Disney Displays A Deeper Understanding For What Got Them Here – Polynesian Style
Disney would rather that you forget about its early years in the CG animated feature film game. As ludicrous as it seems now, there was a time when the big D through this computer generated stuff was neat to look at but little more than a passing fad.
Sure Pixar was delivering golden egg after golden egg but they still believed the real bread and butter would come from the tried and true 2D pictures. One need only look at the material they were farming out in those early years to discover their heart wasn’t really in it: The Wild, Valiant, Chicken Little.
Then something big happened. They almost lost Pixar! By the time that assimilation was complete, the writing was on the wall. 2D would always have its place in the world but the CG stuff wasn’t only here to stay, it was now the market. And though they absorbed Pixar into their ever-terrifying collective, they have been careful about keeping the two brand identities separate.
Moana is a decidedly Disney production; which, in case that doesn’t tell you anything means this: Like Tangled and Frozen before it, this is the modern Disney “classic”. It hits all the marks; the princess, the colors, the musical element. By and large you can substitute environments and set ups between them all and still come away with the same ending. These are the films that Disney’s marketing department makes darn sure you can’t avoid. Your kid’s backpack, bed sheets, coloring books, socks, folders, toys so on and so forth.
That being said, Moana is the 2016 computer generated animated feature film (Disney’s 56th animated movie) coming in a run-time of 107-minutes built upon a budget of $150-million. It managed to gross over $643m worldwide by the time it completed its theatrical tour. It was nominated for a pair of Academy Awards; Best Animated Feature and another for Best Original Song (“How Far I’ll Go”).
The story tells of Moana, the strong-willed (Disney Princess) daughter of a chief of a Polynesian village, who becomes chosen by the ocean itself to reunite a mystical relic with an elemental goddess. When a blight strikes her island, Moana sets sail, despite her father’s forbidding, in search of the mythical deity Maui, in the hope of returning the heart of Te Fiti and saving her people.
The pacing of the film is sharp and crisp, bogged down only by the frequent intrusion of the musical numbers, some a bit more naturally transitioning than others. The visuals too are quite nice from the texturing of the ocean (not just the water but the anthropomorphic characters of the ocean) to Maui’s tattooed skin.
The plot is fairly predictable with a few odd twists and turns along the way (like the giant singing crab played by generally exquisite Jemaine Clement and an oceanic battle with painted coconut pirates) but the real star of the show is the dynamic between Moana and Maui. We get the idea that Disney is a big fan of empowered women but not unlike Tangled before it, the formula works best when played off a male counterpoint to offer contrast. Fortunately the egotistical and oversized (like literally, think small car here) living legend Maui, complete with conscience in the form of his animated life-experience tattoo. These are some of the more natural and comedic exchanges throughout the film as the two oppositional personality traits learn to first tolerate then eventually care about the other.
All in all, it’s clear that Disney hasn’t quite delved back into masterpiece territory with Moana the way Pixar has with Coco, or for that matter, even when compared to what they accomplished in Frozen, the truth of the matter is that this a very solid piece of entertainment and perhaps the closest they’ve come yet to capturing the sensibilities and timelessness that has made many of their 2D films classics. It’s hard to downplay such things when talking about a company who once thought CG was little more than a passing fad.