Let me start off by saying I absolutely loved it.
Disney have really made something special with Moana. Roz and I went to see a special advance screening on Sunday and both of us came out thinking “wow”!Based on Polynesian mythology, it has beautiful imagery, songs and a kick-ass story. I think Disney has finally found a winning formula and I hope every child goes to see it.
The usual Disney heroine’s journey format is used. Girl feels unfulfilled, seeks something ‘more’, embarks on quest, meets travelling companion, they bond, they fight, they get back together, they solve quest, heroine returns triumphant. This being Disney, lots of music sprinkled in.
In this case the heroine is teenager Moans, who’s father has forbidden everyone from going beyond the reef of their idyllic island. It starts up a bit fast, whizzing through Moana’s baby, toddler and preteen years. And while that doesn’t take away from the story, it felt like a lot being crammed into a very short time before the ‘real’ movie begins. But when it starts, it really gets going. Moana disobeys her father, going out to see to save her island from being destroyed. Joined by the once great demi-god Maui, they go on an adventure that leads both of them to find new destinies.
I don’t want to give too much away, so I’ll leave the synopsis at that.
BUT. Here are my top thoughts on the movie.
- Moana is not a princess. Though she probably will be added to the line of the money churning disney princesses thing, like Pocahontas (chief’s daughter) Belle (Beauty and the beast, inventor’s daughter) Tiana (Princess and the frog, Seamstress’ daughter) Cinderella (trader’s daughter) She is not a princess. This was important for me to point out to Roz. While chiefs rule in the same manner as kings, it’s important for little girls to know that they can rule just as well as the menfolk. So when Moana is being groomed to be the next chief of their tribe, and she’s doing great, she is going to make a wonderful princess, it’s just that as per most disney princessy movies, she wants more. Moana is voiced by Hawaiian actress Auli’i Cravalho who is a teenager voicing a teenager for once, and she makes the character come alive.
- Animal sidekick? Check. She actually has two. The cutest little pig and a not all there chicken. You think she’s going to go on the adventure with the pig, but as per the trailer, she ends up with the chicken who stows away on her boat and provided a few good laughs out of Roz. Me, not so much. But hey, every princess must have a sidekick. From snow white all through to Elsa, they’ve had them.
- There is no prince! For me this was big. This was huge. This is disney we’re talking about. If there’s a single lady wandering around looking for adventure, there must be a prince lurking around waiting to make her life complete. Till Elsa, I didn’t think think they would ever get away from their formula. And even in Frozen, there was a prince. In Moana, there’s no prince. nada. zilch. it’s refreshing to have Moana dominate the screen and carry the story to find her own destiny and forge her path by herself.
- Maui rocks. Voiced by Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson who is part Samoan, the demi-god acts as Moana’s sidekick. imagine having a demi-god as a sidekick. seriously. Funny, arrogant, bigger than life, just like Dwayne Johnson himself, Maui acts as a kind of teacher, or really the equivalent of the genie in Aladdin. Think of it that way. He’s part of the story and gives us laughs but also helps Moana achieve her goal.
- The music. As usual, Disney have hit on some big tunes. For me what stood out was Moana’s song “How far I’ll go”, the ancestral song “I am Moana” and Maui’s “you’re welcome” are great sing along songs. Heck, I came out of the cinema humming the last. They’re very catchy.
- Grandma and Moana. I loved that relationship. I actually had tears streaming down my face with sadness remembering my own grandmother. I loved her so much and am not quite done mourning so yeah, this was hard, beautiful, loving. And I’m tearing up so I’ll stop there.
- Body image. Gone are the stick thin, big cow eyed girls that disney love so much. Moana looks like a teenager. She looks like someone who can navigate a boat across the ocean. Granted they’ve come under some heat about Maui’s body, with people calling them out about stereotyping polynesian men as overweight, but at least they are starting to address these concerns.
- Authenticity. According to reports, they actually went to the trouble of looking up actual Pacific island clothing, music, dance, mythology;and the directors visited the islands a number of times over the last year on research to ensure they got it right. After coming under fire for Aladdin, it’s the least they could do, if you ask me.
- Hair. Oh the hair! Remember how Merida’s hair was the talking point of Brave? Both Moana and Maui’s hair? AMAY-ZING! It flowed so realistically even Roz noticed it. Lifting up with breezes, strands flowing around their heads…it was a thing of beauty. And to think they initially wanted to make Maui bald!
Basically, go see it. It’s a fantastic movie to watch in the cold winter, to remember that there are warm places somewhere away from the bitter cold. Brrr. And especially go see it because for once Disney have got it right. Not just in the story telling, but also anthropologically speaking.
Now Disney, it’d be nice if you picked HUMANS for an African based adventure next time. A whole friggin’ continent and you go for animals? Thanks a bunch. I can send you tons of myths if you’d like. If it was that difficult to come up with some on your own.
Basically, go see Moana. It’s a fantastic movie to watch in the cold winter, to remember that there are warm places somewhere away from the bitter cold. Brrr. And especially go see it because for once Disney have got it right. It’s perfect as a new generation of girls come on board who should be taught you can rely on your own wits, friendship and the compassion behind you to find who you are.
Moana is out across Irish cinemas from today. This is not a sponsored post. I paid for both Roz and my ticket, and loved it so much that I wanted to share the love.