I am so behind with movies, which is turning into a common refrain on this blog, and an unfortunate one – as I used to go to the movies ALL THE TIME. I was a movie-going fiend. I saw big blockbusters and obscure little indie movies with regularity. Dramas that were sure to be nominated for awards, romantic comedies that were embarrassing to admit, and thrilling spy movies that had me on the edge of my seat. According to this blog, I’ve seen three movies in theaters this year, and at least two of them I saw weeks if not months after they came out. Oh how the mighty have fallen. Moana is in a similar vein – it came out last Thanksgiving. I didn’t see it then, but due to the luck of outdoor movie scheduling in our neighborhood I was finally able to see it, and boy am I glad I did.
Now, I wish I could say it was a calm viewing environment, and that I was able to absorb it all with the focus and diligence I usually reserve for watching a movie. But we brought 5 pre-teen girls to the show with us (2 ours, 3 friends), and even our little group erupted into arguments about who would sit where, and the amount of popcorn or cookies that were being eaten. Moving beyond our little group, we seem to have sat ourselves in the section of noisy 3 and 4 year olds and their parents who have all seen Moana about 20 million times. These children sang along with every song, and at various points shrieked and cried when they didn’t get their way. A truly fascinating experience.
But the movie, you say, how was it? It was really good. I knew going in that I would probably like the music because I was told by E that I would, and because I knew it was written by Lin-Manuel Miranda. And I did. I knew that people enjoyed Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in his performance as Maui, and I have to say that I too enjoyed it, often losing my picture of the actor in my mind despite his being so ridiculously famous, and being able to focus on the story and character. I loved the young actress who voiced Moana herself, Auli’i Cravalho, and I know for sure that it’s not just me that appreciates the casting of a young Hawaiian woman for a role which is appropriate for her cultural background.
But guys – the colors in this movie are amazing. It’s just this rich tapestry to fill the imagination. You might think that because much of the story takes place on a boat on the ocean, it would be a literal sea of blue, but those visuals are boldly broken by Moana herself in red, and the movement of the story to other differently colored lush environments (deep green forests! mountain climbs! trippy-colored underwater nether-worlds! volcanic landscapes!), so that the blue is never too blue and monotonous.
Speaking of trippy underwater nether worlds, I adored the scene that area played out in. Mostly because I adore Jemaine Clement (of Flight of the Conchords), and was amazed by the visuals. It went from normal looking lair of a giant crab who collects things, to this day-glow rave-like coloring. And the song that he sings is pretty terrific too. Full of the signature clever verbal gymnastics of L-M Miranda, but with the casual vocal stylings of Clement. It was amazing. I could watch it over and over. I may have watched it a few times already, and I wouldn’t blame you if you took a few moments to watch it now.
But this scene is also a terrific example of how Moana feels like a new era in Disney heroines. She’s resourceful while still being fallible and occasionally weak. She may have a man with her, but she’s depending on him to save her at every turn, and he can’t because it turns out he’s fallible too with a lesson to learn. There’s no love story to speak of (except for perhaps the love between Grandmother and Granddaughter, which I loved seeing), and there also isn’t really a big villain terrorizing our heroes throughout the story. Yes, there’s a big one at the end who needs to be defeated, but as the Boy and I discussed afterwards, the story seems to be focusing more on conquering your inner challenges and figuring out resourceful ways to achieve your goals and overcome your fears instead of “must slay this dragon and everything will be ok”.
And ultimately, this kind of lesson is a much better one for kids to take away than they might see in The Little Mermaid or Beauty and the Beast. Too often in life there isn’t a named foe that we must conquer in order to get what we want. It is merely our own fears and insecurities that are holding us back. But Moana shows us that with hard work, learning new skills, thinking outside the box, and also showing empathy for those who might be working against us, it’s possible to achieve much in this world. So I can see why those toddlers knew every word to the songs – their parents saw too that this story is a good one with actual valuable life lessons in it, and they are just trying to reinforce those (while enjoying the music) in any way they can.