Category Archives: Review

Review: Moana

One of the challenges I face with my blog is finding topics. Obviously, I can write about sports, and update my writing, but that’s not enough.

So, I’m going to start doing reviews of things I read, see, or hear. Yesterday, I went to see Moana because one of the panels I’m on at ChattaCon will be a discussion of Moana as Disney’s version of Lord of the Rings.

The full panel description: Disney’s latest animated film is unique in its choice of a Polynesian setting and mythology, but some of its aspects seem Tolkien-esque. This panel compares Moana with LoR, and other kid’s flicks similar to Tolkien and other fantasy epics.

I thought it might be nice to, I don’t know, actually see the movie before talking about it. I know, I know. Weird, but that’s me.

Oh, and I’ll be giving spoilers. If you’re wanting to go see it and haven’t, don’t read any further if spoilers bother you.

Anyway, here are my thoughts. First, the story is loosely based on the mythology of Pacific islanders. Dwayne Johnson’s character, Maui, is a central figure in mythologies in many different cultures.

Moana, which is a word that means “the ocean” in Maori and Hawaiian. It is also the name of the main character who is chosen by the personified ocean to get the people of what is probably meant to be Samoa out of their self-imposed prison inside their reef.

Part of the reason she needs to do this is because the islands are threatened with death from a personification of lava. Moana needs to return a pounamu stone whence Maui had stolen it centuries before.

As plots go, it’s fairly standard. However, we’re talking about a Disney film aimed at children, so that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Also, since I’m watching this movie in order to compare it to Lord of the Rings, I can immediately see the similarity of the Ring and pounamu stone, especially since Moana needs to put the stone into lava, although it’s solidified at that point.

However, I found the plot much more comparable to Star Wars. Moana is Luke, though she is much more likable and resilient than Luke in many ways. Maui is Han, a trickster with a good heart with a sidekick that nags him, though in this case it’s his magical tattoo. Moana’s grandmother is Ben, who teaches her, then dies and becomes a ghostlike manta that helps her along the way. The Force is the ocean itself. The lava creature is the Death Star and putting the pounamu stone is like Luke’s shot.

I fell in love with Star Wars at the age of 9 and it’s no surprise that the same threads are in a cartoon movie aimed at that age group.

Overall, I enjoyed the movie, even though I sort of knew what was going to happen because the plot seemed so obvious. I really like Dwayne Johnson as an actor, actually, as he’s getting better and better. Interestingly, he’s not the former bigtime football player to contribute his voice to this film, as former Pittsburgh Steeler Troy Polamalu also participated.

I love that most of the actors have South Pacific backgrounds. Of the 12 actors listed in IMDB, only Alan Tudyk (who mostly plays the crazy-eyed chicken), and Louise Bush (who plays the baby Moana) are not Maori, Samoan, or Hawaiian.

However, I wish they’d been even more focused on those traditions. I’m not going to get into some of the criticisms which are based in cultural insensitivity, but the odd mix of South Pacific traditions and Broadway did not work for me.

What do I mean by Broadway? Well, the movie is a musical with the music in part written by Lin-Manuel Miranda. There’s no doubting Miranda’s talent and he collaborated with Opetaia Foa’i, a Samoan musician. Unfortunately, while the songs were good, the music is exactly the sort of thing one would hear on Broadway, and Foa’i’s contribution may have been major but did not change the feel.

Every time they started a song, I got kicked out of the story. I would have loved more of the Maori, Samoan, and Hawaiian traditions, especially traditional folk music. For example, I loved when Maui started a haka before a major fight.

Overall, it was a nice movie, especially for kids. I like the concept quite a bit, but I think it could have been executed better.