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Greetings and wel(ow)come to this month’s (ow) review of (ow) Disney’s latest animated (ow) feature Mo(ow)ana. I hope you’re (ow) as excited as I am (ow).
Have you ever had carpal tunnel, Cynicism?
How could I forget?
Don’t worry, I got this. Frankly it’s my own fault anyway. Remember how in school the teacher would make you copy lines starting with “I will not” for hours so you’d never do what you did to earn that punishment again? I set out to do that before writing this review of Moana so that way my fair judgement wouldn’t be clouded by…certain musical preferences.
There’s no point in repeating how much 2016 sucked donkey balls, but I can rest easy knowing what a red letter year it was for the world’s foremost musical laureate, Lin-Manuel Miranda. He was already established on the Broadway circuit for his Tony-winning show In The Heights and providing an authentic Spanish translation for the Puerto Rican Sharks in the 2009 revival of West Side Story, but the runaway success of Hamilton quickly established him as the poetic voice of our time. It’s no surprise that Disney scooped him up as quickly as possible. When I found out he was going to be writing the songs for Moana, my excitement for this movie tripled. In addition to that, Lin is scheduled to voice Gizmoduck in the Ducktales reboot, play
Bert 2.0 Jack in the upcoming Mary Poppins sequel, and work with Alan Menken on new songs for the live-action Little Mermaid remake. Lin is already a major Disney fan and proud of it (he even named his son Sebastian), so on top of winning all the Tonys and Emmys and Grammys and Pulitzers, working with Disney is a dream come true for him. And once you hear the songs from Moana, you know he put his damndest into making them worthy of being sung along with the classic tunes he grew up with. The best part? He succeeded. Had it not been for La La Land he most likely would have become a PEGOT winner five months ago. To come so far in such a short amount of time with his talent and work ethic, the man freaking deserves it.
But I can’t attribute all of Moana’s success to Lin. Not only is there a crack team of animators, effects artists, and storyboard artists that would take too long to name individually, but after a nearly ten-year absence from Disney animation, John Musker and Ron Clements have returned to the director’s chair. These two guys are pretty much responsible for the Disney Renaissance AND the current Revival period we’re in, having provided their trademark knack for story and humor to The Great Mouse Detective, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Hercules, Treasure Planet, and The Princess and the Frog. Despite their efforts to make Moana Disney’s first feature fully animated in Meander, which near-seamlessly combines hand-drawn and computer animation (and was used to create the Oscar-winning short Paperman), they were forced to compromise and make it all CGI – with one welcome exception. This marks their first foray into the medium, but does that mean visual quality is put before story and character? Can it be considered worthy of being a Musker/Clements movie, let alone a Disney movie? Let’s find out.
So the film opens with a singer (Olivia Tugola) and a choir singing in a foreign tongue.
Tala (Rachel House), grandmother to our protagonist, tells the story of the mother island and creator of all life, Te Fiti, and how the shapeshifting demigod Maui stole her Heart in order to possess its great power. Unfortunately removing the Heart begins to trigger the destruction of Te Fiti’s island and causes a powerful lava demon named Te Ka to attack him in order to steal the Heart for itself. Te Ka and Maui fight, but for all his power Maui is no match for her. His fish hook, the source of his magic, and the Heart of Te Fiti are lost to the ocean. From then on Te Ka’s deadly influence has spread, corrupting the seas and killing islands. Tala concludes her story, which she is recounting to a group of children, saying that unless one brave soul steps forward to find the Heart, make a perilous journey to bring Maui back to Te Fiti and fix what he broke, the world will be forever cloaked in darkness and decay.
Moana’s father Chief Tui insists that there’s nothing to worry about, their island is perfectly safe, there’s no need to adventure beyond the reef and all that hokum about Te Fiti and rising temperatures is liberal propaganda. While he and his mother argue, young Moana sneaks out to the beach to play. She finds a shell washed up on the shore but is caught between taking it before the tide does and helping a baby turtle avoid predators to reach the sea. Moana chooses the latter and the ocean rewards her by taking her on a tour of the reef.
