Finally. After months and months of suffering and waiting, it came, and I got to see it.
It was okay.
Yeah, that’s how I feel. I was expecting this movie to be a masterpiece in the vein of Beauty and the Beast, but I was underwhelmed. I still enjoyed it, but I felt like it could have been more.
Let me clear: the animation and effects were absolutely stunning (the lava demon, Te Ka, is a masterpiece of animation onto itself), the music was fantastic, and there were some truly beautiful and thrilling scenes (especially the climax). But it had some serious problems.
If you don’t want to read spoilers, let me just say, in terms of John Musker/Ron Clements movies, it’s better than The Princess and the Frog, but not as good as Aladdin. In terms of Disney Revival movies, it’s legions better than Frozen but nowhere near as good as Wreck-It Ralph or Big Hero 6. Of course I’m extremely biased, so make what you will of that. My recommendation is that if you want to see a SPECTACLE, then this movie is great. But if you want something with substance…you’re not going to get it.
My issue with the pacing is that there are some parts of the story that get really slow (especially the entire first act). But then again, I realize the movies I cling onto are films with brisk, livelier paces, so I could be biased. What I really have problems with, is the characterization. And with that, here’s my spoiler review below.
The main problem I found was that it introduces characters that you think are going to serve a bigger role, but they don’t.
Gramma Tala dies at the end of the first act, and it feels kind of sudden and forced. The actual death is handled rather nicely, but until we get to one crucial scene, it doesn’t feel totally necessary. That’s a minor gripe.
Then there’s Moana’s father, Chief Tui, who is very reminiscent of King Triton in terms of personality, but then we’re given a reason. When he and a friend go out beyond the reef in their youth, they get caught in the storm. There’s an entire flashback scene devoted to this. Who’s this friend? What’s his name? Why on earth are we supposed to care about him and his relationship with Tui? I have no idea. I wouldn’t mind except, again, we’re given a whole flashback scene where we’re shown all the details, not just a line of dialogue. Why go through all the trouble of delving into Chief Tui’s backstory when you’re not going to give him any more character development or screen time? But I guess that’s better than Sina, Moana’s mother, who barely gets any screen time at all.
Pua the pig is absolutely adorable, and he plays a big part in the first act, but he completely disappears for the rest of the movie until the very end. Why? You go out of your way to introduce a cute little pig and you don’t even use him? I guess they couldn’t fit him in with Hei Hei (who is genuinely funny), but if that’s the case, why include him at all?
Then there are the antagonists. The Kakamora scene is genuinely creative and exciting, but they weren’t crucial to the story. Then there’s Tamatoa the crab, who is the first Disney villain in awhile to behave like an actual Disney Villain. He’s deliciously nasty, narcissistic, and over-the-top, and has a villain song! Finally, we get a taste of the classic Disney Villain the vein of Maleficent and Jafar and Ursula and the like we all know and love!
…for five minutes! My family complained that he added nothing to the story (in fact he slowed it down) and could have been written out!
Now there’s Te Ka, the main antagonist. This character actually does serve a purpose and plays a strong role. Unfortunately, that role should’ve been a lot bigger.
But that kind of adds to the problem: Moana and Maui themselves.
They do have good chemistry together, their relationship is nice, though it’s not as heartwarming or deep as Aladdin and the Genie or Hiro and Baymax. That might be because of the character development problems with them.
Now, I’ll give Moana credit: she’s not afraid to get physical. She’s a Disney Princess who’s an athlete. She does all sorts of moves and maneuvers that are pretty awesome. And Auli’i Cravalho, bless her, did a phenomenal job voicing her. She’s also very sassy and independent but also cares about her village and wants to do what’s best for them, not just for herself. The only problem? One of her biggest character traits is that she goes “what’s wrong with me?” and “what’s my place in the world” and “who am I?”
And the thing is…we already have characters like that. You know a character who’s already almost exactly like that?
The minute she said “I wish I could be the perfect daughter”, my ability to connect to her character stopped. I thought to myself “your parents love you and acknowledge that you will be chief. You have no right to be saying you wish you could be the ‘perfect daughter'”.
Personally, I think Moana would’ve been a stronger character if she was already confident in her sense of self and identity. I’m not saying Moana’s a weak character or that I hate her, but I wish she could’ve stood out a little more.
As for Maui…he’s my favourite character in the whole movie, and I actually think he got the best characterization, but I have one thing that disappointed me.
See, he has this genuinely heartbreaking and tragic backstory: he was abandoned as a child (his own mother threw him into the sea), and he needed to provide to humans in order to feel like he was worthwhile. When he explains this to Moana, he’s not crying buckets of tears or bitter, he just sounds…empty, almost. Later, when his hook is damaged, he reaches his boiling point and states that without his hook, he is nothing, and leaves Moana bitterly. So right away, you realize this character is mentally ill. What happens?
He comes back for the climax. No reason, no explanation (other than the implication that his tattoos forced him to), he just says “hook or no hook, I’m Maui”.
Umm…what? No, no, you can’t do that. This character has serious issues. You can’t introduce them, use them in the plot, and then just abandon it and have the character be all better. No no no no no no NO. I do love that he bravely tried to make up for what he did and apologized (something that they should’ve done for Elsa), but I REALLY wish we had something to indicate he’d try to get help or take some time to heal or whatever. And what stung me is that, in the junior novel, he openly acknowledges his problems that he needs to work on. Why wasn’t it in the movie? So I was upset about that.
So that’s the main reason why I couldn’t get into the movie like I wished I could. I acknowledged going into the movie that I probably wouldn’t love the movie as much as Big Hero 6 (which honestly helped save my life even before it came out; that’s a tough act to follow), but I was hoping it would be one of my favourites. Right now, I don’t think it is.
But as it stands, Moana is still a really good movie, and something everyone should see at least once. And I’m sure there will be people who got something out of it more than me, and that’s what matters more.