Disney’s Moana was nominated for Best Animated Feature, and I think it was very much a “classic” Disney film. The story was essential a fable, as the old Disney stories were; it had clever humour; plenty of catchy songs; spotless animation and even openly stated in the film that if the female lead wears a dress and has an animal sidekick she’s a princess.
Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) is the daughter of the chief of a Polynesian island. Their people stay close to their island, and never venture out past the reef that harbours them, for out beyond the reef the world has been cursed and is plunging into darkness. A long time ago the demigod Maui (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) stole the heart of the goddess Te Fiti which unleashed Te Ka, a fire demon who struck down Maui and his magical fishhook and brought the darkness to the world. Moana’s people seemed safe, but when their fishermen bring back no fish, and their crops start to die, it appears the darkness has reached their island too. From a tale passed on by her grandmother, Moana learns that Maui is the only one who can defeat Te Ka and return the heart to Te Fiti (which Moana’s grandmother happens to have). Learning that her people are actually descended from wayfaring voyagers and not sheltered farmers and fishermen as she has been led to believe, Moana steals a boat that was hidden in a series of island caves and sets out beyond the reef to find Maui and save the world, with Hei Hei….a very dumb rooster as her animal sidekick. Braving challenges, defeating monsters and embracing her destiny on their way, Maui and Moana set off to return the heart.
As I said, this one was lots of fun. I particularly enjoyed Moana reminding Maui how to be a hero, and how she turned him to her side. When first she meets him, he is just a selfish person, but he is also very dejected. Ever since he lost his magic fishhook he can no longer shapeshift into animal forms. Moana helps Maui recover it, which immediately returns his confidence; and Maui teaches Moana to sail the seas like her people did generations ago. The two do develop a friendship, and would willingly sacrifice themselves for each other as they finally face the lava demon in their quest to save Te Fiti and save the world. As I think I’ve mentioned before, the “returning hero” storyline is one of my favourites, so I really enjoyed that part of Moana. Once Maui got his “powers” back, there was some pretty good humour as he got used to shapeshifting again. And we got to see the true heroic demigod in action once he worked out all the kinks. Moana herself saved the day in the end with the tried and true “brains over brawn”, as she had completed her own journey of self discovery.
Very fun, quite funny, quite musical, and they did a very good job animating water which is always a difficult task. If you’re in the mood for a nice light bit of myth, fable and storytelling, you can’t go wrong.
Bottom Line: I think I liked this more than Zootopia…
Disney did it again, and Zootopia took home the Oscar for Best Animated Feature, but I wasn’t overly impressed by it. Sure the animation was flawless, the characters were good, as was the story, but when I watch cartoons, I want to laugh, and I didn’t laugh as much as I thought I should have for a Disney cartoon.
Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) is a bunny, who has wanted to become a police officer since she was a child. But bunnies are small, weak and timid, so there has never been a bunny police officer in Zootoipa, the land where animals all live together in harmony. Yes, in Zootoipa prey animals like sheep or bunnies no longer have to fear the predatory animals like jaguars or foxes. Judy fights against prejudice and works hard to become the first bunny officer of the ZPD (Zootopia Police Department), but a case of missing animals comes up that she must solve within 24 hours or else she must quit the force. To solve the case she turns to a street hustler fox (Jason Bateman) for help, and the two set off reluctantly together discover how and why several predator animals have apparently gone savage. Their search leads them through all the habitats of Zootopia and brings them deeper into a web of crime and corruption than they ever expected…
The film naturally has a message as it deals with prejudice and also explores the role of implicit bias in policing, which is good, but I think might have been a bit heavy for the expected target audience. It may be something that the older kids and parents in the audience will pickup on, but would be completely lost on someone like my five year old nephew. Judy does solve the case and does get predator and prey animals to once again get along and live peacefully together but not before realizing her own prejudices. Did Zootopia really need to be Serpico with animals though? When I watch cartoons (and yes, I watch them fairly regularly and by choice as an adult), I want to go back to my childhood and be amazed and entertained and laugh and maybe even shed a tear. Zootopia was entertaining, but to me it didn’t have that magic touch.
So Disney is making “live action” versions of their old animated hits eh? Is the House of Mouse out of ideas, or have they struck upon something brilliant? A few weeks ago Cinderella, directed by Kenneth Branagh, opened, and I suppose that is the “official” first film in this live action series, but last summer came Maleficent, a re-telling of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale; and the film I finally watched tonight.
Full of magic, and fairly decent effects, Maleficent was a pretty brilliant piece of writing. The original tale that we know from the animated feature of 1959 is expanded and fleshed out to a marvellous degree. We are given Maleficent’s backstory. She’s a fairy, not a witch, though she is just as magical. She’s the protector of her realm, a magical land known as the Moors bordering on a human kingdom. She lost her wings when she trusted a man (Sharlto Copley) who she thought had loved her until he cut them from her to present to his dying king so he could take the throne himself. Laying a curse on his infant daughter Aurora, she proclaims she will be in a death-like sleep unless she receives true love’s kiss; a handy loophole in the curse that is meant to be a jab at the king. Aurora (Elle Fanning) is raised by the three fairies, but here’s where the story really twists off on a tangent: she discovers that she also has a fairy godmother who’s shadow has been protecting her all her life. Of course that shadow is Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) who seems to regret her irremovable curse and has become enchanted with the young princess.
I really liked the spin this story took. It was very much a family and love story, and full of Disney morals about not judging books by their covers, that even in the darkest souls there still can remain some light, and that human greed is always a pretty big motivator. There were battles with knights and magical creatures, and we actually got to meet Aurora more, because in the original tale, she was asleep for a lot of the story. Certainly darker, but at the same time charming, and I think it accomplished what it set out to do: make us feel sympathy for the “villain”. Jolie was excellent and perfectly cast in the lead. Very much paying tribute to the iconic performance by Eleanor Audley which set Maleficent up among the pinnacle of Disney villains.
If you’re looking for a fun and magical film, Maleficent lets you revisit a familiar story, but adds in a nice dose of “what if”.
Bottom Line: I prepared for my movie watching tonight by taking a nap beforehand. I’m not ashamed.