So in the spirit of my Top 10 Best and Worst Movies of 2016 (look forward to it!), I headed over to the local motion-picture house to get me some writing material. Among them was Disney’s most recent release (and a recommendation in this very blog last month), hailing straight from the Polynesian islands, new princess on the block, Moana.
Some Background ———-
Moana is not Disney’s first attempt at tackling a minority in one of their feature films (can somebody say The Princess and the Frog? How about Pocahontas?) and when they set up to do so, they normally do it with a vengeance. Moana is a film rich with the culture of Polynesian and Hawaiian islands, and despite much discussion, there is no doubt that effort was put into preserving and enhancing the traditions the film highlights. Cast and soundtrack take deep care to honor the movie’s main setting, with voice actors who all have some sort of Pacific Islander heritage, and songs that include intricate lyrics in a Polynesian language that is actually spoken in the American Samoan Islands.
All in all, Moana paints a really complete picture of the world it’s trying to offer the viewers. It opens a new, innovative and interesting setting for Disney to explore and audiences to enjoy and learn about, all while shedding some light over the rich oral traditions and stories of the Polynesian communities, too long ignored in mainstream film.The movie tells the story of Moana, a young girl who struggles with her place in life and the responsibilities her father and her tribe have put on her shoulders. Much of it we already know: the struggle, the self-doubt, the moment of truth when the heart finally tells the young heroine what to do… Pretty basic Disney stuff. It’s old and it has holes, but we love it. Like most of Disney animated hits, filmmakers make Moana’s struggles personal enough that you can relate and care for her, that you shed a tear or two when she crosses a milestone, and don’t feel guilty because of the simple gladness you get when she comes out victorious at the end.
Moana is a likable character. She is caring, determined and kind, and displays a level of maturity that is quite alien to regular Disney princesses and I believe is very refreshing. She has a dream yes, but she doesn’t let this dream overcome her own responsibilities to her people. And even when she does decide to pursue it, it is always with an optimistic but practical mind that is willing to learn and face the challenges that are sure to come. Her quest is somewhat reminiscent of Rapunzel’s in Tangled, but she lacks the sometimes annoying naivete, and her attitude brushes on Brave‘s Merida, but without the spoiled rebelliousness and selfishness of the red-headed Scottish lass.
The rest of the characters do a good job of complementing her, especially Maui, demigod extraordinaire, but it’s Moana herself who holds the weight of most of the movie. It’s a refreshing new trend by Disney: a girl interesting enough that she can hold your attention throughout an entire film, without needing a love interest (or a sister) to help her. They first introduced this trend for Brave, and now for Moana it has definitely being perfected. Disney embracing the concept of woman empowerment after almost a century of damsel-in-distress-type heroines is definitely a plus in my opinion, so thumbs up for that.
The story, although simple, is well-thought and complete, with a surprising ending that is very moving and teaches about understanding and trust, all the time keeping the mysticism and subtle sense of surrealism of old oral legends.
Disney lovers will like Moana, and even those who are not avid fans of the animation giant will enjoy this movie’s well-crafted action and its clean, simple humor that leaves you chuckling all the way through. Will it stand beside its blockbuster princess predecessor, Frozen? Hard to say. Moana is an entirely different animal with entirely different aspirations. But what it’s obvious is that this brand-new Disney movie holds its own weight in the Disney universe, and hopefully it will become the gateway to many more exploring and voyaging to far lands and untold stories.