All right, gotta take some time to talk about this scene. When the foreign teaser for Moana leaked and it consisted of this scene, well, my standards for this movie got kicked up quite a notch. It’s frigging adorable. It could have been a short all its own. The animation outclasses Finding Nemo as the go-to for animating water realistically and colorfully. The song that plays, “An Innocent Warrior”, sets this beautiful magical tone that really makes it seem like this child is being shown a completely different world (and boy does it back in full force at the climax). The Ocean itself, for want of a face, is a wildly expressive character, not unlike the Magic Carpet from Aladdin (same directors, coincidence?) All it takes is a wave to signify a playful nod or gentle hand. The Ocean gives Moana a small gift before surfing her back to shore – the Heart of Te Fiti.
Unfortunately Tui hauls her back to the village and she drops the Heart on the beach. It’s time for him and his wife (yes, Disney decided to let the hero have both parents around this time) to teach Moana about the ways of their people. And they teach their lessons through a montage song where Tui’s singing voice switches to Christopher Jackson and did I mention he was in HAMILTONOMIGODHERECOMESTHEGENERALRISEUPIT’SCHRISJACKSONKNEELBEFORE
I-I’m sorry for that. Uh, Christopher Jackson has been on my radar since…that show and he’s quite a talented singer and performer. If you don’t believe me here’s him singing The Story of Tonight with Elmo. It’s the cutest thing you’ll see all day.
“Where You Are” establishes the island Moana and her people call home while doing something very important for Disney. Remember how in my Peter Pan review I talked about the difference between the natives in Peter Pan and the natives in Pocahontas, how one is lively and fun but a crude, dated stereotype and the other closer to fact but stiff and unengaging? Moana’s village Motonui provides the perfect balance between the two. The villagers engage in their daily routines and dances with gusto and pride, and it’s true to the Polynesian/Oceanic culture and lifestyle. In fact when I saw this in theaters I remember thinking by the time the song had ended “This is how Pocahontas should have been.” And I’ve already said I’m one of the few who enjoys Disney’s Pocahontas.
Another important distinction is that Moana’s parents are raising her to be the next chief of Motonui. Not grooming her to be the bride of the man who’s gonna inherit the title after marrying her, not pressuring her to start looking for a husband before taking the crown – or ceremonial headdress to be precise – no, SHE’S the ruler once she comes of age. The very idea of Moana settling down with a nice guy or going to find her true love isn’t mentioned or even implied. Once again it shows how far Disney has come with creating layered modern female leads with goals beyond attaining romance.
Why look, it’s the world’s biggest and most annoying Frozen fan come to offer their insightful and well-versed opinion.
Thank you for that charming opinion. Allow me to offer my equally thought-out rebuttal.
For the record I don’t hate Frozen. It’s not a terrible movie by any means and when it came out I loved it. But in the four years since it came out – really, four? It feels so much longer – it’s been analyzed, and nitpicked, and praised, and gushed over, and squeed over, and sung along with, and screamed along with and marketed to death; and with a twenty minute short preceding Pixar’s next movie, a full-blown sequel due in a couple of years and a Broadway musical on the way, it seems as though Disney isn’t gonna let us forget about it anytime soon, whether we like it or not. Frankly I think there’s a lot more in Moana worth looking over, hence why I’m reviewing it first.
The song also introduces us to our comic relief animal sidekicks for the evening. They are the ultra-cute piggy Pua, and googly-eyed dum-dum rooster Hei-Hei voiced by Alan Tudyk.
Time goes by and Moana, now sixteen, has tried to ignore her desire to return to the sea and do right by her people by embracing more of her duties as the chief-to-be, from teaching tribal dances to the younguns and holding hands during the agonizing tattoo rituals to attempting to find a reason for Hei-Hei not to be served as an appetizer.
But not all of the issues brought before her can be fixed so easily. Consider the coconut –
Uh, the coconuts. All the trees have come down with some kind of black sickness that’s affecting their crop.
Moana tells them to move their farms to the other side of the island and suggests the same thing to a group of fishermen that show their catch is dangerously low. Did I say dangerously low? I mean nonexistent. Unfortunately they’ve moved to the other side of the island so much that they’ve done a complete 360 but still have no fish to show for it. Moana brings up the idea of maybe going outside the reef which, in the grand tradition of Disney fathers and their rebellious teenage daughters, Tui immediately shuts down and refuses to listen to his daughter’s arguments because change is no good rabble rabble.
