Moana (2016): Honoring Polynesian Mythology and Culture in Disney’s “Princess Model” to Create a Classic

moana

  I really liked “Moana.” It was no “Kubo and the Two Strings” but besides “Up” and “Inside Out” not many can compare to that…but this is classic Disney as it’s best. This is Disney taking the “Princess Model” (Princess goes against status quo for family, tribe, etc. for greater good) and achieves final great ends while being helped along by animal and magical companions. This is the base of Moana that the director, writer and Lin-Manuel build upon. Suffice to say I have nothing but affection for this film as it captures both my love of history (paying tribute to the Polynesian tribes and their history of exploration) and culture (how they related to one another and others).

    The film was directed by Ron Clements and John Musker, written by Jared Bush and produced by Osnat Shurer.

     The film involves Princess Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) dealing with the after affects of Maoi stealing the heart of Te Fiti as her Island slowly dies and her people become more isolated. Prompted by her Grandmother and her own desire for adventure seeks out Maoi (Dwayne Johnson) and the heart to restore peace in the world once more.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world is awesome! Welcome to a world inspired by Polynesian mythology, with gods, demons  and islands connected by travel. This is a world that I only wanted to spend more time in and you should experience for yourself.

The History – The history is rich and tells a story that needs to be told. The early explorers and traders in the Americas were Polynesians but that is often ignored to history as horrible folks like Columbus get credit instead. This world recognizes what was long before Europeans came and congresses the thriving cultures that colonialism and in many ways destroyed, even though many histories and cultures still live on, as shown by this film.

The Animation – This it the best of Disney Animation and shows us a variety of animation types…from 3-D over 2-D and some fantastic visuals. The islands feel alive and real and honestly, besides “Wreck-It Ralph” this is the best animation so far.

The Soundtrack – It’s Lin-Manuel Miranda overseeing it and it shows! You’ve got musical, rap and power as just as he gave power to “Hamilton” and “In the Heights” each culture and history he touches is given his own take and with it passion and life.

The Characters – The characters drive the film and are really what make it stand out and put it above “Kung Fu Panda 3” and most Dreamworks films.

Grandma Tala – Grandma is the heart of the film. She motivates Moana’s desire to travel beyond the island her death incites Moana finally doing it. She is there for Moana through the best and worst times and her loss is felt once it happens.

Chief Tui – Chief Tui is traditional Disney Dad afraid of Daughter being free. This time it is given reason though as he lost a friend when he went beyond the reef. Sadly we don’t get more exploration though, everything he does is a reaction to Moana and it hurts his character development.

Maui – Dwayne Johnson is awesome! Maui hurts the Goddess by sealing her heart (Disney is clearly okay going there post “Maleficent”) and his arc is restoring the heart and apologizing for his wrong which was for his ego and for humanity, the people who abandoned him leaving the ocean and Gods to give him his power and turn him into a Demi-God. He is funny but can do drama too…seriously, “The Rock” is underrated as an actor.

Moana – Is the princess who drives the story as she and her animal sidekick try to save the world and find Maui in order to restore peace. She is awesome and I wish she’d found her power sooner as we see her being a fantastic Chief before her voyage beyond the reef. I felt for her, she lost and she gained and she discovered her own power.

A Story Not Told in the West – Polynesian culture has usually always been exoctized in the west and this was finally breaking free of that. Rather than being treated as a vacation spot where the people are a reward rather than a people. This film changes that which is a needed reaction to Disney’s past exocization of Hawaii and Polynesia. This can’t be stated enough and I hope those involved are aware of Disney’s own dark history.

Okay: The Disney Princess Model – Princess teams up with magical being (The Genie, Stich, Mushu, etc.) and an animal companion (s) (The Mice, The Horse in “Mulan” and “Tangled,” etc.) to defeat her family’s prejudice’s (“Frozen,” “Mulan,” etc.) and restore balance and peace. Disney has done this so many times and that is why I say it is okay. “Moana” doesn’t subvert anything like “Zootopia” or “Frozen” did.

The Cons: Tamatoa and Codedness – A villian coded as gay who is vain wants to eat the heroes! This isn’t new! (Prince John, Radcliff, Jafar, etc.) DIsney you are better than this. Though to be fair, even “Wreck-It Ralph” Sadly had this problem too. Feminine men need to stop being coded as bad.

The Mother as Plot Device – The mother helps Moana and tells the story of why her husband fears the sea…she is basically a plot device to motivate Moana to stay or leave, which is a shame as her helping Moana leave hinted at so much more.

Why Afraid to Take a Chance? – This movie took the safe route, Moana with her magic friend and animal side kick saves the world. Nothing is subverted when so much more could of. I like that he demon was the goddess  who needed balance again, which was Miyazi-esque but so much more could have been done. Why did she assume Maui could only save the day? She was the Chief to be, she was empowered, there was no reason to hand him the direction for the first half of the film.

