For the first few years of my daughter’s life I knew, basically, everything she saw or did. As the one staying home with her, it was up to me to switch through movies — like all three Toy Story flicks in succession every day for a week — and do my best to ignore it so I wouldn’t be driven insane by pure repetition. Now that she’s older, our son’s got his own favorite shows and my folks live in town, I’m way less tuned into what they see, which I’m totally okay with.
When Moana came out last year, both kids were pretty excited and wanted to see it straighaway, as did my wife who’s a big Disney fan. I wasn’t as interested, so they went one day while I stayed home and watched football. They came home singing the songs and I soon found myself singing them as well after the soundtrack became the most requested CD in my wife’s car. Knowing a musical’s songs before seeing the show itself is an interesting thing because you get something of an idea about how the story works, but not the full picture.
That’s what I felt while watching the review copy of the Blu-ray we luckily received the day before Mother Nature dumped feet of snow on us. As I’m sure you know, this one comes from the same people who made Frozen and Inside Out, which are favorites in our house, with music by Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda. The story revolves around a young girl named Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) who has a special relationship with the ocean and wants to explore it, even though her father says she should just be happy with what’s around her, a bristle-worthy idea for her and too.
In an effort to stop darkness from spreading to her island, Moana plans to sail out into the ocean, find the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) and make him return Te Fiti’s heart which he stole a while ago. Soon they team up and wind up facing everything from coconut pirates and cold-encrusted, David Bowie-esque crabs to giant lava monsters in an effort to make things right.
I was immediately taken with the look and feel of the film. The water looks amazing. I remember when CGI liquid looked like pixelated Jello, so it’s still impressive to see it appear so great on screen to the point where it’s even a character. I also really enjoyed the concerted effort the filmmakers made to make the film feel and look authentic to a Polynesian island culture. I’m far from an expert, but I did visit New Zealand as a kid where I saw some things that were definitely reflected in this film. It felt authentic and respectful and honest, all of which are pluses.
Story-wise, I wasn’t super into it at first because the general idea felt a lot like Brave as the young woman didn’t want to participate in her royal familiar obligation. This really clicked during the scene where Moana’s running around the jungle, sliding down vines and whatnot. It reminded me of when Merida races on her horse through the forest. I mentioned the similarity to my wife and she said the comparison wouldn’t last and she was right. Besides, the idea of wanting to live your own life and explore the world as you see fit are about as universal as it gets.
All in all, I really enjoyed the film. It makes great use of not only the culture it’s reflecting, but also epic journey conventions. Moana and Maui each face their own challenges along the way, wrestle with their goals and ultimately persevere. Plus, it sure looks pretty and The Rock’s great in everything!
I haven’t fully gone through the extra features yet, but I loved the “Inner Workings” short and the “Gone Fishing” one is fun too. I’m also curious about the “Warrior Face” deleted scene and the bit about the clothing because I have distinct memories of both of those from my brief stay at a Maori village as a kid.