Moana’s mother Sina sits her down in private and tells her why Tui has such a hate hard-on for the sea. When he was her age, he and his best friend sneaked out on a boat one night and sailed past the reef. But a storm brewed up unexpectedly, the boat capsized and his friend drowned. This backstory is never alluded to again after this scene and I used to wonder what the point of it was. Then it hit me. Making Tui simply a stickler for tradition isn’t that interesting. Giving him a personal reason on top of obeying his rule works because deep down he’s afraid the same thing will happen to his daughter or anyone else. Sina leaves Moana saying that maybe what she wasn’t destined to do what she wants, but that doesn’t mean she can’t find meaning in what lies ahead.
This launches Moana into “How Far I’ll Go”, which is possibly the most basic “I Want” song as far as Disney Princess numbers go.
Well, it does feature her singing how she doesn’t feel the path her father has chosen for her that her people are content with is right for her –
– that adventure is calling her beyond the confines of her narrow-minded town –
– how she feels this undeniable connection to a world she is forbidden from –
– and has her wondering why she can never show this side of her and keep up the facade of happiness with the normal route taken.
What saves it for me though are two things: one is Lin’s trademark wordplay and rhythm, which I could spot a mile away after listening to the Hamilton cast recording nonstop (see what I did there?) in the months leading up to Moana. The other is Moana’s voice actress, Auli’i Cravalho. This girl knocks it out of the park. I hope Moana is only the first of big things to come her way because with a powerhouse voice like hers she has quite a future. And she was sixteen, the same age as her character, at the time she recorded it.
The song reaches its climax as Moana and Pua venture out to the reef on a shanghaied fishing boat. The triumphant moment is subverted when Moana and Pua get caught in the shoals and nearly drown. They barely make it back to shore. Grandma Tala has been watching the spectacle but unlike the rest of her family, she isn’t there to chastise her granddaughter. When Moana says she’s ready to give up and drink the island kool-aid, Tala suspiciously won’t talk her out of it. She resumes her waterbending dance with her spirit animals, the manta rays. “When I die, I’m going to come back as one of these,” she says, “or else I got the wrong tattoo.”
Moana asks Tala if there’s something she’s trying to tell her. Tala leads Moana to a walled-up cave and tells her to go inside alone, which normally doesn’t bode well outside a Disney movie. Luckily instead of being hazed or worse, Moana finds several boats the size of houses lying in wait. She bangs the drums there as per her grandma’s instructions and learns the truth about her people – for centuries they were voyagers, exploring one island to the next through the art of wayfinding, living on and off the sea, and all to Lin-Manuel’s passionate pipes (I promised myself I wouldn’t squee anymore but damn is it hard). The film was originally going to open with this, hence why it feels a bit separated from the scene preceding it, but I think the Musker and Clements made the right call. Having it go from an engaging montage with that catchy chorus to BOOM no more sailing would be too jarring storywise.
When Moana asks why they stopped, Tala explains it all goes back to the story of Maui: once the darkness he caused began spreading across the world, fewer and fewer ships returned from the sea. The villagers decided it was safer to make the island their permanent home and buried their history to be forgotten over time. This is actually based on historical fact; thousands of years ago the people of Oceania explored and colonized islands through wayfinding only to mysteriously stop suddenly. Recognizing the premise for a great story, Musker and Clements jumped on it and this is the result.
There is hope for Moana’s people, however. Tala was secretly watching Moana when the ocean revealed its true nature to her as a child and surprise, after she dropped the Heart she held on to it until she felt her granddaughter was ready to seek out Maui and have him restore it to Te Fiti.
Moana loudly interrupts the village council saying they can use all those boats gathering dust find another settlement once they put back the Heart. Tui’s gracious response to this sound idea involves calling the Heart a dumb rock, throwing it away to nearly be lost again, and finally dealing with his survivor’s guilt by going to burn the ships like he always wanted to. Chief of the Year, folks. At least he’s better than some others I could mention. Thankfully – or rather, not – a tribesman informs them that Tala has inexplicably fallen gravely ill. Everyone rushes to her side. She gifts Moana her necklace to keep the Heart in and with her last bit of energy tells her to grab Maui by the ear and tell him who’s boss. Heartbroken but with a renewed sense of purpose, Moana breaks into a reprise of “How Far I’ll Go” while packing some things for the trip and commandeering one of the hidden boats out to sea. As she approaches the reef she had trouble with earlier, she takes one last look at the only home she’s known her whole life.
