Moana Review

In typical Hollywood fashion, Disney has whitewashed another movie. Moana was sold as a Polynesian-inspired musical adventure. What I got was a pasteurized cautionary tale about being an over-worked white man in Southern California. As if the world needed any more of those.

To make matters worse, Moana is an obvious ripoff of Pixar’s Inside Out. Using animated organs to convey emotions would have been original five years ago.

It’s no wonder the theater industry is struggling! Why would anybody continue to spend their hard-earned money on such a been-there-done-that, white-privilege-filled piece of dreck?

When I went to the box office to demand my money back PLUS compensation for my time and trouble, they smirked and scolded me, saying that the movie I just saw is something called a “short” and that Moana would be starting immediately after it concluded.

… well they should have made it more obvious.

Regardless, I demanded a free pass to the next showing of Moana because I had now missed the remainder of the “short” and I had actually been enjoying it. I found it really relatable to my life. It gave a voice to my struggle and I wasn’t sure Moana would be able to do the same.

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Moana tells the story of a little princess who dreams of finding her prince charming. From a young age she has been brainwashed by society to believe that she can only find happiness through a man. Her only responsibilities in life are to look pretty and raise children.

Wait– I may have gotten that wrong. I was a little late getting back to my seat after the theater employees created that “short” debacle and may have interjected my generalized assumptions for Disney princesses.

Apparently Moana, while still being a princess, is more infatuated with being a qualified village leader than she is with boys and makeup. Her origin story is filled with love, laughter and pain. She is determined to be herself.

Not once does she swoon over a hunky island boy. Not once does she become a damsel in distress. All she wants to do is explore the ocean to find a rescue her people from certain demise.

I must have returned to the wrong theater. I mean, is this even a Disney movie?!

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Finally Moana meets Maui, a thick hunk of a man played by the obnoxiously charismatic Dwayne Johnson. I was primed and ready to immediately dismiss Johnson’s performance as Maui. There has to be something this man can’t do and voicing a Disney animated character with a musical number had to be it. He’s gonna stick out like a sore thumb.

… and now Maui is instantly pleasing everybody in the crowd with his undeniably charming performance.

ARE YOU KIDDING ME? There has to be just one thing Johnson can’t do. He can’t be this great at everything. He can sing. He can make you laugh. He can tug on your heartstrings. He can be brash and nuanced with his voice. He is Mr. Perfect.

But at least Moana finally found her prince charming and we, the audience, are going to get our Disney love story. Who could resist such a chivalrous man of action? Surely it is Maui who will save the day and rescue Moana from harm.

… and now Maui’s weak mental fortitude is collapsing and he needs Moana to come to his rescue and the only relationship they form is one of pure friendship and respect. This is not the Disney I grew up with.

At least Moana is a much, much better singer than Maui.

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If you’re keeping track at home you’ve learned a few things: AMC staff are rude liars, Moana refuses to settle for Disney norms and the movie is satisfying every emotion. There you go folks, a perfect movie.

… wait. It’s the middle of the movie and my mind isn’t connected with the screen. Why am I suddenly not feeling as emotionally engaged?

When the first act of Moana is perfectly balanced emotionally and entrenched in Polynesian culture it  may be easy to feel like the middle of the movie is a let down. The story becomes more formulaic and the set pieces feel like required steps as opposed to naturally occurring progress.

The second act isn’t bad by any measure. It doesn’t slog or fall apart. It just lacks the perfect composition found in the beginning of the movie and relies on buddy action movie tropes. It’s something the rest of Moana isn’t: normal.

And this may be controversial, but have some complaints with the soundtrack.

GASP!

All of Lin-Manuel Meranda’s songs are good. Some are great. All of the musical score is good. Some of it is great. But there’s this itsy-bitsy issue in my mind that I can’t overlook. I believe that Moana is hitting on every cylinder when Polynesian cultured is fully embraced, visually and auditorily. So while I like all of the music, not all of the musical moments serve the movie as well as others.

Moana isn’t perfect?! EAT THAT DISNEY!

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But remember the incredibly woven structure of the first act when the visual art, music and cultural themes were working in perfect harmony? Yeah, those coconut fibers return for the final act to form a completely satisfactory emotional payoff.

In twenty-plus years, Moana will be viewed with the reference currently given to films like The Little Mermaid, Beauty & the Beast, Aladdin, and Lion King. This is a defining moment for Disney Animation. They are reaching heights not experienced since the 90s. And, dare I say it? Moana is far beyond anything Pixar has released in quite some time.

Now if you’d excuse me, I’m going to go complain to the teenage girls working at the box office until they agree to give me a free pass. I’d like to see Moana again.

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