Moana, who is being groomed to become chieftain of her people, leaves her island to find a cure for the darkness which is ravaging the crops and killing the fish. She finds the snarky demi-god Maui and the two of them team up with the ocean itself to save the world.
Okay, first the movie wasn’t perfect. (We’ll get that out of the way.) The score has been lauded quite a lot elsewhere, but I didn’t find myself humming the songs or even vaguely remembering any of them after the movie ended. They’re serviceable and they accomplish what they need to within the story, but they don’t stick with you. The pacing at the beginning drags as well. Too much time spent lingering over island life.
That said, once we cross the barrier reef into Act II, the story snaps right along. The best part? Moana is her own self. She doesn’t need anyone else to become complete. She’s not even thinking about romance, and one isn’t even mentioned anywhere in the movie. This is a pure buddy pic, no romance need apply.
The woimen have most of the agency in this movie. There’s Moana herself, of course. Her decisions drive the plot forward. But she’s advised and urged on by her impish grandmother, and the main plot revolves around rescuing a goddess. The problems of Maui the demi-god aren’t an afterhtought, but they’re definitely secondary, and they serve Moana’s story, not Maui’s.
The lush setting is another delight. We don’t need explanations of Pacific Island culture thrown at us (such as what hula dancing stands for or how sailing works) because they’re shown to us with firm skill that also assumes we, the audience, have the intelligence to keep up. Oh! And brown skins everywhere. And no skinny minnies among the women! Darwin and I saw a showing with a hugely multi-racial audience, and the brown-skinned children in the audience were thrilled about this.
I won’t spoil the twist ending except to say that it delighted me no end. This was not only because it’s so hard to be surprised by any plot these days, but also because I was just saying to myself, “You know, this part of the story seems strangely forced” when FOOP! It all snapped into a “why didn’t I see that coming?” kind of place that was so DIFFERENT and SENSIBLE from any other fantasy movie I’ve seen. Wonderful!
–Steven Harper Piziks