‘Moana’ Makes For An Enjoyable Occasional Watch

Courtesy: Walt Disney Studios

Walt Disney Studios has gone to great lengths in recent years to attract young female audiences looking for something other than the standard damsel in distress stories.  New strong female leads such as Princess Elena (Elena of Avalor), Merida (Brave) and Elsa and Anna (Frozen) have proven those efforts have paid off.  The company’s take on Rapunzel (Tangled) could be argued either way.  Late last year, the House of Mouse brought its young female audiences another strong female role model in the form of Moana.  The Polynesian teen’s coming-of-age story proved to be a rousing success for Disney in terms of sales.  Now available on DVD and Blu-ray/DVD combo pack, the movie has proven to be just as much of a financial boon for the company.  As successful as it has performed, this latest teen-centric tale of self-realization and friendship is, in reality, not Disney’s best.  It is not a total loss, though.  That should be emphasized here.  That is due in part to its dual-pronged story.  That will be discussed shortly.  The story’s pacing does take away from the story, bogging it down more than once.  The movie’s bonus material should also be noted in examining its overall presentation.  That will be discussed at more length later, too.  Each element plays its own part in Moana’s overall presentation.  They show that while it is anything but Disney’s best, it is also not the studio’s worst effort either.  It is worth at least an occasional watch.

Walt Disney Studios’ latest animated adventure Moana is hardly the famed studio’s finest work.  To be fair, it is also not the company’s worst effort.  It is worth at least an occasional watch.  That is due in part to the movie’s dual-pronged story.  The most obvious of those two prongs is Moana’s own coming-of-age story.  After being told by her father not to go beyond the reef, she decides (on the advice of her grandmother) that she should make her own decision.  This leads her to strike out on her own adventure in an effort to save her island and its surrounding islands.  This story of self-actualization generates, in itself secondary messages about finding one’s own way in life, not being afraid to take chances, and so many other messages.  The movie’s writing staff is to be commended for the way in which they incorporated those messages into the central story without allowing them to overpower the script’s central story.  They are to be commended just as much for the balance of that central story with the secondary story of Maui’s turn from villain to hero.

The secondary story of Maui’s turn from villain to hero is just as commonplace in the cinematic realm as Moana’s coming-of-age tale.  As the pair journeys to return the heart of Taffiti Moana eventually leads Maui to realize the error of his ways, leading him to make a tough decision about himself and about personal sacrifice, leading him to atone for his past wrongs and become a hero.  It is, in its own right, its own coming-of-age story, just more in the avenue of self-actualization.  This story of personal growth is just as commonplace in the cinematic realm as Moana’s coming-of-age tale.  Yet somehow the script’s writing team was able to make both stories work.  That ability to make both stories so entertaining makes the movie’s writing team deserving of its share of applause.  At the same time though, that applause cannot be too loud.  That is due to the problem raised through the story’s pacing.

Moana’s writers are to be commended for joining two common-place cinematic stories and somehow balancing them.  They are to be commended, too for somehow taking at least a somewhat original approach to the all-too-familiar stories.  While the writers are to be commended for the efforts taken to make those stories work collectively and alone, they cannot be applauded too loudly.  That is because their efforts also led to a pacing problem that clearly bogs down the movie.  That pacing issue is evident early on as Moana is given the heart, only to lose it when she is caught by her father.  The problem here is that it meant the story had to take a lot of unnecessary time building up to Moana getting the heart back from a somewhat expected source all while she is growing up and finding her way all before she even embarks on her epic journey.  Once Moana finally gets her voyage, things pick back up a little, only to get bogged down again as she and Maui get randomly attacked by a bunch of mutant-type living coconut pirates.  Yes, mutant-type, living coconut pirates.  Sounds like the premise for a really bad 1950s B-sci-fi flick, right?  Once they escape the creatures’ (which conjure thoughts of the goombas from the Mario Brothers video game franchise) clutches, the story does pick up again, only to be bogged down yet again later as Maui (at least temporarily) deserts Moana—not to give away too much—before things pick up again in the story’s final act.  Considering the constant back and forth of the story’s pacing, keeping audiences engaged in the nearly two-hour movie is not easy.  That could potentially chalked up to the fact that it seems like the writers just threw together elements of past Disney offerings such as Aladdin, Hercules, and so many others and hoped they would make this story work.  They made the story’s dual-pronged approach work.  But they clearly caused problems in the story’s pacing.

The pacing of Moana’s dual-pronged story is a problem that cannot be ignored in examining the movie’s overall presentation.  The constant back and forth of the movie’s pacing makes maintaining audiences’ engagement (especially younger audiences) problematic.  Luckily, the efforts of the movie’s writing team to balance the stories and somehow make them at least somewhat original makes enduring the pacing problems easier.  Another element that makes up (at least somewhat) for the movie’s pacing is the bonus material included in the movie’s home release.  The movie’s key bonus feature is the documentary “Voices of the Islands.”  The roughly half-hour program takes viewers along with the movie’s heads to the South Pacific as they studied the Polynesian people and their culture ahead of the movie’s creation.  Audiences will be surprised to see how much of the region’s culture—from the importance of family and community to the importance of the coconut to even something as minor as the people’s hair style—plays directly into the movie in this program.  All of these discussions exhibit just how much time and work went into making the movie believable and that it properly paid tribute to the people on which it is centered.  It creates a new respect for the work put in to bring the story to life and is yet another example of how bonus features can make an otherwise forgettable flick more memorable and not the last.  The bonus ‘Gone Fishin’’ short that features Moana and Maui adds its own enjoyment to the movie’s overall presentation.  When the movie’s bonus material and its story are coupled together, they make the one negative of the movie’s pacing bearable.  The end result is a viewing experience that audiences of all ages will enjoy even with just the occasional watch.

Walt Disney Studios’ new animated movie Moana is not the studio’s best effort, nor is it the company’s worst offering.  It is a movie that is worth at least an occasional watch.  That is due in part to the balance in the movie’s dual-pronged story.  The story’s pacing is problematic.  There is no denying that, but luckily it is not so problematic that it makes the movie unwatchable.  The bonus material that is included in the movie’s home release gives audiences even more reason to give it a chance; especially the movie’s companion 30-minute “Voices of the Islands” documentary.  That bonus documentary, when coupled with the movie’s balanced two-part story, the two elements do plenty to make up for the movie’s pacing problems.  That combination makes the movie worth watching at least once in a while.  More information on Moana is available online now at:

 

 

 

Website: http://movies.disney.com/moana

 

 

 

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/disneymoana

 

 

 

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