   This is a film that I really liked and I consider a favorite. Now it probably won’t make my Top 5 of 2016 but that doesn’t change the fact that Polynesian culture and mythology have not been explored in the west beyond being exotcized. This changed that and gained so much power because of it. Yes it followed the “Princess Model” which is Disney’s take on the “Hero’s Journey” but it did it in such a powerful. This was Miyazaki levels of storytelling and “Hamilton” inspired music (Thanks Lin-Manuel Miranda). I can only recommend this film.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10

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Zootopia (2016): A Masterpiece Exploring Prejudice and Communities

Zootopia Poster

   “Disney Animated Stuios” is pretty much the new Pixar in regards to quality animated storytelling. “Pixar” is now where old Disney used to be as they are releasing tons of sequels and it isn’t ‘garutneed they’ll make a hit (unlike “Disney Studios”). Seriously, “Big Hero 6,” “Frozen,” “Wreck-it-Ralph.” These are films this studio has put out and now “Zootopia” is up there among them as one of the best animated films I have ever watched. Much like those this film is intelligent with characters, comedy and themes and gives us a lived in world without a powerful story we can relate to our own world and ourselves. Before I get further and into spoiler territory, go see this film.

    “Zootopia” was directed by Byron Howard and Rich Moore while being written by Jared Bush and Phil Johnston and was produced by Clark Spencer.

SPOILERS ahead

    The story involves Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) moving to Zootopia to become a cop and finding out that the ideal world of animals that were once Predators and Prey isn’t the peaceful utopia she believed it to be. Together she must work with a hustler named Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) to solve the case on why certain predators are going feral and help save the city.

The Pros: The World – The world is awesome! It has a bunch of anthropomorphic animals and unlike a lot of “Dreamworks” films they don’t exist as jokes. There are fully fleshed out cultures and societies (of the the carnivore and herbivore variety) made to reflect our own, rather than satire pop culture…but that is the quality I’ve come to expect from Disney Studios.

The Animation – The animation is beautiful as Zootopia is split into different regions…from the Metropolis at the center, desert, rain forest, etc. It all flows together beautifully and I love how they show when animals go feral with the red eyes.

The Characters – The characters are the strongest part of the film as their histories are what inform the film, especially between Hopps and Wilde, who really carry the film. This is a film that is honest about it’s characters and in turn honest about our own basic humanity, with all of the pros and cons that come with it.

Mr. Big – Mr. Big is the gang lord of the Arctic region. He is an Arctic shrew who is pretty amazing as he helps our heroes once he learns that Hopps saved his daughter and in turn he makes her family and forgives Wilde for conning him.

Chief Bogo – Idris Elba is awesome in this! He plays a giant Water Buffalo who is the police chief of Zootopia. He has his own issues to work through as he doesn’t take Hopps seriously until Wilde calls him out for his prejudice against smaller animals and his belief they can’t be cops. He grows a lot and becomes of the few characters who remains a hero throughout the film.

Nick Wilde – Jason Bateman is fantastic as Nick, who is a tragic figure who had gotten beaten up by some herbivores as a kid because he was a carnivore, as they beat him up and muzzled him. From this we get why he doesn’t trust people and why he lives the sly fox stereotype. His friendship with Hopps is awesome as he helps her grow and she helps him grow as he becomes someone serious and stops conning others.

Judy Hopps – Hopps was beat up by a fox when she was little and her family hates foxes due to their experience in the countryside. That all changes when she goes to the city and befriends Nick. It is from there that she has to face herself when she helps the Assistant Mayor target predators when she blames their going feral on their DNA. From here there is one of the most touching scenes when she apologizes to Nick for all she’s done and they go to takeout the Assistant Mayor.

Prejudice and Communities – The main prejudices explored here are those based on body (Hopps ignored by the Police Chief and force) and carnivore vs. herbivore as the herbivores fear the Predators and vice versa due to times fear and hatred have been acted upon characters. We see this in how the Assistant Mayor uses the fear to limit predator opportunities and making Hopps a hero. It is when Nick and Judy get past their prejudices and Chief Bogo does too that they are able to take out the Assistant Mayor and her sheep who want revenge for being used and oppressed and wants to end the existent of carnivores.

The Cons: The Mayor and Assistant Mayor – I felt that these two were never fully explored. The Mayor was just someone taking advantage of the media to be better liked while the Assistant Mayor preyed on fear. There was so much more that could have been done with all of them. The mayor being a bully didn’t seem like a logical reason to target all carnivores.

Too Much Shakira – She is in this as Gazelle and she is everywhere. Seriously, at times this film feels like a Shakira commercial. I hated it as this city should listen to more people both in the news and music. This was the one thing that really took me out of the film.

  This was an amazing movie even if the Mayor and Assistant Mayor didn’t feel fully developed as characters, and there was way too much Shakira (and I like Shakira) as at times it felt like one giant music video selling her, especially at the end. These cons are overwhelmed by the positive though as the world is amazing and the core characters all go through character arcs that humanizes them and gives them depth. There is a lot to like about this film and I would not be surprised if it ends up making my Top 5 Films this year.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10