Moana Falls Victim to the Disney Formula.


Manuel Ramirez, Staff Reporter

You know how Disney is made fun of for using the same method over and over again in its repertoire? Love at first sight, cute animal critters, dead parents, funny sidekicks, musical numbers, likable princesses, etc. Regardless, the House of Mouse manages to find new and creative ways to tell its stories even with the same guidelines. I won’t deny that it’s been done to death that even other studios like its rival DreamWorks have applied it, but it’s never bothered me……until now.

Set on a Polynesian island, Moana (Auli’i Cravalho in her feature debut) dreams of voyaging across the ocean. She has encouragement from Grandmother Tala (Rachel House), but is forbidden by her father Chief Tui (Temuera Morrison). When the island falls into mortal peril, Moana sets sail to find the legendary demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) with the hopes of saving her home.

I’ll start on what I liked this about movie. If there is one factor that Disney never disappoints its the animation, especially on the water as it literally has a mind of its own assisting Moana on her journey. The way it moves called to mind the aqautic visuals from James Cameron’s The Abyss and the water-bending techniques in the Nickelodeon cartoon, Avatar: the Last Airbender. The music by Lin-Manuel Miranda of Hamilton fame and South Pacific artist Opetaia Foa’I set the mood of Moana’s Polynesian-inspired world and deliver some of catchy tunes. My personal favorites being “We Know the Way,”and “Your Welcome,” with the latter containing the same mad energy given by the Genie’s song “Friend Like Me” in Aladdin. The voice-acting is well-done and I must applaud the filmmakers for making the choice of casting a newcomer like Auli’I Cravalho the opportunity to star in her first feature role instead of finding a celebrity to voice the titular character. Finally, there’s Maui himself who steals the show with his cocky but lovable attitude. He’s a shapeshifter who’s lost his powers for a past wrongdoing and only looks out for himself. His Jiminy Cricket conscience tattoo, Mini-Maui provided the film’s biggest laughs, moving around freely with the rest of the patterns detailing the demigod’s heroic feats. As the film progressed, Maui does grow a heart as he later attempts to make-up for his mistake that continues to haunt him.

So what is it that brings this film down? It’s use of making the same Disney story becoming very noticeable. There’s a free-spirited princess who dreams of something more than the life she’s living in. Oh wait I’m sorry she’s not a princess, the movie has the character state it herself. It’s a Meta gag that has become a staple in recent Disney flicks like Frozen and Zootopia; just because you acknowledge a past flaw doesn’t make it funny or clever. If you are going to go forward with it, do what Tangled did where it’s not obvious, and in-your-face. Besides the free-spirited female stereotype, there’s the disapproving father figure, eccentric but wise grandparent, funny animal sidekick and even a Chosen One story arc. As I stated before, if your going to use the same story elements add a different twist to it, otherwise it’ll feel banal and predictable. This is what sadly plagues the movie. The least that could have been done was giving the father figure more likability as in The Little Mermaid and How to Train Your Dragon. When DreamWorks does a better job with its storytelling, its a wake-up call that Disney needs to step-up its game. I haven’t even mentioned the Disney sidekicks who were the most aggravating and pointless part of the movie. The story wouldn’t be affected one bit if they were written out, and I usually enjoy the company of these comedic characters. Also I must ask, whose idea was it to add a Twitter joke? I thought Ice Age stooped that low but not Disney!

While Moana is no classic in my book there are some good elements that kids will enjoy from its oceanic odyssey and strong female lead.  I may not be feeling the love but it fares better than say the likes of talking pets, angry birds and singing trolls.

If there’s one Disney tradition that never gets old, it’s the short film shown before the feature film. In what I can only describe as a mash of Inside Out and Ozzy and Drix (the TV spin-off to Osmosis Jones, ring a bell anyone?), Inner Workings shows us the morning routine of an average Joe going to his desk job. The brain maintains the body fit and safe despite the urging of other organs like the heart and stomach. Sure it sounds surreal but it makes for a funny and delightful viewing.