Movie Review: Moana (2016)

Reading Time: 6 minutes

By Abdul Qayyum (17A01B)

Moana, an animated spectacle that follows the story of a young girl in forgoing tradition and family to find something bigger than herself: to restore and correct the world imbalanced by darkness sparked by the mistake of an ancient demigod.

I have to admit, being dragged along by my sister to sit through yet another princess movie with her did not bode well for my movie-watching mood, at least at first. Long story short, jadedness was swept away by the sheer beauty that is Moana. Thematically plentiful and visually impactful, the reluctance I felt at the entrance of the theatre was replaced with a yearning to watch it again.

Why? Because Moana is an animation masterpiece. Every possible detail was given close and precise attention. From each sun bathed leaf on the island foliage to every strand of hair hula dancing in the wind, one is sure to stare in awe at the intricate beauty of the picture, each detail culminating into a jaw-dropping spectacle of artistic skill and wonder.

Stylistically, what stood out for me was the expert use of warm, tropical colors which did well in illuminating the vibrancy of the fictional Moto Nui tribe. The sharp transition to darker, gloomier hues in scenes of struggle and loss create atmospheres that transcend from the story on the screen to the hearts of those in front of them.

Scenic landscapes in Moana (SlashFilm)

Part of why the movie is so visually impactful is with its animation style. Characters are fleshed out with a fresh sense of real design in its human characters. Moana’s waist is not overwhelmingly skinny, and her face is as emotive as the audience’s. Likewise, Grandma Tala’s long grey hair and sun-weathered skin was done in impressively realistic detail. Even the natural scenery looked, well, natural. At times I forgot that Moana was an animated feature.

Baby Moana is confused at how some of you have not seen the movie. (Huffington)

Furthermore, animation was not only realistic, but creative as well. Notably, there was a song number (You’re Welcome) where 3 dimensional Moana and her demigod co-adventurer Maui were juxtaposed onto a 2-D hand-drawn setting. Maui’s hand-drawn tattoos, which included a sentient mini-version of him, were extremely well-received. It’s heartwarming to witness how Disney still creates opportunities for personal hand-drawn animations to be included in its movies even after the 2-D animation studios have been retired.

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3D characters in a 2D world (Youtube)

Now that I was overwhelmingly impressed with the movie’s visual prowess, I was keen on listening out for the musical experience the film had to offer. It might seem that previous works such as Frozen and Tangled had placed the bar on unattainable heights. After watching Moana, I argue that Disney has propelled the bar above and beyond.

The movie instantly immerses listeners into the rhythmic cadences of Polynesian music. With Samoan musician Opetaia Foa’I and renowned lyricist Lin-Manuel Miranda at the helm of music production, it is no wonder that the picture’s soundtrack is a flurry of flawlessness.

Admittedly, I was gritting my teeth in excitement and anxiety (excited because I was ready to be inspired, anxious because it’s going to stick in my head for the next three years) as I awaited this movie’s catchy inspirational song. And unfortunately for my head, the whole movie soundtrack has all but downloaded itself, my favourites being “I am Moana” and “Your Welcome”, the former because I need an anthem for self-identity, courage and strength for my upcoming years of A-Levels and National Service, the latter because it is just so catchy.

Personally, the most unmistakable feature of the movie stylistically is Disney’s efforts in creating a world that is not only culturally appropriate, but also accurate in its depiction of the Pasifika. In fact, Maui’s design has been redone a couple of times after consulting various anthropologists. Details, from tribal tattoos to traditional dance to the beautiful weaving of Polynesian languages into an English film, makes one admire the work put in to create such a setting. Disney succeeds in not basing its “girl finds herself” arc on a different culture, but rather birthing a whole new, intricate and astounding world that is both believable in nature and spectacular in splendour.

Directors of Moana meeting local cultural experts on character design. (GIZMODO)

However, like any piece of art, Moana is not immune to critique. Once again, we are treated to a brave young princess who goes against expectations to venture on her own quest, during which we meet the male partner figure who will aid her whilst experiencing smaller shortcomings of his own. Rapunzel and Flynn Rider, Anna and Kristoff, and now, Moana and Maui.

Hence, it may seem that Disney is simply adapting its trusty algorithm to produce another well-loved movie. Despite this, I argue that Moana is much, much more than the ‘brave girl defying odds’ narrative. The movie outlines the quest of the daughter of a village chief (not, as the movie makes a point to mention, a princess) to find the meaning and identity of a society long forgotten.

It is a girl sacrificing her safety and welfare to restore life to her kingdom. It is the love of a granddaughter and the defining of self for self, and not for anyone else. It is a story that is beautifully told and excitingly thrilling, one that will enrapture your senses from the get-go.

Besides this, the movie places a hilarious twist on the princess genre through Moana’s animal companion. At the start of the movie, we were introduced to the perfect animal companion character: a cute, facially expressive piglet who follows Moana wherever she goes. But when she escapes on her adventure, the animal stowed in her trunk was not that piglet. Rather, it was a stupefyingly brainless chicken named Hei Hei, who, when choosing between a blank space of air and nuts for food, picked the air.

If you can’t already tell, Hei Hei is the one one the left.

The movie also boasts a wide array of likeable characters who we can both be inspired by as well as relate to. Maui, whose godly power and worth, we soon discover, is held atop feeble foundations of human validation. His sense of weakness and dependency is an aspect of his characterization that we may all relate to, and his ascendency to providing himself a self he can be proud of is one that is not only touching, but inspirational as well

My favourite character, however, would be Moana’s grandmother, whose quotes aptly encapsulate the soul of the story: “Sometimes the world seems against you/ The journey may leave a scar/ But scars can heal and reveal / Just where you are”. An expert amalgamation of senile humour and pure wisdom, Grandma Tala was simply a beautiful character to witness.

Perhaps another criticism Moana might receive is its generalisation of the Pacific Islanders, i.e. Disney’s interpretation of the what aspects of the culture seems best at telling the story. In reality, the Polynesians are a diverse people, from Samoans to Fijians to Hawaiians, and bannering them under clichés such as in Maui’s body type, or the minionization of the Kakamora (a real terrifying Polynesian myth) into this movie’s version of merchandise, might prove a bit problematic for the movie.

The terrifyingly adorable Kakamora (SensaCine)

Despite its minor faults, the songs of the sea still echo in my ears. The struggle and survival still fresh in my mind. And as the bits of the movie cling on to my being for the next stage of my life, Moana reminds me that “where you are” is not determined by geography; rather, it is where you carry your roots, tradition, family and self.

Ultimately, one should not miss the opportunity to be enthralled, enchanted and inspired by the perfect symphony of sound, sea and soul, whimsically painted within immaculate images and dazzling design that is Moana.

172170cookie-checkMovie Review: Moana (2016)


One thought on “Movie Review: Moana (2016)”

  1. Finally a Disney movie without romance! This has to be my favorite movie of all time. The acting, the songs, and the humor! Ahhh Love it! Disney is diffidently trying new ethnicities and it is working for them.

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