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Posts Tagged ‘notperfect’

poster_moanaI love where Disney is going with its animated films. For years the mega studio has been allowing room for its material to address themes kids truly need to be exposed to, much like the Disney films I remember seeing when I was young. Moana fits into this category; however, when you’re trying to climb to new heights with your material, sometimes, you stumble.

Moana, being less than perfect is that stumble.

Since being an infant, Moana has been drawn to the sea beyond the reef of the island she calls home. Later in life, driven by her father to take over rule of the island, Moana, voiced by Auli’i Cravalho, still finds the sea beckoning her for a mission. On the advice of her estranged grandmother, Moana sets out to complete the story of an ancient Polynesian legend of how a demigod named Maui, voiced by Dwayne Johnson (Central Intelligence), stole the heart of the life goddess Te Fiti which was lost in the ocean during a great battle between Maui and the lava god. Moana sets across the ocean to find Maui and force him to replace the heart to save her island from a mysterious darkness slowly killing it.

With every new major Disney release, one thing is guaranteed; songs. You basically have to expect a musical. Why wouldn’t you? And that’s fine. While the musical movie genre is practically dead once again, Disney has been the only company to continue producing them and have success. My problem this time around is the songs lacked the spark which I expect from most musicals.

Maybe it’s just the theatrical training I received in college, but I’ve always felt and been told songs in musicals are generally ways to express a character’s inner motivations and conflicts, while book scenes focused on the main plot points and outer motivations and conflicts of its characters. Many cast musical numbers express the collective conscious of the group. For example–for those of you who have seen Little Shop of Horrors movie musical with Rick Moranis as Seymour–the opening number of Little Shop had the characters singing about what life is like on skid row, setting the tone for the movie. The musical Rent is the same example; the characters all come together to sing about how broke they are and what they are aspiring to be in general.

For the most part, the musical numbers in Moana do the same; a musical number about how life on the island provides and there is no need to venture out, another number for Moana expressing her need to be whom she knows she is inside, yadda, yadda, yadda. However, the musical numbers themselves lacked the spark other Disney musicals have nailed in the past. It simply didn’t have melodies which people could take home with them. Mulan’s musical number expressing her inner desires, that is memorable. Moana’s, I can’t even recall how it goes at the moment and I just saw the movie a couple days ago. A Whole New World, Beauty and the Beast, Just Can’t Wait to be King; these are all memorable musical numbers which stay with you in a time tested fashion. Moana’s numbers lack that and dare I say are even cheesy in spots.

The only numbers, albeit still not that memorable, which I thought were at least effective where Maui’s introduction number “You’re Welcome,” and the “I’m Shiny” number from the massive monster crab Tomatoa, brilliantly voiced by Jemaine Clement (Rio). These numbers were fun and expressed exactly what the viewer needed to know about these characters.

As far as the placement of the musical numbers, and I’m sorry to spend so many inches on this aspect of the movie, if you couldn’t tell from my tone in previous paragraphs, tend to make the movie very formulaic and not so original.

The only other aspect of the film I did not like is what came after the climax. The movie came to a climax which included a strong plot twist–no spoilers here–but after that climax, the denouement of the film fell into the deadly realm of the hoakey. Seeing Te Fiti at long last was so less strong than any adverse character Moana and Maui faced to reach her. It really hurt the film. There were so many book scenes which were executed so strong that when we come to Te Fiti scene, it fell so short the standard the film otherwise established.

That brings me to the strengths of the film. There were several. The theme alone is always one kids need to be hearing on a regular basis; be yourself. The characters were also strong, well written with clearly defined motivations and conflicts, inner and outer. The adversity scenes were extremely strong and effective which helped keep this thin folklore storyline afloat and moving forward with the viewer engaged. In fact, I don’t remember a single scene without a musical number that wasn’t necessary. That fault came with most of the songs.

Disney’s formula for success also comes with an emphasis on the breakout sidekick characters. For Moanna it looked like it was going to be a pet pig, but soon it turned out to be a mentally challenged chicken which provided some laughs but had a little too many of them for what the film needed at the bird’s expense. However, uniquely presented for Maui, that character’s sidekick was an ongoing tattoo of himself on his chest which served as his conscience at times. This animated tattoo was a great addition to the Maui character which gave a sponge bath to an otherwise flat-footed formulaic Disney vehicle. 

In closing, I liked the movie as a whole. It disappointed at the end and the songs didn’t exactly elevate the story as anticipated, but it’s a quality tale of folklore for the whole family. 

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