The lights go out in the hut where Tala lay dying.
And Moana gets a little help overcoming the reef from the afterlife.
The following morning is less optimistic for Moana, however. She finds Hei Hei has stowed away and his habit of wandering head first off the boat and nearly drowning himself several times over the course of a few minutes causes her some grief. Originally Pua that was going to join Moana on her quest hence why he was marketed so heavily. But the writers realized that having Hei Hei on board instead would provide more opportunities for jokes and further obstacles for Moana to hurdle and they were switched out. It’s a shame that they couldn’t both share the spotlight but I get the reasoning behind this decision. I also get why people think Hei Hei’s annoying since he doesn’t contribute much else, though, come on, it’s Disney. Complaining about the sidekicks being annoying in their animated films is like going to an opera and complaining about the constant singing. You should know it’s par the course by now.
…And I think Hei Hei is actually pretty funny, even if he’s treated more as a prop than an actual character within the movie.
In addition to chicken troubles Moana learns that a few minutes of unsuccessfully commandeering a small fishing vessel hasn’t exactly prepared her for traversing the ocean. The ocean itself isn’t giving her any easy breaks either in spite of their renewed acquaintance. A storm strands her on a barren island shortly after she breaks down and asks for a little help in finding Maui. As Moana cusses the ocean out, she notices a pattern of tally marks in the shape of a large fish hook stretched out among the rocks. She puts two and two together and the ocean is like “Yep. You asked, I gave. Now get to it, girl.”
Moana finally comes face to face with the shapeshifter demigod Maui, voiced by WWF demigod-turned-actor Dwayne “THE ROCK” Johnson. Say what you will about wrestlers going into showbiz, he and Andre the Giant have proven that it’s possible for guys in the former field to make a credible leap into the latter. The mere fact that Disney cast him in one of their recent top-tier animated films proves that he’s got what it takes (and should we make it to 2020, I know who I’m voting for). Watching Maui I don’t feel like I’m listening to The Rock talk into a microphone. He and Maui are one and the same; the fact that Johnson himself is part-Samoan gives him authentic ties to Maui and the culture this entire film portrays.
Maui assumes Moana is just another adoring mortal and scratches out an autograph for her on an oar with Hei Hei. “When you use a bird to write with, it’s called tweeting”.
Moana won’t put up with any of his shit but Maui can’t seem to comprehend that there’s a human being out there who doesn’t think his tweeting is amazing and insists that she should be thanking him for all he’s done for mankind (there’s a real life parallel here, I just know it…) Anyway Maui jumps into one of the most entertaining song sequences in the movie, “You’re Welcome”. Johnson for all his excitement that he was starring in a future Disney classic was nervous about singing since being a wrestling ring doesn’t exactly call for you to break into an aria while smacking people with folding chairs. He nails it through his performance though, selling himself as a magnanimous hero of men and showing through his puckish trickster habits and slight leanings towards meta humor that he has more in common with a character like the Genie than your traditional Disney hero. People have complained about auto tuning, but if there really is any, I can barely notice it (unlike some other Disney heroes…)
All the awesome things Maui has done for the world like stealing fire from the underworld, raising islands and creating the first coconut trees are on display in tattoo form, which he happily shows off. No mention of his fish hook being fashioned from the jawbone of his grandmother or his original plan to win immortality from the goddess of life, but hey, it’s Disney. They know their limits when adapting from the public domain myths for the family (hence why we’ll never see an animated version of Donkeyskin). Jumping through and recreating those moments is Mini-Maui, a living to-scale replication of Maui that serves as his confidante and conscience. The little guy’s a big scene-stealer and he doesn’t even speak a word. He’s free to traipse through and manipulate Maui’s skin decorations to get his point across.
But the greatest reason why I enjoy him so much?
Mini-Maui is completely 100% hand-drawn.
Eric Goldberg, the animator behind the Genie, Louis the Alligator, Philocetes, the Rhapsody in Blue and Carnival of the Animals segements of Fantasia 2000, and one of a handful of traditional animators still at Disney, applied his colossal cartoony talents here, and by God is it welcome. As much as I admire how far Disney has come in making it’s CGI both elaborate and elastic enough for animated sensibilities, nothing can top hand-drawn animation. It may be for one character that’s superimposed over a computer animated character, but I’ll take it!
