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Review: Moana

Auli'i Cravalho stars in Disney's MOANA

Moana is the typical Disney movie of this particular era. There are plenty who will take that as good news, but there are many who may not. While what is being consistently released to the public by them isn’t bad, it’s more than repetitive at this point even in this case when they opted for a more “colorful” attempt at what Hollywood loves to call inclusion.

The film centers around Moana (Auli’i Cravahlo), a feisty young woman looking to go beyond the limitations set upon her by her father. Although she loves her father and respects the rules he has for the island, her adventurous won’t allow her to turn away from what she thinks may be her true calling. After coming to learn more about the rich history of her people, Moana decides to take on a daring task that will allow her to see what’s out in the world beyond the ocean as well as save the people and culture that she belongs to.

As I said at the start, Moana is typical of what we see from this studio, but it’s also being surprisingly bland. With the exception of its environment and it centering on a handful of Polynesian characters, there’s really nothing here for audiences to grab on to. Yes, there’s the whole “female empowerment” thing that some feel that we need to see more of in film and entertainment, but some of us have come to require more than that at this point.

Animated movies or otherwise, we get that message quite a bit these days. I understand why some may feel it’s important for little girls to see it, but it’s hard to understand why we have to get it over and over again in the same format. Frozen had the same kind of themes and pretty much the same characters in some ways, and that was only a couple of years ago. It would behoove Disney to keep trying to make stuff like Zootopia (the best animated film of 2016) if they’re going to keep using this angle. You can say that one fits in with the rest of this stuff, but they actually bought depth and substance to the table.

Ultimately this is becoming a bare and simplistic approach to filmmaking that will eventually come to be known as generic if they don’t change things up a bit more. The way I feel about this stuff is similar to how I feel about various films that spread across genres and studios. Even if you only look at Marvel movies, you’ll see that Disney’s approach is similar there as well. They found something that works, and now they’re going to keep making them in slightly different forms until people stop watching them. This is fine from a financial standpoint, but there’s a not exactly a huge reward from an artistic point of view.

Even though all of this stuff introduces different characters, we know the stories and the outcomes that soon follow. Back when Disney consistently made great animated movies, you had features such as The Lion King, Aladdin, Pocahontas and Beauty and the Beast. All different movies that also provided generational entertainment that stood tall while helping fill the wallets of the execs pushing this stuff out. That’s what they should be doing, but instead of that, they’re going for the path of repackaging that’s working for more than enough people.

Anyway, I think it’s about time I look at the actual quality of Moana. Like a lot of other stuff they’re releasing to the masses, this isn’t horrible, but it’s a rather insipid feature that is easy to forget. It would have been nice if there was more to the whole inclusion thing. Doing so would have allowed it to fully embrace the truly diverse characteristics that a culture like the one seen here provides. There are large amounts of material here to do that due to American studios never have never really used by any of it from what I remember.

Outside of its visuals, not a whole lot impressed me. Other than this reminding me of Frozen a good bit, the flaws of the movie become even more obvious when they try to be funny. There are countless attempts at achieving that goal, but they manage to miss far more than they should. Because of this, Moana feels more silly than comedic. That’s never a good thing in my mind, but maybe there’s a chance that its target audience will be okay with it. It is for children after all, right?

In terms of actual characters, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s Maui character is pretty useless overall. I guess they paid him just to add a big name as a selling point in order to gain some attention. They really didn’t need his character, because he doesn’t do anything except help get the plot moving in the beginning. Once that’s done, they might has well have just left him on the island by himself since he serves no purpose and literally shouldn’t even be in the movie.

I had a difficult time finding much to like about Moana. It ends up being the same Disney story about the same Disney princess that’s been popping up lately. With Marvel, Star Wars and all of their animated pictures, it’s clear that Disney is going to keep relying on the same formulas that work. I’m just wondering how long is it going to take before it becomes stale and fans get tired of it. Eventually, they will eventually, but for now, sit back, relax and pay for the same stuff you’ve already paid for multiple times before.

Ron Clements
John Musker

Auli’i Cravahlo
Dwayne Johnson

Film Length: 96 minutes

Release Date: November 23, 2016

Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures

  • Score - 4/10
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