Further Thoughts: Moana


So a lot of people are saying that while Moana definitely looks and (at least to an extent) sounds nice (I especially love the use of Pacific Islander vocals and music), the story is too familiar and/or has some pacing issues. For some people it’s only a minor gripe, but for others it seriously harms the movie.

And if you’ve seen my previous review, yeah, that’s kind of a problem for me as well.

It has one of the problems I had with The Princess and the Frog: the setting. So much of the movie takes place on a damn boat in the middle of the open ocean. We rarely go to other islands (it would have been really cool if we got to see other villages and how the curse was affecting them, and it would have raised the stakes even higher) or even go diving into the ocean; we just watch these characters go sailing. Whenever something happens, it feels inconsequential. What was the point of the Kakamora scene? We get some substance with the Lalotai/Tamatoa scene, but after we get the hook, we never deal with Tamatoa again. And I wouldn’t mind except there’s an entire song sequence that makes the character really cool, but we don’t see him again (except for a comedic end credits scene). Wouldn’t it have been more interesting to have Tamatoa actively pursuing the heroes and preventing them from reaching their goal?

I could not get invested in Moana’s character, nor could I really relate to her. Her character design is beautiful and I like how she’s very physical and is a capable leader. But I couldn’t really sympathize with her when she asked “what is wrong with me?” so dramatically and lamented on how she can’t be a perfect daughter. You live a charmed life where everyone adores you, and it’s not like you have something to seriously be ashamed of. If people were saying she’s weird or doubting her ability to lead, or if there was the implication that she might not be straight or neurotypical, that would make sense, but that’s not the case. Why couldn’t she just say “when I’m chief, I’m going to lift the ban and we’ll all go sailing?” The movie makes it clear that it’s mostly her father who enacted the ‘no sailing’ rule, so why does she have to keep it? Why did she have to wait until the end of the movie to realize that she could be both? Basically, I just couldn’t get behind her when she started to doubt herself, and that prevented me from really LOVING her character.

Also, when Maui’s fish hook is cracked, he angrily tells her “the ocean told you you were special and you believed it” and “I’m not killing myself so you can prove you’re something you’re not.” She feels sad, but it’s okay because within a few minutes she’s all “I AM MOANA!” and off to put the heart back.

Which leads me to my next big gripe: people recover from shockingly bad things waaaaaaaay too quickly in this movie. Whereas Hiro and Ralph take their time and gradually and naturally recover from their mental woes, the characters in Moana bounce back immediately after something horrible.

I’ve already talked about how Maui, who clearly has mental issues, doesn’t really get any proper closure (he wants to be loved for who he is, and while his reputation is restored, we don’t see if people actually love him again), but I’ve also noticed how Tui is (realistically) traumatized after losing his best friend after sailing beyond the reef, but by the end of the movie he’s suddenly very accepting of way finding without any onscreen character development. Moana almost drowns when sailing for the first time but it doesn’t traumatize her whatsoever, and she is a little too calm and accepting when her gramma dies.

But while those might be personal issues, a lot of people will still say the movie is disappointing, familiar, typical Disney Princess, dull, etc.

Well there’s probably a reason for that.

See, this isn’t a John Musker and Ron Clements film. Not really. While directing, they apparently focused more on the look and animation of the film. Don Hall and Chris Williams were brought in later to resolve story issues. There were story issues because, probably, this movie was written by NINE PEOPLE (including Taika Waititi, who wrote the first draft that was subsequently rewritten). Jared Bush wrote the final screenplay, but Pamela Ribbon, Aaron Kandell, Jordan Kandell, and the four directors all had input on the story. That’s a pretty big writing team! Plus they also had to revise the story several times to keep it culturally accurate/sensitive. So it begs the question: whose story are we REALLY telling?

And remember, this movie was originally supposed to come out in 2018, but was bumped up to 2016. (I’m not sure what the exact reason is, but according to some, it’s to help ride the wave of Frozen.) It should be easy to see that maybe some things were possibly rushed.

And of course, there’s also the fact that this is, ultimately, a Disney Princess  TM film. Disney Princess TM films are allowed to add some new twists and ideas (as this movie does), but ultimately, they have to tread certain territory in order to remain marketable and commercially viable. Non-princess movies tend to be more subversive and take more risks.

Yeah. Things are starting to click into place now.

Despite all the problems, I cannot really say that I hate Moana or that it’s a bad film. I just can’t call it a fave, even though I really wanted it to be. This could’ve been a masterpiece, and it almost is…but not quite. Maybe the next Disney films will deliver instead.

Author: Laura Alexander

My name is Laura, I use they/them pronouns, and I'm a college student with Asperger's currently enrolled at the Social Service Worker Program at Sheridan College. I have a passion for film and animation, social issues, and helping others, all of which will be featured on The Flying Red Robot blog. Please read the about page before commenting or following. "Big Hero 6" is my favourite movie.