Saturday, July 22, 2017

MOANA (2016)

PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *psychological, metaphysical*

Though Polynesian mythology offers the animator a wealth of mythological motifs mostly untapped by American cinema, MOANA fails to take advantage of this potential and merely delivers a routine fantasy-adventure glossed by homilies like "be yourself" and "have the courage of your convictions."

The title character is a young Polynesian girl who lives with her tribe on the isolated island of Motunui. The tribe worships the creator-goddess Te Fiti, but years ago the capricious demigod Maui sought to steal the goddess's mystic heart. A lava demon, Te Ka, pursued Maui, and while the demigod escaped, both his prize and his principal weapon, a giant magical fishhook, are lost in the ocean.

Moana grows up amidst people who tend to stay close to their island-home, and her father Tui in particular does not want Moana venturing out past the island's barrier reefs, since Tui lost his wife to the ocean. However, a blight, spiritual in nature, strikes the crops of Motunui and the fishing-grounds in the waters near the island. Moana comes to the conclusion that the blight is caused by the separation of Te Fiti from her sacred heart, and that the only way to end the malady is to search out the enigmatic Maui and get him to find the heart again.

Though there have been some recent Disney films in which the "girlpower" heroine was essentially the main character, MOANA offers an "odd-couple" ensemble composed of Moana and Maui. Moana is only able to compel Maui to help her because she possesses a hereditary power over the ocean-waves, but Maui can't perform any great feats until he regains his special fishhook. The two of them are also a non-romantic couple, whose quarrels and reluctant moments of respect form the backbone of the story, far more than the adventurous quest-theme. In this MOANA is much like 2000's THE EMPERIOR'S NEW GROOVE. MOANA is not nearly as funny. though the movie gets points for not encumbering the heroine with a cute pet or sprite. Instead, Moana is accompanied by a chicken who has no more anthropomorphic qualities than it has a single brain in its skull. The dumb fowl is used for comedy-relief sparingly, but he's still more amusing than any of the head-butting between the heroine and her reluctant ally.

The designs look good, but the musical numbers are negligible, and the central menace-- which involves returning the heart to the goddess-- lacks much dramatic weight. The goddess's lava demon more or less fulfills the role of the "villain," but it's really just a monster with no character, so he doesn't offer anything but some climactic opposition. Yet in order to keep most of the focus upon Moana, Maui is still not able to raise any major magic against the creature even after the demigod regains his sacred fishhook. Thus, although the actions of Moana and Maui in resolving the crisis are courageous enough, the lack of a strong battle may leave some viewers wanting more.

The film was financially successful,  though I predict that it'll never take on the cultural cachet of a FROZEN or LION KING.

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