"Around here, however, we don't look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things...and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths."
---Walter Elias Disney

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Moana: Go See It. Now.

I've been looking forward to Moana since it was announced. The setting and basic plot, the daughter of a Polynesian chieftain rediscovering her people's lost seafaring skills to go on a quest to save her people, had "Jeffrey's gonna love this" written all over them. How could a Lapu Lapu-loving, Polyneasian Village Resort-dreaming, tiki head collecting guy who dreamt all his life of living by the sea NOT be excited for this?

We saw Moana on opening night, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, in the local theater. I could have waited to go to the more "modern" theater in Wilmington and catch the film in 3-D with all the best sound and projection tech, but I couldn't wait. I think now that was a good choice. It let me get enveloped in the story, and for all it's beauty and all the spectacular music, that was my favorite part. I'm sure Moana in 3-D would blow me away, and I hope to see it again in that format. The music is perfect. I bought the deluxe edition soundtrack so I'd have all the little instrumental bits. It really couldn't be any better in my opinion. But the star of this film is the story, and the storytelling, and that is exactly how it should be.

The story is both original and classic. This isn't based upon any Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Andersen story. It's based loosely upon both Polynesian legend and fact, as all the best stories are because the two aren't mutually exclusive. Moana, the not-a-princess heroine, is entirely a Disney construct while Maui, the demi-god sidekick, is inspired by Polynesian myth. The fact is, the Polynesian people were some of history's greatest seafaring navigators, traveling thousands of miles between tiny islands in sailing canoes, and then they stopped. No one, including them, knows why. That's the basis of this tale. The story seems familiar enough to our Western tastes to be very accessible and easy to follow while maintaining a flavor of the exotic that makes it interesting and fun.

As good as the story itself is, the storytelling is even more impressive. Disney doesn't rush it, doesn't force anything at all. We get a good half hour before even meeting Maui. That time is spent getting to know Moana and her people and it makes the rest of the story, the adventure part, that much more fun because we're invested deeply in both Moana personally and her culture as well. I can't remember a Disney film, or really any other animated feature, that spends this much time building this kind of base. It's a great thing that Disney trusts its audience, even its youngest audience, to leave the immediate gratification expectations behind. And I think it'll work because it was done so well, bringing in music and visuals that captivate and amaze. By the time Moana sets msail on her adventure, we are 100% with her.

The adventure itself is everything one could wish. Maui is more than worth the wait and he's voiced with passion and heart by Dwayne Johnson, who really is larger than life. But he never steals the show from Moana. She is the star and the heroine, not because she's some super-duper brilliant genius, magically-enhanced, over the top super girl, but because its her story. Disney has given us perhaps its first Heroine rather than Princess. Moana does have a bit f a superpower in that the sea likes her and helps her out, but she's not in control of it, she's as amazed and confused by the help as we are. What she does have, her real superpower, is her tenacity will power. She doesn't know how to sail, but off she goes anyway. She's a "I'll figure it out as I go" kinda girl, and I love that. The lesson that teaches, one of risk-taking and trust in oneself, is invaluable for all children, but particularly little girls.

This is a movie for anyone who's ever felt the tug of the sea, for anyone who loves adventure and comedy (the chicken and the coconut pirates still have me smiling), for anyone who appreciates music, for anyone who's onged for the South Seas, for anyone with a child or a parent or a grandmom. Disney has given us a gift here, go unwrap it as soon as you can!

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