“The Ocean is Calling”
Directed by Ron Clements and John Musker
Starring Auli’i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Rachel House, Temuera Morrison, Jemaine Clement, Nicole Scherzinger and Alan Tudyk
Moana (Cravalho) is the heir apparent to her father, Chief Tui of Motonui (Morrison). Her people live a life contained on their island, which provides all that they need… until the fish leave the sea around the island and the crops and coconuts begin to die. Always adventurous, Moana suggests fishing in the more dangerous waters beyond the reef, and then follows her grandmother’s (House) stories to take a boat from the long-forgotten voyaging past of the tribe, and seek for the demigod Maui (Johnson).
She finds Maui, and with the help of the Ocean she learns from him how to sail as they seek to retrieve his magical fishhook from the crab-god Tamatoa (Clement), then return the Heart of Ta Feti the Mother Island, which Maui stole long, long ago and which is guarded by the lava demon Te Ka. During the voyage she finds her own identity, between reckless youth and responsibility, and helps the vain demigod to achieve his own transition from showboat to true hero.
What’s wrong with it?
I got nothing. Well, very little. There is a proliferation of American accents, even among the actors of Polynesian descent.
Also, they get attacked by the Kakamora. According to Mythology Dictionary, these are: ‘Spirits in Melanesia, living in trees and caves. These beings are envisaged as humanlike, with long nails, varying in size from a few inches to about five feet in height. They sometimes kill humans and eat their flesh.’ In this film they are killer coconuts. I am not even kidding. It’s kind of a big-lipped alligator moment.
What’s right with it?
Holy crap this film is gorgeous. I mean, just… it is exceptionally pretty to look at, with some of the most amazing water animation ever.
Moana herself is perhaps the strongest Disney Princess to date, and possibly the only one to be given the role of solving a problem that she had no part in causing. Her desire to go beyond the reef is not driven purely by curiosity or a sense of adventure, but is also part and parcel of a sense of responsibility. Her actions are both daring and responsible.
The film has a great script, with a core story spun from Polynesian creation myths, especially those of the culture hero Maui, and ascribes those myths entirely human motivations.
I’m in two minds about Maui. On the one hand there’s a stereotype of overweight Polynesian men, and on the other, have you ever seen a hero who looks like that? Moana also pushes the envelope, sliding into the lower percentiles of a healthy weight range.
Heihei the chicken is… kind of pointless. Sort of like what you’d get if a pet chicken was your sidekick in real life. Also pretty funny, albeit perpetuating a stereotype of stupid chickens.
As is the trend, matters are not resolved with violence, but with courage, ingenuity and heart.
How bad is it really?
It’s really good. The production is glorious, the heroine tough in a genuine and characterful way, and with none of the unmitigated selfishness of certain princesses. The songs are not as individually awesome as those in Frozen, but for my money service the narrative better and are part of a more complete movie.
Best bit (if such there is)?
There are a lot of cracking scenes in the film, including a giant crab dancing to his own Bowiesque number in the dark while covered in bioluminescent algae which looks as if it is made in an entirely different animation style. My favourite, however, is when Moana realises that the future is in her hands, with or without Maui.
What’s up with…?
- The Kakamora? Really?
- Maui’s fishhook? The hell does he fish with it? Oh, right; islands.
Production values – It’s so shiny! 1
Dialogue and performances – The American accents and a few lapses into overly familiar Disney speech patterns temper the exploration of an often unfamiliar culture, but overall the script is excellent and the performances top notch. 5
Plot and execution – The plot is simple, and the movie follows the narrative thread well. 2
Randomness – The Kakamora. I mean… they’re coconuts in spiky Mad Max barges. 7
Waste of potential – Expectations in the New Disney Renaissance are high; Moana delivers. 3