It is time for Action Movie Friday, where I treat an action movie like an action movie and not like a drama and stuff. All movie reviews are subjective and while I may like something, you might think it’s shit, and vice versa!
MPAA Rating: PG
Genre: action, animated, adventure
Starring: Auli’i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Rachel House, Temuera Morrison, Jemaine Clement, Nicole Scherzinger, Alan Tudyk
Director: Ron Clements, Don Hall, John Musker, Chris Williams
Writer: Jared Bush (Screenplay) Ron Clements, John Musker, Chris Williams, Don Hall, Pamela Ribon, Aaron Kandell, Jordan Kandell
Budget: $150 Million
Box Office: $640 Million
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 96%
Moana has always loved the ocean. As the Chieftain’s daughter, it is her duty to lead her people next and keep them safe. And the ocean is the farthest thing from safe. Their island has been a haven for many years and now it is dying. Moana must follow her heart and go recruit Maui, a demi god, in order to undo the wrong he has done and make the ocean safe for everyone to travel on again and heal the island. Perhaps, the biggest obstacle she’ll have to overcome is herself.
Disney Princess movies don’t often lean towards action, so when they do and I get to talk about them it’s rather exciting. Because, girls don’t get a lot of action roles. Not so in Moana, she is all action heroine and one hundred percent awesome. Moana, much like Mulan, decides that it is up to her to save her people and takes the necessary steps to do it, up to and even defying her father. She goes beyond the reef and charts her own course fighting against a few enemies and uses her brain and her heart to accomplish her goals.
I just wish her movie was a tad bit better.
Wait, you ask, how can Moana be awesome but her movie not so great? Well, it comes down to the difference of character and story. And the biggest weakness of Moana’s story has a name and his name is Maui. (And there is a minor weakness called ‘father,’ too.)
But before we get to that, I want to run some numbers, because looking at them I find them interesting. The last animated Disney Princess movie to come out was Frozen back in 2013. (Also qualifies as an action animated adventure, should review it!) Moana and Frozen have the same budget. But some key differences. Frozen had 3 “writers”, one of them female and that woman also wrote the screenplay. Moana had 6 “writers” only one of them was female and a 7th person, another male, wrote the screenplay. Imdb calls it “story by” and not “writers.” Interestingly enough, Frozen made twice as much at the world wide box office as Moana.
Why does this interest me? Because of the way the stories were written and the focuses the two stories had and what I feel is the major weakness in Moana’s story. This may or may not be explained by the gender of the writers. I’m just pointing it out that I find this interesting and wondering if there is a correlation.
In the beginning of the story, Moana is torn between her love of the ocean and doing what her family wants of her. Being a daddy’s girl myself, I completely understand this. However, when the ocean is actually a goddess of sorts and chooses you for a mission to save the world, daddy’s approval becomes a moot point. What daddy wants may not be what his little girl needs to be doing! And I understand that a story needs conflict and obstacles in Moana’s way from doing what she needs to do. Moana’s father makes me highly uncomfortable. I don’t approve of big men yelling at young girls. Conflict or no conflict, this is bad and wrong. And there is never a point in the movie where he apologizes or even tries to talk to her in a reasonable manner about his fears. Instead, the mother or the grandmother comes along and excuses his behavior (like most enablers of verbal abusers do) by telling her a sad story from his past and he’s just trying to protect her.
Look. No. That shit doesn’t fly with me.
So Moana leaves the island with very little experience in navigating and sailing which is scary but this is a movie. And she meets Maui. And from the time we meet Maui to just before the end of the movie, the movie stops being about Moana and becomes about… Maui. The movie isn’t titled Moana and Maui, it’s titled Moana. Maui instantly proves he’s a boy of little character (yes, I said boy, Maui doesn’t remind me of a grown up) within five minutes of meeting him. Moana constantly has to fight with him to get him to do anything productive and then on top of it, then has to give him a pep talk because he doesn’t have full control of his powers like he used to. Then we have to have the angst story about why Maui is a demi-god. And look, I’m bored. Can we get back to Moana beating up Coconut Pirates and making awesome work of distracting and manipulating huge crabs?
Maui is a coward. Sure, he’s a trickster demi-god, but in the past supposedly he’s defeated a lot of foes. We aren’t shown any of that, so we have to rely on his word and the word of Maui isn’t good. Since he keeps running away. And if he was supposed to be learning something from this little adventure, it never actually felt like he did. So his character resolution at the end fell very flat.
The parts of the movie that made me emotional were the parts of Moana interacting with her family, her facing her fears about growing up and watching her defeat bad guys that Maui kept running away from over and over, oh and the sequences where she was learning something about her ancestors.
Maui was a distraction and so much of the movie became about Maui and Maui’s bruised ego.
It leaves a sour taste in my mouth. Please, Disney, stop trying to shoe horn male characters into stories about strong women in order to appeal to little boys. You know what little boys have? Transformers. He-Man, Star Wars, 99% of Marvel and DC properties. Little girls mostly have Disney and some Mattel or magical girl anime shows. And if a little boy comes to a showing of Moana, he can learn to relate to Moana, a girl, especially when that girl is being more awesome than the male you put in to appeal to them!
So, there’s half a cookie here, because half the movie was good. I even liked the ending to an extent. There was a bit of a let down. (Maui should not get a tattoo over something Moana did. No. I’m going with a common opinion and saying that Moana should have become a demi-goddess like the story was setting her up to be.)
Explosions. There was an entire goddess of volcanic fury fire and nothing made me go “oh shit!” Very, very, disappointing. No cookie.
The fights were entertaining. I even liked the way that in the end the story wasn’t resolved with a fight. Moana against the coconut pirates was silly. Moana versus the singing bedazzled crab was also silly. Maui when he finally figured out that hawk form wasn’t always the way to go was even entertaining. So, a cookie.
Moana had a very limited cast. As such, there are really only two female characters (out of a possible four or five) that got any character development whatsoever and that was Moana and her grandmother. Her grandmother was the wise mentor figure who encourages Moana to follow her dreams and take up the destiny the Ocean has offered her, in her own crazy way, making sure Moana thinks things through before she acts on her good intentions. Moana herself is shown to be torn between what her parents wish for her and what needs to be done. She is also resilient and independent and brave. She’s not whining about having to take up the leadership role. In fact, she’s learning how to do it and is shown to be giving advice to prove she can lead next. (Something that should have been touched on in Brave and wasn’t.) She’s a smart and capable if a bit reckless person, though most of the obstacles she faces come from circumstance rather than from other characters. And when failures happen, it’s not because she didn’t try it’s because Maui well, was Maui. Overall, I really enjoyed Moana’s characters. I wish the mother had been touched on a bit more and had stood up for her daughter in a tangible way. But in the context of the story, I’m going to give this the full cookie.
The hallmark of good world building in a movie is when you come out of it you want to see more of the world! The lens of Moana was tightly focused on Moana’s quest to restore the Heart and that was a good thing. But now, I want to see more islands, know more about the gods, know where the rest of her people went and what they’ve been up to for the last 1000 years. What are the other monsters? Are they as glamourous and awesome as the crab? I want to see more Ocean. And AHHH.
Give me more adventures of Moana Disney… without Maui. One cookie.
Overall, I got to the end of this movie and felt really meh about it. I loved Moana when she was allowed to shine and felt the story got way too distracted by Maui’s character. Three and a half gingersnaps.