Sunday, January 1, 2017


I will admit I first had some hesitation to see Moana, if only because of the bits that the trailers decided to focus on, which gave me the impression it would be extremely silly. However, after attending a seminar about the movie featuring animation legend Eric Goldberg, who had a hand in the movie’s production, my opinion changed and I became very interested in seeing it. Though I wasn’t able to actually see it until the very end of 2016 due to the high number of movies I had seen that year, I still didn’t expect a perfect movie going in, however I came out having seen what turned out to be a very well-executed musical about Pacific Island mythology.

From a young age, Moana Waialiki (Louise Bush) has been attracted to the sea, wishing to explore the ocean beyond the island shores of Motunui in spite of constant warnings from her father, Chief Tui (Temuera Morrison). Years later, Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) makes the discovery that her tribe once explored the ocean, however that changed once the heart of island goddess Te Fiti was stolen by the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson), causing darkness to fall upon the ocean and slowly destroy all life. After having received the heart of Te Fiti, a magical stone, from her grandmother Tala (Rahcel House), Moana makes it her mission to find Maui so he can return the heart to its rightful place and restore balance to the world.

The story itself is told at a good pace and there’s some pretty clever humor throughout, although it does only once briefly resort to a bladder joke for a quick laugh. A lot of the humor is otherwise found involving the actions of Heihei, an idiot rooster that ends up as a stowaway on Moana’s journey. While I’m not an expert on Pacific Island culture, I can say that, from whatever I do know, the story is an interesting take on Pacific Island mythos while still having its own identity as a well-written plot.

The animation of Moana is really amazing, particularly in the animation of hair and water (especially the latter). During a section of the story involving a fight against a giant coconut crab, there is a really interesting display of shining and glow-in-the-dark effects, fitting in with the mood set by that segment’s song (more on that later). Even more impressive is the animation for Mini Maui, a smaller figure within Maui’s body tattoos that acts as Maui’s conscience, considering that all of its actions are actually traditional animation. Having gone in with that knowledge, I was amazed by how Mini Maui was able to interact with not only Maui’s other tattoos in what presumably a combination of a traditional and CG space, but also Maui himself, who is animated in CG, and so it made me appreciate the effort that must have gone into making these seamless interactions possible.

Maui (Dwayne Johnson), animated in CG, with the tattooed Mini Maui,
animated traditionally.

Being a musical, you’d expect the music to be good, and in this case that is correct. While there seemed to only be a handful of songs, each of them is well-done and help explain things about the characters without interfering with the plot; a particular favorite of mine is “You’re Welcome,” a song about Maui that explains his view on the world and reveals Dwayne Johnson’s singing talents (plus, in context, it shows another impressive blend of traditional and CG animation). While also pretty okay, “Shiny,” sung by the coconut crab, Tamatoa (Jemaine Clement), seems to drag a little (it overall lasts about 3+ minutes), though it still doesn’t do any major harm to the narrative flow. The voice acting itself is also well-casted, especially since most of the voice actors they did cast could also sing in scenes that required it (the exception being Chief Tui, as Christopher Jackson provides his singing voice). One interesting behind-the-scenes tidbit is that actual Pacific Islanders were among at least a majority of the voice cast for authenticity (I only found out through hearing this that Dwayne Johnson is himself a Pacific Islander, specifically Samoan).

Preceding the main feature is a new, Inside Out-esque short titled Inner Workings, about the goings-on of a man’s body as he prepares for a normal working day while simultaneously wishing to indulge in outside pleasures along the way. The short itself is actually pretty good animation-wise, as it tells the entire story without any dialogue, and it manages to be pretty funny throughout. My only issue is with the presence of a couple bladder jokes, including one similar to the one present in Moana, though this didn’t take much away from my overall opinion.

Overall, Moana is a very enjoyable Disney movie. It’s truly amazing to see what can be done with CG in terms of water physics, plus it’s nice to see the integration of traditional animation in an interesting way. The songs in the movie are also well-written and largely memorable, making for one of Disney’s better musical features and one of their better movies in recent years. There is also an after-credits scene in this one, so be sure to stay until the end.

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