Whenever a Pixar* movie comes out these days, I can now expect a few things to always happen: the Rotten Tomatoes community is going to give it a near 100% score, the general population will love it, and I will be stuck here wishing I was on board this massive Disney fan cult. I’m told it’s a magical place.
Before the movie started, I was sitting through the preview for Cars 3, and it shows ten seconds of Lightning McQueen fatally crashing before showing the title screen. I then leaned over to my younger brother next to me and said, “He’ll find some way out of it, because Pixar movies are completely devoid of consequences.”
And then we watched Moana, and it was completely devoid of consequences.
But I guess before I rag about what I didn’t like about this movie, I should start with what I found great about it, because I can already feel the Disney cult glaring at this review, near seconds away from exiting out of it.
Aside from the beautiful animation, there were quite a few moments where I did enjoy the chemistry between the two main characters, Moana and Maui. There is almost nothing unique about Moana as a character, and Maui’s character arc is slightly rushed and underdeveloped, but the banter that they have back and forth, and the irritation they found in their differences seemed genuine enough, and I found quite a bit of humor to be had.
One of the things I liked most about the movie was the soundtrack, which had a unique feeling to it for the first half. There was some very strong Hawaiian tones to the music, and paired with the fact that the actress playing Moana has a beautiful voice means that the music was extremely pleasant to listen to. Somewhere along the halfway mark of the movie, it loses that Hawaiian tone and becomes more generic, but all the songs and music in the movie were fine regardless.
Now, the majority of problems I have in with the movie do not prevent it from being a good movie. Moana is “good” in the shallowest sense of the term. The problems in Moana simply prevent it from being spectacular… which unfortunately every single reviewer that isn’t me will tell you that it’s a spectacular movie when it most certainly is not.
The biggest problem that I have with the movie is that, like many Pixar movies that have come out recently, there is absolutely no consequences in the entire story. There is a part of my brain that prevents me from being completely emotionally invested whenever a story doesn’t challenge its characters in a way that has any sort of irreversible loss or hurt. Every single bad thing that happens to our characters is easily bypassed or reversible, and it makes it impossible for me not to see a movie churned out in a corporate factory, completely devoid of any sort of challenging material that Disney seems to believe would ostracize viewers.
The vast majority of films that you will see in theaters has their protagonists gain victory over their trials. It has gotten to the point that seeing every divine main character triumph tells me nothing new. What differentiates characters is how they respond to irreversible loss, how they respond to extreme adversity, and how they overcome these obstacles (or, dare I say, how they fail to overcome them). But any sort of sense of loss that Moana, and Maui, experience is fixed by the end, and so I’m forced to see these two characters as merely slightly differentiated versions of characters I’ve seen before a million times over.
Moana as a character may as well be sucked into a vortex of a thousand other different protagonists, because she is hardly defined outside of the two following traits:
A. She’s the protagonist
B. Since she’s a female protagonist, she’s strong and independent, and she’ll use these divine attributes to show the haters (usually men, and often fathers) that they were wrong for doubting them and/or preventing their dreams.
But I’ve seen that before in a dozen movies this year alone. Is there anything new that this movie has to tell me? Of course it doesn’t, and quite frankly, nobody is expecting the movie to. Most people will walk out of the film licking it’s boots for being completely inoffensive, and for being so brave in casting a strong female lead as if that’s never been done before.
There is literally a moment in the movie where Maui is mocking Moana for being “a [Disney] princess”, like in all the other Disney movies, with her animal sidekick, and her lack of knowledge, and then the ocean literally sticks a stun dart in his butt, as if to punish Maui for his evil misogynistic ways.
There’s a lot of other scenes like this where the movie points at itself and how unoriginal it’s being, as if to wink and nod at the audience. And maybe I would have laughed at it if I didn’t get the feeling that they were laughing at itself for being lazy instead of mocking the actual tropes they were using in general.
Aside from narrative laziness, this movie is also lazy in how our protagonists solve there problems. There’s a point in the movie where Moana and Maui are being attacked by a bunch of living coconuts, and the coconuts are about to surround the pair, and I was giving the movie the benefit of the doubt saying, “Wow, I wonder how they’re going to get out of this one.” And then, of course, Moana realizes she’s the protagonist and proceeds to effortlessly obliterate the enemy with her paddle, dodging all of their attacks, and taking back what they stole from her without any sort of hesitation.
And then it made me wonder why Maui pretended that these evil coconuts were a serious threat in the first place (knowing this movie, it was likely because he was a man).
By the time the last act comes (which is, of course, segwayed in by a conflict transition that was easily resolved), I started thinking “Well, if this was a cliché movie, then this will probably happen, and so will this, and so will this.”
And sure enough, nearly everything that I predicted would happen happened.
The ending was so sanitized, friendly, and inconsequential that it made me wonder what the whole point of the movie was in the first place.
So, the movie wasn’t necessarily bad, but when it comes to Disney/Pixar/Marvel/(and unfortunately probably Star Wars now too), I have a feeling that each new movie is just going to be a retreading of the standard story formula that creates these uncompelling stories. I have absolutely no idea why the general public and the reviewing community seem so hellbent on buffing this massive empire against any sort of criticism and rewarding them for doing the same thing over and over again. Until I figure that out, I guess I’ll just sit on my isolation rock hoping somebody will listen, and I’m giving this movie a 5 out of 10.
*Edit: I made a mistake: Moana is just Disney, not Pixar. Everything else I said was true.