With the song over, Maui tricks Moana into a small cavern and steals her boat along with Hei Hei as a potential “boat snack!” In one of my favorite bits of laugh-out-loud animation in the movie, Moana escapes and takes a flying leap off a cliff…only to completely miss and painfully belly flop in the water. I think I forgot to mention how in addition to having a voice worthy of a Disney princess Auli’i Cravalho has amazing comedic timing. Last time I make that mistake.
The Ocean gives Moana a ride back to her boat and refuses to let Maui toss her off or leave himself. When he won’t to have anything to do with the cursed Heart that caused him to lose his hook and strand him on an island for a thousand years, Moana only taunts him further by waving the Heart around and shouting “Hey! Magical macguffin ripe for the taking! Come and get it!” And something does come and get it – a ton of them, in fact.
These are the Kakamora, and they can kick the Despicable Me Minions’ asses from here to Polynesia. The little demons are numerous, hilarious and a well-organized fighting unit. Plus their name is so much fun to say. Go on. Say “Kakamora” and try not to crack a smile. They all but surround the boat with their giant war ships and quickly turn the movie into Mad Max:Fury Ocean. It’s a fun action/chase sequence with Moana kicking butt and doing 10 out of 10 parkour to rescue Hei Hei, who gets captured after temporarily swallowing the Heart.
In spite of Moana’s thrill over their escape, Maui is still convinced that this is a fool’s errand, not helped by the fact that the girl he’s stuck with has no clue how to wayfind. But Moana plays on Maui’s ego by going on about how humanity will forever adore him for saving the world yet again. The two come to an agreement: Moana helps Maui retrieve his hook, and he’ll willingly go back to Te Fiti and fix his apocalyptic blunder. And so the movie becomes a road trip between two opposites in both personality and gender where they will absolutely, positively not become bosom buddies if not more by the end.
Moana wakes up from a nightmare where she sees her home and parents engulfed in black ash and Maui informs her they’ve reached the entrance to Lalotai, the Realm of Monsters. An old foe down there named Tamatoa has Maui’s hook and he has to invade his lair to get it back. Moana insists on accompanying him and the two share some climbing banter over why the Ocean chose her for this task. They take a dive into Lalotai, which is like if the rift from Pacific Rim got an underwater-themed neon paint job, and it looks pretty cool. I was hoping that we were going to stay down there a little longer and see some more of the creative freaky creatures in it but alas there’s a story to continue.
Maui doesn’t want Moana interfering with his long-awaited reunion with his hook, but comes up with the bright idea of using her as a distraction. Moana quickly learns that Tamatoa, a vain giant crab obsessed with obtaining as many treasures as possible, is easy to sidetrack as long as you stick to one topic.
Tamatoa agrees to talk more about himself – through song! “Shiny” is the first villain song we’ve gotten since “Mother Knows Best” in Tangled, and it took a few re-listens and the Johnathan Young cover for it to grow on me. Musically it clashes from the rest of the score since it sounds like a glam-rock send-up to David Bowie as well as being very bright and upbeat for a villain number. Then I learned who voices Tamatoa; Jermaine Clement of Flight of the Conchords, who’s infamous for his spot-on Bowie stylings (the only problem is now I keep thinking Tamatoa is going to start singing about moonmen). The song was intentionally written in this style for him and it works. It may come completely out of nowhere and it’s not totally off the mark to call it this movie’s big lipped alligator moment, but dammit it works, especially when you realize that one, Tamatoa is one of the very few recent Disney villains to be the old-school flamboyantly evil and loving type that sadly seems to be dying out (seriously, he’s so fun that I kind of wish he was in the movie more), and two, he is what Maui could have been if he had completely given into his selfishness and narcissism.
Halfway through, Maui gets his mitts on his hook and is ready to kick some butt. Unfortunately he’s been out of practice for so long that he can’t quite get the form he wants and turns into –
(Sigh) Really, Disney? You’re so hung up on Frozen that you can’t go one movie without referencing it? I get it, it was your biggest animated success since The Lion King and the merchandise alone is still raking in the dough, but come on. I just went on a big rant about how there’s only so many times you can remind us it exists before we all go crazy from Frozen overload. I wouldn’t have minded this kind of joke if Maui transformed into literally any other character in the Disney canon; after all this is Clements and Musker we’re talking about and I certainly won’t begrudge them an Aladdin-style reference, but making it Sven, an animal that isn’t even native to the climate where this movie takes place, only shrieks of Disney’s desperation to shoehorn their flipping freezing flick into whatever media is at their fingertips as much as possible.
