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: Cinderella 2015 + Frozen Fever

Movie reviews

Hello!

I have just come back from the early screening of Cinderella in honor of International Women’s Day and this is going to be my review! Happy Women’s day to all the women and girls out there too!!

First of all, let’s start with the Frozen short – Frozen Fever – which they showed before the movie. I was really scared that they wouldn’t show it internationally but they did and I am really happy about it!

I loved the short movie even more than the actual Frozen movie! My favorite story line of Frozen was the sister relationship which is also the main focus of the short film. The quirkiness of Anna and Kristoff is also relatable to me and it’s explored in the short too. And did you see how cute Elsa’s little snowmen look? Now Olaf can have brothers and sisters! Elsa’s and Anna’s dresses were also amazing and really spring-like…I also loved that they re-used the line “The cold never bothered me anyway” to introduce the song “Perfect Day“. One last note: I liked the fact that they showed what Hans was doing after what he did in Frozen…That was a nice cameo.

Trailer: Frozen Fever trailer

Rate: 4/5frozen-fever-poster

Now, let’s talk about Cinderella. First of all, I liked that this was a direct remake of the original one with little changes and not a nitty-gritty evil version of it…Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed Maleficent and Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, however, I do believe that some things don’t have to change because the original story is that good. Some might say that I have a conservative way of thinking and don’t like changes in general but that would be completely untrue. Some might also claim that I am anti-feminist because I like that women are depicted as beautiful dolls with no brain..Again, both of these statements are completely untrue. I have a very liberal view and I also would call myself a modern feminist because both of these ideologies encourage me to choose freely. And, though, I like strong female characters like Katniss from THG , this time, I choose to watch a “sappy” romance because I have a choice. I also will try to argue that Cinderella is a strong female character in her own way.

Acting

I have seen probably all the possible adaptations of the Cinderella, including all the teen remakes (Another Cinderella Story with Selena Gomez was like my favorite childhood movie and introduced me to Selena Gomez whose fan I still am). However, I will admit that I haven’t seen an original Cinderella animation in a long time..It has probably been at least 3-4 years since I’ve last watched it. Though, I’ve recently seen Into The Woods and really liked Anna Kendrick as Cinderella and Chris Pine as Prince Charming…Having said that, I believe that this movie has even better Cinderella and a Prince.

Lilly James as Cinderella was really amazing. She definitely looked the part but she also sold me on both the emotional connection with her parents and the chemistry with The Prince. Their first dance was sensual and sexual at the same time. I also liked her connection with nature and animals. Because I am a fan of Downtown Abbey, it  was also fun for me to see her do all the work while her maid form Downtown (actress Sophie McShera) played one of the evil step-sisters. They kinda exchanged roles for a few hours. Another step sister was played by actress Holiday Grainger. Both actresses did a nice job. They characters were a bit cartoon-ish but then again – this is an adaptation of cartoon.

Richard Madden as Prince Charming. God, I forgot how handsome he was…He was a great Heir to Winterfell in GoT and, in this movie, he was definitely the most charming Prince you could ever find. I believed his and Cinderella’s love at first sight. Strange, how this type of love works in fairy-tales for me but doesn’t work anywhere else (I have Jupiter Ascending in mind (review)).

Cate Blanchett as Lady Tremaine/Evil step-mother – talk about a scene stealer. Cate captivated your attention every-time she was on screen. She was such a great evil step mom. I hated her a lot. If I was in Cinderella’s place, I would have punched her in the face after the first week but I guess I am not that kind.

P.S. her cat – Lucifer – was cool Easter Egg too.

Cinderella’s parents: Hayley Atwell and Ben Chaplin were also great. I am a fan of Hayley (just finished Agent Carter) and I believe that they portrayed a family relationship nicely. My eyes were watering when Hayley’s character was dying..I was also sad that I wasn’t able to see the actress, I like, on screen for a longer period of time.

Derek Jacobi as The King and Stellan Skarsgard as Grand Duke (I guess the director Kennith Branagh of the film had to pick at least one of the actors from Thor – he directed that movie too). I liked that they explored the father-son relationship between The King and The Prince more and added more depth to these characters. The twist on the Grand Duke’s character was also an interesting touch.

Nonso Anozie as the Captain was also a nice addition to the film. His and Prince Charming’s scenes showed The Prince more as a commoner and not a royalty.

Helena Bonham Carter as The Fairy Godmother was also a functional role, though I would have liked to see a fairy godmother more as a sensitive, encouraging character and less like a comic relief character.

Visuals/Costume/Setting

The movie looked breathtakingly beautiful. The costumes were exquisite, the sets looked real and authentic and the overall visual realization of the film was just spectacular. Props to Sandy Powell for costume design, Haris Zambarloukos for cinematography and Martin Walsh for the beautiful editing of the film.

Story

Probably all of you reading this know, how Cinderella’s story plays out. And I really love it for what it is. I am a romantic and I believe in true love and I would like to find true love in my life too, be it at first sight or the second. I also believe that Cinderella encourages young girls to play nice, to fight evil with kindness and goodness, to support each other and stop the bullying. It also shows that if you play nice and stick to your way of thinking, you can achieve what you want. You can win without changing who you are, because you are beautiful as you are. Some might say that Cinderella has the advantage of her beautiful looks and I can agree with them. However, beauty is such a subjective concept, so she might look pretty to some people while others might have a different opinion. In addition, though, our world is changing ever so slightly, you will never convince me that the outside beauty doesn’t matter. It has mattered for centuries and it still matters, because all first impressions, which a crucial while living in a contemporary society, are based on looks.

So, to sum up, I loved this movie, it dragged at some place but it was still a feast for my eyes and for my heart. “Enjoy it while it lasts” – I certainly did and escaped my life in order to spend a few hours in a fairy-tale.

Trailer: Cinderella (2015) trailer

Rate: 4.5/5

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