MOANA : A Timely Movie From Disney

Film Review |By Christian Tesfaye - special to Fortune

Moana is not one to be discounted. It is a deserving contender for an Oscar nomination this year. Some may miss the theme of the movie, I almost did. It has a message that is timely and important. The exclusive non-white characters come as the Academy Award is accused of lacking diversity. This film is in the league of great works such as Zoolopia and Finding Dory. 8 out of 10 stars

In just the last two weeks, President-Elect Donald Trump picked a state attorney general, Scott Pruitt, to run the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This is a government agency charged with protecting the environment of the United States.

Democrats and independents were quick to complain. It is their understanding that the biggest problem the planet faces at the moment is global warming and the person to run the country’s environmental agency is skeptical of global warming and most environmental initiatives. He is skeptical of the whole phenomena and doubts humans are to blame for the cause of global warming.

Disney recently came out with a new animated flick called Moana at a perfect time, to place the environment on our radar screen. This is a landmark film that addresses issues of the environment, feminism and diversity in Hollywood – this is not just a love story movie. To boot, all the characters are surprisingly non-white. More than that though, this is the most boldfaced argument a Disney movie has made in respect to global warming and the cause of the environment.

Moana is Polynesian – an aboriginal of an island in the Pacific Ocean, at a time before white people emerged and started calling everyone “aboriginals.” She is the tribe chief’s daughter, and like all of her broad-nosed curly haired people, she has grown up listening to the history of her ancestors. Then the demigod Maui stole the heart of the goddess, Te Fiti. Before escaping though, Te Kā, an evil being made of lava and earth, confronted him. In the ensuing encounter, Maui disappears, his famous fish-hook that gives him all his powers is lost and the heart of the goddess vanishes.

It is now believed that the ocean will one day choose a human to help Maui find and return the heart to Te Fiti. The film’s title character Moana, after much singing, discovers that she is the “chosen one” and embarks on a very dangerous and emotional journey to fulfil the prophesy. To be frank, some audiences are likely to miss the film’s theme and I almost did.

That was until it all became clear that Te Kā, the villain, and Te Fiti, the goddess, are one and the same. Maui steals the heart of Te Fiti because mankind asked him too. The demigod could be an allegory for the various mind-blowing inventions human beings have come up with, like factories and cars, which at the end of the day, while contributing massively to our civilization, also destroy the environment. Te Fiti is obviously the Earth. It turns into the unforgiving lava demon Te Kā that perverts plant life and kills animals, just like our planet would, if we don’t alleviate the unnatural greenhouse effects on the environment. There is a famous misconception that global warming hurts the Earth. It isn’t true.

“Nature does not need people, people need nature.”

Global Warming doesn’t entail that the planet will ultimately disappear but that it would simply become uninhabitable to humans. The climate would become unstable, polar icecaps would melt, the level of oxygen in the atmosphere would decrease and we humans would have to find another greener planet (good luck!) to live on. But Earth would still go on existing. Of course, we don’t go to the movies for natural-science lessons but for a good story that, if we are lucky, would analyze the human condition in some way. The plot of Moana is very entertaining and the title character herself, in keeping with the current trend of strong and decisive female protagonists, that don’t end up with a husband or a boyfriend by the end of the movie, is laudable.

I only have one beef with this film though and that is the excessive number of musical numbers in it. Not that I hate musicals – I once almost lactated watching Vincente Minnelli’s awesome – The Band Wagon. But with the exception of some very fun songs in Moana, most were just fillers, to be frank. Sometimes the movie even uses them to create character arcs, which is just a deplorable thing for a screenwriter to do.

Other songs on the other hand, like the David Bowie tribute “Shiny,” sung by a giant crab (so wreathed in jewellery as to make a rapper insecure about his own finery), and the theme song, are catchy, and may end up creating a Frozen type of sensation among young girls. I should say that this was both a good and a bad year for animated movies.

There clearly is an over saturation and the majority of the movies are woefully bad. Some like Trolls, The Secret Life of Pets, Storks, Ice Age: Collision Course and Angry Birds were all unwarranted. They completely miss why animated movies exist, which is to tell unique stories that live-action films cannot, not act as healthier substitutes for ADD. Far better were the likes of Zootopia, Finding Dory, Kubo and the Two Strings, and now Moana.

Other such films that came out this year, which I haven’t seen, but are highly acclaimed among critics are, The Anime Your Life and the Studio Ghibili and The Red Turtle. Zootopia was exceptional and deserves this year’s best animated feature. Nonetheless, Finding Dory which was also good, but only for a sequel, and Kubo, which was very touching and creative but has some very glaring faults, could pose a threat. Let us also not discount Moana. Though nowhere as commercially successful as Dory or Zootopia, it would still be a strong contender, for recognition, as an Oscar worthy animated film with good catchy tunes. I am sure the likes of Lenorado DiCaprio will endorse it as a worthy must watch movie.

Remember, when the Oscars was accused of being too-white last year, and not eclectic enough in their choice of nominees?

Championing this movie, with its all non-white characters and voice actors at this year’s Oscar ceremony, along with its important message, will be a great opportunity for the Academy Award to prove its relevance and importance in the world.



By Christian Tesfaye
special to Fortune

Published on Dec 20,2016 [ Vol 17 ,No 868]



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