Movie review: Moana

Movie reviews

Hello!

The long awaited and newest Disney Princess movie – Moana – has reached theaters, so, let’s talk about it!

IMDb summary: In Ancient Polynesia, when a terrible curse incurred by Maui reaches an impetuous Chieftain’s daughter’s island, she answers the Ocean’s call to seek out the demigod to set things right.

Moana is, technically, a 13th Disney Princess film. It has been truly amazing to see how this brand evolved in the past 80 years. I feel that the biggest changes started with 2010’s Tangled and all the films following it have been adapting their stories and characters to fit the contemporary world and I’m excited to see what will Disney do next.

Moana is also Disney’s return to musicals, since Frozen 3 years ago. Can Moana’s soundtrack replicate the success of Frozen’s soundtrack? It is gonna be a bit harder for Moana, as this year, we already had one fairly successful animated musical – Trolls – and we also have another one coming up – Sing.

Lastly, Moana is Disney’s attempt at presenting an indigenous – Polynesian culture – to the global market. Thier last attempt at this with Pocahontas wasn’t the most successful, but I think that Disney learned from their mistakes. They went an extra mile to cast voice actors from appropriate backgrounds and also employed anthropologists to help portray Polynesian culture as accurately as possible. As a student of anthropology and a lover of films, I found that fascinating – maybe this can be my job in the future?

Moana’s story also appealed to me on two personal levels. First of all, I, as a longtime professional(-ish) swimmer, sometimes do feel better in the water than on land, so I loved seeing Moana’s connection to the ocean. Secondly, Moana reminded me of two different books that I read as a kid that both revolved around islands and island culture. One of them was Whale Rider (1987) by Witi Ihimaera about a Maori girl and her journey to becoming her clan’s chief. The other was called Island of the Blue Dolphins (1960) by Scott O’Dell about a Native American girl who gets stranded on an island near California. Both books have been turned into movies, in 2002 and 1964 respectively.

Writing and Story

Jared Bush, who has previously worked on Big Hero 6 and also co-wrote and co-directed Zootopia, wrote the screenplay of Moana but a lot of people got the credits for the story, including the directors of this film Ron Clements and John MuskerBig Hero 6’s directors Chris Williams and Don HallWreck-It Ralph 2’s writer Pamela Ribon, and twin Hawaiian screenwriters Aaron and Jordan Kandell.

For the most part, I really enjoyed the writing for Moana. I loved that the movie opened with a lesson in Polynesian mythology. In general, I thought that this specific culture was represented with respect but it was still made fun. The writing for the two main characters was also great. Where the movie’s magic kinda broke down was in the actual narrative of the film. The first act felt a bit drawn out – I wanted to get onto the adventure part quicker. I felt that the movie was just basically checking things off a list in during the set-up: Moana had Disney staples such as the dead relative/teacher, the overprotective parents, and the idea that everyone should stay in their place. The ending was also a bit predictable and I wish they would have done without the cliches like failing at first try and leaving and coming back in the heat of the battle. Nevertheless, a few narrative ideas that I thought were great was the fact that Moana didn’t have or need a love interest. Also, the final confrontation was female-centric, similarly to Frozen, and I would have had a problem with that if Moana didn’t have strong and cool male character – Maui – as well.

Directing and Animation

Ron Clements and John Musker, who have made such Disney classic as The Little MermaidAlladinHercules, and Princess and the Frog, directed the film and did a wonderful job. The pacing of the film could have been better but I absolutely adored the visuals and the animation. All the environment, especially the ocean, were brought to life just magnificently – the water looked both realistic and magical – so much better than another recent water based animation Finding Dory. The character design was also super cool. Moana actually looked like a real person, with realistic body proportions! Maui looked super cool too – I liked that his tattoos were not only a visual prop but a part of the plot. Moana’s sidekicks were good too. The chicken was mostly used for comic relief which was neither a hit or a miss for me. I wish, however, that they would have brought the piggy along for the ride, as he was super cute. The baby Moana was also so adorable. You couldn’t not fall in love with her. Lastly, one of my favorite parts of the film was the good old training montage for both Moana and Maui.

Music

Tarzan’s composer Mark MancinaHamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda, and a member of Oceanic music group Te Vaka – Opetaia Foa’i – all worked on the soundtrack and did an amazing job. To being with, I loved hearing some of the songs in Tokelauan language – it added more authenticity to the film’s atmosphere. The more mainstream pop-songy numbers were also great. I see a lot of potential in one song especially in finally making the world let go of Let it Go – I’m talking about the main song of MoanaHow Far I’ll Go. I liked the version sung by Cravalho much more than Alessia Cara’s credits version. Even though I love Cara and her lyrics, I felt that Cravalho voice just had more emotion and fit the song better. But I can see why Disney wanted a more well-known singer to record a version of the song. Let it Go was also recorded by Idina Menzel and a more mainstream choice Demi Lovato.

