Saturday, April 22, 2017

Hawaiian Superman

Two things about Moana (2016): it is very beautiful, and it made me cry. The beauty is no surprise: The great artists at Disney working on an amazing subject: the South Pacific. The crying took me a while to figure out.

It started during the first song, Where You Are. It is about the beautiful island young Moana lives on, how it provides everything they need, and how they will never leave. Moana is the daughter of the chief, well loved by all the village she is destined to lead. But the song is laced with a yearning for freedom, for exploration, for the outside world. I don't know how Lin-Manuel Miranda does it, but he sure does. And this was written before he became famous for Hamilton.

Although Moana's father forbids sailing beyond the reef, her grandmother is the crazy lady of the island, and encourages Moana to roam. Also, she dances a fine hula. She has told all the children the story of the Creator Te Fiti, and how the god Maui stole her heart. Not like she fell in love with him, but like he took her heart, a small jade carving, and ran away with it. That brings down a curse on the Pacific, and all living things suffer - except maybe the island where Moana lives.

But when the plague threatens her island, she goes off to get Maui to return the heart. Maui (Dwayne "the Rock" Johnson) is the Hawaiian Hercules, a trickster and a shapeshifter, who gave man the secret of fire and who pulled the islands out of the sea with his magic fishhook. When Moana, after many trials, finally tracks him down, he turns out to be vain and self-absorbs, and he sings her a very funny song, You're Welcome, accepting all the thanks and praise she has failed to offer him.

He also has a beautiful set of animated tats that reflect and even affect the story. These are hand animated in a simple, classic style. The rest of the movie is computer animated, which does wonderfult things to the sea, the landscape, and the lighting. Even the coconut pirates, a goofy interlude that doesn't seem to belong with the rest of the movie, are fun, and there's a great Fury Road payoff.

Although the Lin-Manuel Miranda songs get most of the attention, because they are in English, the Polynesian music by Opetaia Foa'i is lovely and atmospheric. Authenticity was very important to this production, so a lot of the voice cast come from Pacific Island backgrounds, including Moana, 14-year-old Auli'i Cravalho and Johnson, who's part Samoan. The writers spent time talking to the elders all over the Pacific to make sure the story (not traditional) was respectful and realistic. I think that helps make the story hold feel unified and grounded.

In conclusion - Moana is the daughter of the chief, and this is a Disney movie, but is she a Disney Princess? Views differ.

No comments: