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It is important to note that this review is coming from a white settled Irish Catholic who knows nothing about the culture this film is trying to represent. So I won’t try to comment on any factors of cultural representation.
The story revolves around Moana’s internal conflict, she loves her island home but she can never get rid of her yearning to explore (we’ve all been there). So the question the film asks is how do you figure out who you are when society wants you to fulfil a rigid role with which you don’t feel fully comfortable?
This complexity is dealt with very well in the story. There are no easy answers presented early on and because of this the story is more interesting as, unlike many children’s films, it’s not completely obvious from the start how it will end.
Moana has depth, she is interesting, she is relatable and we see her grow through the story. We also see Moana rescue herself more than once, rather than waiting helpless for someone else to come along; she even saves Maui, making her a legitimate hero and not just a protagonist. This also goes a long way to establishing their mutually respectful relationship.
Maui is hilarious and his character goes on an interesting arc of his own while helping support Moana. His song is catchy as anything and Dwayne Johnson can carry a tune! He is also very funny throughout. Maui challenges Moana but never just for the sake of it. His motivations are clear from the beginning, there is genuine conflict between them which means when they do grow to respect each other, this feels well earned and more satisfying.
Shock shock horror! Moana is not the only important female character in this film! She’s the hero, but they didn’t say, one yeah, that’s enough, quota filled. Her grandmother encourages her desire for exploration; she is interesting, referred to the village crazy and proudly accepts this title (not giving a fuck!). She helps Moana figure out things for herself rather than handing out trite inspirational quotes.
Moana has a Mam! Like, rather than the fairly typical Disney modus operandi of assuming the Mam’s dead because she’s not integral to the story, Moana has a Mam! This changes the whole dynamic of the story, it reinforces the idea of community. Her Mam, although a small role, acts as a bridge between Moana and her father. And quite frankly I think the fact that the Mam wasn’t killed off and never mentioned deserves a Radical Disney Alert all of its own, especially as according to interviews with Nicole Scherzinger (who voiced Sina, Moana’s Mam) they were considering not having a mother for Moana at all, but they made the right choice. Well done Disney, it’s taken about 90 years but you’re getting there!
Extra Good Points
This may be the best complete Disney movie soundtrack ever. All the songs are amazing, they don’t all sound the same, but they do all sound as if they are from the same movie, and we have something for everyone: heartbreaking songs, catchy songs, inspiring songs and hilarious songs. And they all fit perfectly with the flow of the story.
Also, this movie is BEAUTIFUL. Right from the start, the animation is stunning and makes you want to dive right into the ocean. Different styles are used to add texture to the storytelling elements; a technique used sparingly and appropriately to add to the narrative.
The only thing I really didn’t like about the film, was the apparently unavoidable addition of the ‘hilarious’ animal sidekick. There’s bloody 2 of them in this, and they are POINTLESS! There’s a pig that’s there for 5 seconds so that a pork joke can be made, and a rooster that’s really stupid; no seriously, it’s whole thing is that it’s stupid, it looks stupid and eats big stones and throws them up again. That’s it. How smart are roosters supposed to be anyway?
Though this is perhaps just my pet peeve.
Is it Feminist?
Definitely. It is a well told story with a fully developed, well written, female protagonist. There is no pointless romantic storyline shoehorned in because otherwise how can it be a happily ever after for a female character if she doesn’t find a man to settle down with in the end? (Radical Disney Alert!) It passes the Bechdale test, but the most important thing is that all the characters, including all the female characters (all more than 1 of them), came across as fully dimensional humans rather than lazy stereotypes. As I’ve said many times, what we’re really looking for in a feminist film is just decently written female characters. If the story’s good as well then that’s a bonus. It’s not too much to ask is it?
The film overall is fantastic! Great characters, great soundtrack and the visuals are amazing! And if you want to raise little feminists, definitely get them to watch Moana.