Other two songs that I’d like to name are You’re Welcome by Dwayne Johnson. I was super impressed with Johnson’s voice – is there anything he can’t do? The song itself kinda reminded me of another Disney tune whose name I don’t remember, but it just sounded so familiar. The last song I’m gonna mention was the one sung by the crab – that was the only part of the score that I didn’t feel on board with.

Voice cast

  • Auli’i Cravalho was amazing as Moana. Her voice just had so much emotion and fit the character perfectly. I think she has a long career ahead of her, at least I hope so.
  • Dwayne Johnson as Maui was great too. He just had so much charisma in his voice alone. This was only his second voice role. Next year, he has 3 big movies coming up – Fast 8Baywatch, and Jumanji.

In short, Moana was another great picture from Disney. It had spectacular characters, nice thematical ideas and gorgeous animated visuals. I only wish they would have made the story a bit more original.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Moana trailer

P.S. Before Moana, a new Disney short called, Inner Workings, was screened. It was kinda the Inside Out of the body rather than the mind. It was both funny and cute as well as sad and depressing (like Pixar levels sad). Loved the main message – treat yourself, escape the routine and enjoy life!

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Movie review: Central Intelligence

Movie reviews

Good day!

The second (or third) buddy cop comedy of this summer has reached the theaters, so let’s review it!

IMDb summary: After he reconnects with an awkward pal from high school through Facebook, a mild-mannered accountant is lured into the world of international espionage.

Movie suggestions

The first buddy cop comedy that I had in mind is The Nice Guys, which is basically the retro version of Central Intelligence. Also, we could definitely count Zootopia as a crime comedy. Central Intelligence and Zootopia have a similar humor style – very contemporary, pop-culture based.

Minor Spoilers Ahead

Writing

Central Intelligence’s script was written by a trio of screenwriters Ike Barinholtz, David Stassen and the director Rawson Marshall Thurber. I’m not familiar with their previous writings projects but I did enjoy the story that they created for this film. I liked the overall message of being one’s own hero and being oneself, although, that last inspirational speech might have been a bit too much. Nevertheless, dealing with life after highs school and the scars that bullying leaves on one’s mind were good topics for the film since so many people, myself included, can relate to them. The crime aspects of the film – not knowing who the bad guys were and all the double crossings – also worked. The comedy was also fine – I enjoyed the pop culture references. The film 16 candles was mentioned a lot and the line ‘See You On The Other Side’ also received a few repeats. Although it did not originate in the Fast and Furious films, I took it as a reference to that franchise, especially the Fast Five film, in which Dwayne Johnson first appeared. Vin Diesel was also name-dropped a couple of times. The line ‘You’re like a snack-sized Denzel’ also made me chuckle.

Directing

Rawson Marshall Thurber, who directed We’re The Millers, did a good job directing Central Intelligence. The action was cool, although, he could have used a bit less of the shaky cam. The CGI to make the actors look younger also worked. The pacing could have been better – the movie was a bit slow to start – but wasn’t that bad to ruin the film. I also liked the fact that they included the bloopers before the credits, like the older comedies used to do – it seemed like all the actors had so much fun on set and that made me like the film even more.

Acting

  • Dwayne Johnson as Bob Stone/Robbie Weirdicht was a good lead. His character seemed to have a multiple personality disorder and was just a tiny bit obsessed with Hart’s character. Johnson first appeared on my radar because of his involvement in the Fast and Furious films, but since then, he has really built himself an exciting acting career. Last year’s San Andreas was a surprising hit and later this year he is voicing a major character in Moana. In 2017, Baywatch is coming out, which Dwayne has also produced.
  • Kevin Hart as Calvin Joyner was also amazing. I’m not really familiar with Hart’s work, I haven’t seen neither the Ride Along films, nor Think Like A Man films, nor last year’s Get Hard (I don’t like Will Ferrel that much), so I don’t have a strong opinion on him. I did, however, really enjoy his performance on Top Five as well as in this film, so I might  eventually check out those other movies I’ve mentioned too.

I really liked the contrast between Johnson and Hart. Their chemistry was also on-point.

  • The supporting cast consisted of Amy Ryan as Agent Pamela HarrisAaron Paul as Phil and Danielle Nicolet as Maggie Joyner. I was pleasantly surprised to see Paul appear in the film since I really like him as an actor. I have reviewed a bunch of his films: Need for Speed, A Long Way Down, Triple 9 and Eye in the Sky. Bridge of Spies’s Ryan was fine in her role and I also enjoyed the performance of Nicolet.
  • Melissa McCarthy had a small cameo in the film that came out of nowhere but somehow worked. I laughed out loud when she appeared alongside Johnson. While I have mixed feelings about her solo comedies, I definitely like her in small, cameo-sized quantities.

In short, while I don’t usually watch comedies at the cinema, I’m happy that I’ve made an exception for Central Intelligence – it was an entertaining and funny buddy film with great acting and nice message. Not a must see, but a definite recommendation.

Rate: 3.75/5

Trailer: Central Intelligence trailer

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