An exciting new Disney film that feels all too familiar.
In ancient Polynesia, a curse is inflicted by demi-god Maui’s actions. When this curse reaches the island of Moana, the island chief’s daughter, she answers the Ocean’s call to search for Maui in order to set things right and save her island.
As with many Disney films, from the second the titles start you are transported to the film’s world, in this case ancient Polynesia. The island culture is set out right from the get go with tribal music, dances, clothes etc. and the bright island colours help to set this idyllic paradise into motion.
Beginning with establishing the world’s lore and the film’s back story, we here of Maui’s actions which have lead to the curse. Like an old legend, this is relayed to us through an elder of the village. This is a device that’s been used before, particularly by Disney, but it sets the world up well and accomplishes what it has to. Sadly, this is not the only part of the film that feels familiar however.
Moana’s overall narrative structure is very similar, if not exactly the same, to a lot of classic films, and indeed Disney films. A young princess figure must fulfil her destiny/calling against her father’s wishes by entering a dangerous world in order to save her own. It’s something that we’ve seen before in films such as Mulan (1998) and The Little Mermaid (1989), which leaves the film somewhat disappointing.
The structure is executed well, and the film does remain engaging and entertaining throughout. But it’s the familiarity which provides a constant thought of “I’ve seen this before”, as well as a sense of predictability.
Moana herself provides this princess archetypal role Disney have created over the years. She’s driven, passionate, and determined to achieve her own goals despite the wishes of others. She feels somewhat stereotypical to the likes of Ariel and Mulan as they all essentially fill the same role, something that there just needs to be a bit more to. This isn’t to take away from Auli’i Cravalho’s voice performance, as she does very well, but it comes down more to the script itself.
The familiarity in Moana’s character allows the audience to recognise and grasp the world quickly and easily, but I feel as though we’re in an age now where we don’t need to be spoon fed information or watch films that are so cut and paste.
Writer Ron Clements has previously worked on The Little Mermaid, Aladdin (1992) and a lot of other Disney classics, which explains the classic/familiar feel to Moana. Jared Bush (screenplay writer) however worked on the brilliant Zootopia (2016), and it’s a great shame he didn’t bring more of the creativity found in that film to Moana. It could have been a much nicer, creative blend of classic and modern styles rather than what became an all too familiar affair.
Of course, Disney’s structure is put in place for a reason, to portray the themes and messages they wish to and to entertain and engage with a wide audience, which Moana does very well but it just feels like it’s retreading old ground.
Despite the gripes about predictability, the film is solid. It remains engaging and entertaining throughout with enough comedy and action to keep younger audiences engaged too, something Disney are always strong at catering for.
Maui is an interesting character who provides a lot to the film’s lore and narrative. He’s very much the egotistical “badass” that is simply there for his own gain and goals, but of course he too comes around in order to fulfil his character arc. He serves the plot just fine and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson puts in a solid voice acting performance.
The music is very Disney. They add to the narrative well and are very catchy, something a lot of audiences will very much enjoy. For someone who isn’t a fan of musicals, I didn’t find them jarring or annoying, but rather found them quite strong and entertaining.
Furthermore, the style and format of the film itself is fun and interesting. It’s more of a road trip type of story as Maui and Moana travel across the ocean, encountering different obstacles and dangers.
As with all Disney films, it’s about the overall message and moral of the story. Moana is about redemption, forgiveness and self discovery. It’s your actions that define you, not what other people say you are. As always, touching and important themes especially for children, which I feel this film is particularly for.
Disney films are obviously marketed to the younger audiences primarily, but cater well for older audiences, in particular Pixar films. Moana however is certainly a call-back to the Disney films of old, which unfortunately makes it feel all too familiar and predictable yet classic at the same time.