It’s safe to say that “Moana” was by far one of the biggest movies to come out in 2016. This movie is remarkable: it has a wonderful story, a captivating heroine, and an enchantingly gorgeous world of adventure, myth, and natural beauty. There’s amazing music, witty comedy, HeiHei the chicken sidekick–what’s not to love? In case you have not yet seen the movie (and have therefore been doing far less valuable things with your time), here are five stellar reasons to give it a go.
5) The animation. Disney has done some excellent animation in the past, but the work in this film is absolutely, breath-takingly, attention-grabbingly beautiful. A large part of this is because the South Pacific is, in fact, just that beautiful in real life–but to reach such unparalleled heights with the images, to animate the water (an entire sea!), to animate both Moana and Maui’s hair, to have that level of skill and perfection in animation extend all the way throughout the movie to every character and every scene–that is really something spectacular! Kudos to the people involved; this movie is a masterpiece of visual storytelling.
4) HeiHei. Remember that chicken? Well, here he is. There are some ingredients in a story that are crucial parts of its success–a plot with substance, intriguing characters, in-depth development, arresting visuals–and comical or witty elements are definitely among them. “Moana” has plenty of this–but the filmmakers also clearly understand that physical comedy shouldn’t be underestimated, and that’s where HeiHei comes in. A good-natured but klutzy bird, HeiHei is nowhere near as adept at seafaring as his friend Moana is–and that makes for some very funny scenes. He may not have any lines other than several well-placed and well-enunciated squawks, but with each squawk, HeiHei imparts a little more laughter to the audience and thereby adds a lot more fun.
3) Maui. Maui is a great partner for a movie–he’s comical, he’s damaged, he’s interesting, and he actually has a really catchy and fun song of his own. With a great warrior cry, epic transformations, and some fantastic tattoos, Maui manages to be wonderful foil for the stalwart Moana. He has enough doubt to make Moana question her own, but he also has a similar connection to the sea–and when the two of them do work together, it is definitely something to witness! This partnership is only enhanced by his presence as the more ‘grounded’ of the two heroes–and by some of his particularly funny one-liners. After all, who doesn’t love a sardonic, heart-of-gold character? There’s a reason they keep coming back, and Maui is a textbook example of that appeal.
2) The music. Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Pocahontas, Mulan–there’s some great music in earlier Disney films, truly. But “Moana” is something unique. The performances on the soundtrack, the lyrics, the use of both English and Samoan languages, the hauntingly resonant background instruments–all of these elements transform the music into something that’s just really, really cool, as well as extremely emotional to listen to. Auli’i Cravalho’s talent is immediately recognizable through her singing (as well as her incredibly poignant and seamless voice acting, don’t forget), and the performances by the ensemble are particularly moving (be sure to hear the very first song, sung by Olivia Foa’i). Dwayne Johnson’s voice is perfect for the fun number “You’re Welcome”–a tune that stays in the head for virtually inestimable amounts of time–as is Christopher Jackson’s voice in “Where You Are”. Overall, this soundtrack will leave you feeling touched, motivated, and heartened against whatever comes your way–and you’ll be sure to notice the next beautiful breeze or chirp of a birdsong, too. Plus, you’ll be ‘considering coconuts’–to paraphrase a certain well-known lyric.
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1) Moana herself. I cannot tell you how nice it was to discover a heroine who feels as free, flowing, and natural as Moana. She’s unpretentious, she’s stocky, she’s skilled and athletic–she actually even has cankles! She never displays regrets, worries, or even interest regarding her physical appearance, which is supremely refreshing. She’s also capable and confident in her own abilities–but never to the point of arrogance (and when Maui challenges her faith in herself, Moana does falter a bit before her decidedly wonderful rebound). She allows herself to get up to some mischief, but she also works hard, and she never ignores important responsibility. In fact, it is her very struggle with the issue of responsibility–to stay home, keep her village happy, and settle for a mild but pleasant life–and the instinctual allure of seafaring that makes Moana such an appealing and relatable character. Hasn’t every one of us experienced the same turbulent tumble that occurs when a love of home and a surplus of big dreams meet? Moana is also funny and intelligent, with both a sparking sense of humor and a sparking sense of “stubbornness” (at least, according to her grandmother). She’s feisty, but only when really provoked (ahem, Maui. ahem, Chief Tui.); there’s no whining or unreasonable temper tantrums here. She also takes the time to actually listen to her dreams, to focus on both the beauty of the world around her and the very spirit of nature (along with her purpose’s integration into it). Moana does not take the natural world for granted; she appreciates it for what it is, and it is that potent connection to said world that makes Moana so special. When she looks up at the sky, feeling her ancestors behind her, trusting in the stars and in herself–that is the element of humanity that is in Moana, the element that’s in us all. Because haven’t we all, at some point, looked to the stars and dreamed?
In the end, one of the best ‘reasons’ for this movie’s success is actually a theory of my own. I originally said that Moana was relatable, due to her capacity for imagination, her spunky athleticism, and her inward-facing struggles. But Maui is also relatable–he’s a realist, he’s vain, he’s suffered both personal and physical setbacks, and he understands the value of humor in almost any situation. That combination– Maui’s levity and vulnerability with Moana’s gravitas and understanding–means that the two characters together actually equal one of the most relatable figures in film. Together, they are about as close to the average, hodge-podged human as they could be–and that is why we like them both so much. When Moana represents one part of us, Maui represents the other. Sometimes we’re well-represented by both in a scene. But (regardless of the situation) when we’re watching “Moana”, we’re looking at ourselves–and that is something very special. Moana and Maui work so well because they are us–while also being on a transpacific journey to save a goddess with a chicken.
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