Tamatoa continues his anthem while beating the tar out of Maui which is where it gets really good, especially when the black lights come on. I remember seeing this part in theaters and actually saying out loud “WHOAH!” This slightly sinister Bowie homage suddenly becomes an unexpectedly cool trippy ominous amalgamation of Pink Elephants, Friends on the Other Side and…
…a certain reptile with unnervingly pedophilic undertones whose tune shall not be mentioned here.
As Tamatoa is about to munch on Maui, Moana draws his attention to the Heart of Te Fiti. Moana grabs the hook, shows that the Heart she left behind was a barnacle covered in green luminescent algae (“as a DEEVERSHIN!”) and they make their escape. Tamatoa gives chase but is blasted on to his back by a geyser that blows Moana and Maui up to the surface. Once they’re safe, Maui sincerely expresses his gratitude to Moana for saving their necks. Though it’s somewhat diminished by the state Maui doesn’t realize he’s in.
In spite of them coming out of their encounter with Tamatoa in one piece, Maui is still despaired. Te Fiti? More like Te Fuckedi. How can he get there and defeat the main boss if he can’t even get through a side quest without help? As they sail on, Moana asks about a tattoo on his back that Tamatoa alluded to earlier and learns that her usually chipper sarcastic friend has a deeper tragic backstory than she realized.
Maui tells her every tattoo appears on his body after every feat of strength or a big moment in his life. The one on his back depicting a woman tossing a baby into the sea was what happened to him when he was born. The Ocean brought him to the gods who made him a demigod and gave him the hook. Ever since Maui has been trying to win the love of humanity through his deeds, but it was never enough. Not even trying to steal the very secret of life itself to give to mankind could fill the hole that very first rejection by his own parents imprinted on him.
However through the power of montage Maui gets a confidence boost, relearns his transformation skills, turns Moana into a wayfinding savant and soon they’re as swift as the coursing river with all the force of a great typhoon, all that good stuff. Now that they’re nearing Te Fiti and they consider themselves good friends with no reason to have a third act split-up whatsoever, Maui tells Moana why he thinks she’s the Ocean’s chosen one. Maui used to pull up islands from the sea and her ancestors would cross it to discover them all. Now that a millennium has passed, who better than an chief’s daughter who is totally not a princess but is so enthusiastic about wayfinding to make it trendy again? Yet no sooner do they approach the island than Te Ka shows up, a hellish being comprised of lava and destruction given, almost ironically, a living form.
Round 2 of Maui vs. Te Ka does not go nearly as well as hoped, even with his powers back. Moana tries to steer the boat to an opening in the pass against Maui’s pleas and he is just able to deflect Te Ka’s fiery fist with his hook. The ensuing blast almost destroys it and sends them flying off course. Furious with Moana for almost killing them just so she could prove herself (which kind of comes out of nowhere) and for breaking the instrument that he so fervently believes is what makes him Maui, he calls it quits and even tells Moana that the ocean chose the wrong savior before flying away.
Devastated, Moana asks the Ocean why it chose her. Faced with no answer (because, you know, you need a mouth or an arm to do that), Moana resigns herself to believing she was not the right person and begs it to choose someone else. The Ocean reluctantly takes back the Heart and she breaks down in tears. That’s when a familiar manta ray appears in the water along with Tala’s spirit.
Not gonna lie, this reunion? Gets me just a tad emotional. Moana apologizes for not accomplishing what she set out to do but it’s Tala who says she was wrong for thrusting her into this. That wins so many points in my book that I’ve run out of space to write in the zeroes. With so many chosen one stories the hero is thrown into the action with little warning or guidance, and that sort of thing can be more damaging to their self-esteem and psyche than most people who write them realize. Even Harry Potter (which I do love and hope to look at eventually) falls into this kind of trap. Here, Tala acknowledges that the burden of saving the whole world is a lot to ask of one person, too much even, let alone someone so young. Moana has done so much already and there’s absolutely no shame in turning back now. The only question that remains is if this journey has helped her figured out who she is.
