Circumstances of watching it: Ghoti actually managed to find a time when everybody was free, so the whole quad and the younger kids and fivemack all went to the Light cinema together Sunday afternoon. It was a bit annoying because I had to rush away straight after the film ended to travel back to Keele, and couldn't discuss it with everybody, but still such a great treat!
Verdict: Moana is just delightful!
I loved Moana. I mean, I can think of things to quibble about, but basically I thoroughly enjoyed it. I am absolutely thirsty for a story about a girl who leaves her homeland to go on adventures not only because she's restless and feels confined by her feminine role, but because she has to to protect the people she rules. A proper, honest-to-goodness hero's journey. And I even more love the implication that Moana not only saves her island, but is the instigator of the Polynesian peoples returning to sea voyaging after a gap of several centuries. Plus the plot being based around returning a precious object to its rightful place, rather than acquiring the quest object.
I have seen some very positive reactions from Pacific Islanders and some very critical reactions. Which would hardly be surprising even if all of the Pacific Islands were one single culture. I can see that the film is both a step towards representation, which is really very much lacking, while it still has the problem that it packages everything for a white audience and may even veer into cultural appropriation or direct racism. I enjoyed this longread by Doug Herman which gives a fair representation of some of the different opinions I've seen. I very much am the target audience, a liberal white person who enjoys having a story set somewhere that isn't fairy-tale northern Europe. I did appreciate that whatever other flaws the film may have, it doesn't have any gratuitous white people at all. And the Pacific Islanders are distinctly Pacific Islanders, their embodied selves as well as the music, clothes, art and critically, the boat designs, are based on real world cultures, there are no animals or humanoid aliens used as allegories.
I personally loved Maui as a trickster god; maybe that's not authentic, but for me he worked really well. I love that he's somewhat cynical and mean, but also sympathetic. And I am a complete sucker for a story where the sincere, committed heroine convinces the jaded, somewhat dickish male sidekick to actually be her ally and friend. To me he seems like an unusually positive representation of a fat, long-haired, tattooed, brown-skinned man, though many of the negative comments I've seen complain that making him fat is insulting. And I was very taken with Maui's magical, animated tattoos, though possibly that hews a bit close to making a joke out of a religious practice.
If I stop to think about it, the story is a bit simple compared to some Disney films, perhaps pitched a bit younger? It's pretty much a linear sequence of Moana escaping dangers to reach her goal. It rarely seemed genuinely scary, admittedly this is watching as an adult, but I've seen Disney films where the peril seemed much more real. I liked that the film spent quite a long time setting the scene in her village of origin, and didn't hurry on to the adventure part. I liked Moana's relationship with her grandmother, though the deathbed and reappearance as a spirit guide are really sentimental and clichéd.
The scenery is very very pretty, but I thought some of the animation was a bit sub-par. It's partly the thing of female cartoon characters these days having to look like huge-eyed dolls with very little facial expression. But also, the storyline with the ocean choosing Moana and being her friend could have led to really interesting animations, and nearly all we get is the water standing up in a heap which nods or shakes its head. The animals that shapeshifter Maui turns into are also quite crude, by modern Disney standards at least. I generally thought the film did better at serious emotional impact than humour; I wasn't very convinced by Hei-hei the stupid chicken, or the knowing pitched-at-parents jokes about Moana as a Disney Princess ™
The music is AMAZING. Lin Manuel Miranda had a hand in it, and there's a mixture of stuff based on traditional Pacific Island music and more conventional Disney songs. I wanted to go straight out and buy the sound-track, and generally it reached a level that I haven't seen in many of the recent generation of Disney movies. Some of it's catchy and singable, some of it's emotionally moving, Cravalho's singing is really top-notch. I really hope it replaces Frozen as the ubiquitous Disney score.</strong>
So I'm thoroughly, thoroughly pleased I got to see this in the cinema, it's really won my heart in a big way.
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