Sunday, 11 December 2016

Review: Moana

Moana (3D)
Cert: PG / 113 mins / Dir. Ron Clements & John Musker / Trailer

If I had a time-machine, I think I'd go back to 2002 and wait outside the busiest cinemas to comfort audiences leaving The Scorpion King. "Listen," I'd say to them. "I'm from the future, and I'm here to tell you that everything's going to be alright. Well, not the economy, politics, society at large or the permanent incandescence of opinions on the internet. But Dwayne Johnson, that's going to be fine. Yes, I'm fully aware of what you've just watched, but rest assured that a day will come when his name in the credits of a film will make you smile. I mean not in Hercules, obviously, and you might want to avoid the Doom and G.I. Joe movies on general principal. But have faith and patience, and you will learn that The Rock has a natural comic-timing, even when he's in a relatively 'straight' role. Look, just wait fourteen years before you see him animated in another fantasy movie, okay? Well, he does a Disney musical and he sings in it, and it's great… no, I am not on meth, I have a time machine. No, really! Okay, suit yourself, guys. Yeah, enjoy San Andreas…"

Which is largely why I should not be allowed a time-machine. Anyway…

Dwayne Johnson is the best thing in this movie. And it's a very good movie. Structurally, along the lines of Disney's 90s-era, with the eponymous Polynesian chieftain's daughter (ie Princess™) being set on a quest which takes her far from the insular island that's been her childhood home. Quickly learning that she is the chosen-one, she's taken from the overbearing protection of her father and warm mentorship of her grandmother, through a series of challenges and obstacles with a useful sidekick and a magical artefact, towards a climactic showdown in which she can only triumph by being herself, rather than applying brute-force. This is The Hero's Journey. The real tale as old as time, and one which never tires of being told.

From an animation point of view, the film looks absolutely flawless as you'd expect, even if the character design feels a little uninspiring (given that it's a full-on Disney production). Similarly, the story is punctuated by songs from the central players (although it's by no means 'a musical'). And while they're never unwelcome there's an over-produced blandness to the numbers which fights (successfully) against the actual songwriting and adds to the air of overall homogenisation hanging about the film. I'd hoped that perhaps this film would be doing for Polynesian island folklore what Kubo did for Japan. Alas, not.

And in addition to the mono-myth template, I also picked up quite a few more specific nods to the Galaxy Far, Far Away*1. From the moments of "What's in the cave..?" to waking, upside-down about to be eaten by a creature and 'there's always a bigger fish'. The strongest of these would probably have to be Johnson's performance as demigod Maui, who's basically Han Solo for the entire story, even down to the "Ya-hooOO! which Dwayne's got down perfectly.

But despite my eyebrow raising at the things which have been borrowed and added to the mix, Moana is its own film, and one which should stand shoulder-to-shoulder with its studio-mates in the animated pantheon. It's a timeless tale in the truest sense, brought to life by the team best qualified and experienced for the job. Inspiringly written, beautifully animated, frequently funny and constantly engaging...

I only wish the film had more of its own identity and less of Disney's…

So, watch this if you enjoyed?
Well, I'm going to go ahead and say Kubo and the Two Strings.
Narratively, they hold the same values and standards, although the latter is the superior movie ;)

Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
The scale of the cinematography will work better on the big screen, but the heart of the story will be fine on any size.

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
Just about, yes.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
From the performers I'm familiar with, not quite.
From the ones I experienced for the first time here, keep up the good work

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?

Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
No, but that 'hawk-screech' sound effect seems to be used once every seven minutes or so.

Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: This film features the voices of Jango Fett and K-2SO.

(although the voice-cast of Moana is pleasingly diverse from an ethnicity point of view, Tem Morrison appears to be the only person in the Southern Hemisphere that doesn't have an American accent. Rachel House tries hard as the heroine's grandmother Tala, but ends up with one toe in the Pacific and the other nine somewhere in Southern California…)

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 Although, don't I always?

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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