Feminist Fairy Tale

How Moana helped me forgot about President Trump

moana

Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Moana
Now Playing
3.5 out of 5

I would be hard-pressed to remember the last truly bad Disney movie. Through every single of its subsidiaries (Disney, Pixar, Lucasfilm, Marvel, Touchstone), there’s a level of consistency unmatched by any other studio. One could attribute this trend to a reluctance to take risks, but that wouldn’t be accurate. Just in the last couple of months, the House of Mouse put out a couple of oft-kilter dramas, The Light Between the Oceans and Queen of Katwe. Neither set the box office on fire, but gave two indie auteurs — Mira Nair and Derek Cianfrance — a taste of big-budget filmmaking.

Disney Animation’s latest, Moana, is a solid entry in the canon. I would even put it ahead of Frozen (which I didn’t love). The film gives a much-needed tweak to classic kid movie platitude “be yourself”: Before making any big, long term decision about your life, go outside your comfort zone and get to know yourself.

Set in the Polynesia, Moana is heavy on mythology (one could argue it’s a streamlined version of “Lord of the Rings”, dangerous quest and powerful trinket included). Thousands of years ago, a rogue demigod called Maui (Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson) stole a mystic rock from the goddess of creation. The deed left Maui stranded on a desert island and caused the rise of Tika, the god of earth and fire, whose presence discourages wayfarers from adventuring beyond the reef.

Cut to centuries later. Princess Moana (newcomer Auli’i Cravalho) is being groomed by her father to lead the village of Motunui. While she seems content in paradise, Moana is drawn to the sea (at times, literally). As fish begin to disappear and the food supply turns to ashes, the heroine has no choice but to venture into the ocean, rescue Maui and restore order by returning the rock to its rightful owner.

Written and directed by Ron Clements and John Musker — the team behind Disney classics The Little Mermaid and Aladdin (and expensive flop Treasure Planet) —  Moana has a strong and competent female lead, and there’s no stupid romantic subplot.

The gorgeous film is well served by a collection of original songs courtesy of Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda. The centerpiece is “How Far I’ll Go”, an anthem catchy enough to give Frozen’s omnipresent “Let It Go” a run for its money. But Miranda is at his best writing comedic tunes: Maui’s narcissistic “You’re Welcome” and “Shiny” (about a greedy 50-foot crab) are reminiscent of Beauty and the Beast’s “Gaston”, the standard for all villains’ signature ditties.

The adventure is simple and effective, although “the chosen one” angle has been explored to death. The lava monster is pure rage (it doesn’t even have lines) and allows a rather unexpected resolution. Maui provides some solid comic relief, with the assistance of his Jiminy Cricket-esque tattoos and Moana’s dimwitted chicken, Hei Hei.

Since Beauty and the Beast’s Belle in 1991, Disney princesses have been gaining more and more agency. Who knows — maybe the Moana generation won’t have issues with voting for a woman president on the other side of the border.

Editor’s note: “Feminist Fairy Tale” isn’t the world’s greatest headline but we went with it anyway because every time a newspaper prints the word “feminist” it pisses off misogynistic jackasses. That’s important in these troubled times.

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