And guided by the very spirits of her voyaging ancestors, Moana discovers just how far she’s come, and there’s no way she can deny the call of the sea that she’s given into. She realizes –
In all seriousness, Moana’s epiphany is animated and performed exquisitely; the convergence of “There You Are” into “How Far I’ll Go” is brilliant, and Auli’i Cravalho belting out “I AM MOANAAAA!!” at the end gives me chills.
Moana dives into the ocean, retrieves the Heart, repairs her boat and sails back to Te Fiti on her own. Since Te Ka can’t go into the water, all she has to do is get past her barrier and she’ll make it to the island. What follows is an intense chase of sorts with Moana dodging Te Ka’s attacks with her newly acquired sailing skills. Unfortunately one lucky shot capsizes the boat and leaves her an open target.
Thankfully Maui, having had an offscreen change of heart, comes back using his entire shapeshifting arsenal (even sharkhead) to divert Te Ka’s attention. The Ocean gives Moana a much needed push to shore, and even Hei-Hei’s penchant for gobbling up rocks finally serves a purpose as he saves the Heart from being thrown off the boat. But as Te Ka gets one terrible blow at Maui and Moana reaches the island’s peak, she makes a horrible discovery.
Te Fiti is not there.
Maui washes ashore and finds the Hook is completely demolished. In his most badass move in the picture, he loudly challenges Te Ka with a traditional warrior dance, ready to face her one-on-one, no magic on his side, most likely to culminate in his death, all in an effort to keep it from attacking Moana. But before Te Ka finishes him, she is drawn away by a glowing green light across the way; Moana holding up the Heart. She walks to the shore and tells the Ocean to let Te Ka come to her. Moana has realized that Te Ka is someone who lost sight of who she truly was because, just like her, a part of her was denied for so long.
You know, I’ve been meaning to do a top 10 list of my favorite movie scenes of all time, and for a while I thought I had it all set. I knew for certain what my number one was and nothing could top it – until I saw Moana. Cry all you want about this being another twist villain Disney’s so fond of these days, but nothing could have prepared me for how extraordinarily beautiful this 90 seconds of film is. Moana’s song is a soothing outstretched hand of understanding. Her calm slow-motion walk towards this raging force of fire and death is one few have pulled off with equally convincing badassery. What gets me the most is that it’s an act of bravery that doesn’t culminate in a battle to the death or show of power like in other climaxes. It stems from kindness and compassion, qualities that those who claim to hold power belittle, but in the end those are what saves the world. Some movie scenes lose their emotional touch the more I watch them. This? I’m moved to tears every single time.
Moana places the Heart back in Te Fiti, and she transforms into a non-speaking jolly green giantess of peace and nature and flowers and beauty.
Maui gives a sincere apology for his actions, and to show there’s no hard feelings Te Fiti repairs his fish hook. Moana invites him to come back with her and teach her people wayfinding, but Maui lets her know they’ve already got a great teacher.
The two say a heartwarming farewell and part ways. Moana returns home just as the blackness covering the island dissipates. She is reunited with her family who couldn’t be prouder (there’s even a callback to Pocahontas where Tui says “It suits you”). Moana regales her people with her adventures and convinces them to take up wayfinding once more. The film ends with them cresting over the waves to a joyous reprise of “We Know the Way”, all led by the best Disney heroine of this decade.
It’s difficult to say whether Moana or Zootopia was the better Disney movie of last year; Zootopia has a nuanced cast and excellent commentary on modern society and gender/racial divides, but Moana packs so much music, comedy and emotion in its run time. It does an incredible job bridging the best of Disney decades past with the best of Disney today thanks to a story that somehow both plays straight and subverts the usual tropes associated with the name and an array of unforgettable characters, not to mention they somehow even manage to outdo the fantastic CGI in Zootopia; out of all the computer animated films Disney has done this is by far the most breathtaking. And of course, it’s home to my favorite movie scene of all time. So much so that I had to pay tribute to it with music from the Disney movie I was referencing with Te Ka/Te Fiti.
You can joke about this movie being your average game of Disney Princess Bingo and I won’t fight you. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t see some parts coming even when I watched this in theaters. But sometimes what matters isn’t the story that’s being told, it’s HOW it is told. And how they tell this story, one that is both old and new, makes it one for the ages.
Now I can rest easy knowing I got through this review without having another Hamilton-related fangasm.
…wait, Phillipa Soo was in this too?
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Screencaps courtesy of disneyscreencaps.com