I really enjoyed the fact that the story was relatively small, compared to other Disney films.  By that I mean, this young woman is doing these heroic things, to save her people, and the land in which they live on.  Commendable, admirable, and weirdly... relatable.  I loved that about the story.

The journey Moana and Maui take fits well in the world of the film.  There are dangers and bad guys they must defeat to save their land.  But it's not all doom and gloom.  The story touches on hope, belief, and destiny.  I love that.  It speaks a language kids will understand, but one that adults will appreciate.  I'll stop there because, if you read the blog you know, I don't discuss plot points in my reviews.  Go watch the movie for that!

The Characters/ Cast
Auli'i Carvalho is absolutely perfect as Moana.  She is bright, and bubbly, and full of life.  But she is strong, and capable as well.  Her voice so perfectly meshed with the character design that, at times, it felt like a live-action film.  And the actress has range.  We see Moana vulnerable at times, but strong and stoic in other parts of the film.  Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson is fantastic!  The wrestler turned actor has done voice work in the past, but nothing as good as this.  The character, much like Johnson himself, is a big hulking presence.  He is strong, and basically a superhero.  But it's the softer moments where Johnson really shines through.  The character of Maui has a tragic history, and Johnson's delivery breathes life into what could have been a throw-away sidekick.

The Music/ Songs
Disney was made famous for their animated musicals.  And Moana earns its place among the best of the best.  Mark Mancina wrote the music for the film, and it's among the best music we've heard in an animated film in years.  The music in animated films is often overlooked, as the studios push the characters to the forefront, for marketing reasons.  But considering the setting for the film, Mancina's music HAD TO rise to the occasion.  The people of Hawaii have a rich history that involves a very specific type of music and dance.  Mancina does a great jobs of making the music accessible to anyone who may or may not be familiar with the music in Hawaii.

If the music is that good, than you can only imagine how good the songs are!  Opetaia Foa'i and Lin-Manuel Miranda created songs that will surely be the memorized, and repeated for years to come.  Seriously though, these are songs as memorable as the ones in Frozen, and even some of the historical 2D Disney movies like Aladdin and The Little Mermaid.  Songs like 'I am Moana' and 'You're Welcome' are stuck in my head hours after leaving the theater.  In fact, I'm listening to them on YouTube, as I write this review.  Foa'i brings a sense of history and tradition to the songs.  Miranda, made famous by the Broadway hit 'Hamilton', makes the music fun and inviting.  The songs are upbeat, happy, and inspiring.  And best of all, they bring meaning to the characters, and serve the story.  Awesome!

The Animation and Setting
I wont speak to in depth about this aspect of the film; because frankly, the animation should be spectacular at this point in the evolution of animated films.  But I want to point out how beautiful the lush, green landscapes in the movie, look amazing.  There's a hundred different greens, and the water's blue hues look gorgeous.  Hawaii never looked so good in a movie!

What I didn't like about the film:
To be clear, this is a nitpick, but something I didn't like about the film nonetheless.  There was a weird repetitiveness to the movie; and specifically, it was related to Moana and Maui going back and forth at each other.  'Are you going to help me?'.  'No I'm not going to help you'.  'Yes I'm going to help you'.  'Nevermind, no I'm not'.  Again, it's a silly thing, but one that annoyed me after the 5th time hearing them discuss this topic.  I'm being vague on purpose.

The Verdict:
One of the Best Disney Movies in Years
Moana is sitting at a pretty 97% on Rotten Tomatoes as of the post date of this review.  It's doing big numbers at the box office, and seems to have staying power 2 weeks after its release.  I highly recommend this movie.  It harkens back to the Disney movies of old, but keeping with the trend of computer animation films.  It's funny, packs emotional punches, and still finds an adventurous story to tell.  The voice talent, director, and musicians is the best of the best.  Go support this film.  Hit me up on Twitter or the Facebook Group to discuss more.