(WARNING: Slight spoilers for Moana below.)
Better give #Disney a giant thank you, because they have given us yet again a fantastic year full of movies. Kicking off the year with Zootopia, the studio took a big risk with the film's powerful commentary on today's racial and social landscape. Hopping up to new heights, it resulted in one of the most relevant animated films in the past decade. The studio then re-told Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book with a breathtaking new vision before diving back into the ocean with Finding Dory. But this year's success isn't complete without mentioning Marvel's Captain America: Civil War and Doctor Strange, both of whom brought a sense freshness in a crowded state of superhero films. The point is, Disney has been succeeding far more than anyone in the competition this year and #Moana continues upon that promise of providing a sense of wonder and originality, and is one of the definitive reasons why this is one of the studio's best years ever.
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Not since 2013 has Disney released an "princess" movie, which in that year came in the form of #Frozen, a film that became a bigger phenomenon than all of the aforementioned movies. The feature was full of catchy music, beautiful imagery, and lovable characters, but in 2016 Disney topped all of those with Moana. With Moana the studio has come the closest it ever has in perfecting its formula. Though that point may take you by surprise, here's why the Polynesian chief to-be takes a huge lead over Elsa and Anna.
She's Not A Princess
Moana is a fantastic character who is really one young girls should look up to. She's a strong leader who dreams to voyage the ocean, doing anything to get where she belongs, even if that means being quite rebellious. She is less a princess than she is a warrior, one who doesn't need a love interest to reach her full potential (or a perfect body). She's smart, reliable and full of excitement, earning respect from those she surrounds. Moana's journey as a character is a progressive one, one that shapes who she is meant to be. Her adventure built her up from an inexperienced voyager to a leader fit to be chief. Unlike Anna in Frozen, who fell for a manipulative man in the time frame of a song, and Elsa, who was arguably stubborn about seeking help for her powers, Moana shows how it's important for girls to follow the example of a dreamer, one who thirsts for knowledge and adventure. In addition, Moana follows a more realistic and relatable trajectory than both of these characters.
Dwayne Johnson IS Maui
Finding a person who hates Dwayne Johnson is a very challenging task; he is one of the most likable and bankable stars in the industry. His career as a wrestler turned A-lister is quite a surprising and unlikely combination, but it was easy for audiences to accept Johnson once he started appearing in The Rundown and Fast Five. The performer, who is of Samoan origin, fully embraces Maui as a character. He transfers his charisma and scene-stealing presence (with a little cockiness mixed in) to transcend into the irresistible demi-guy. Furthermore, who knew The Rock could sing? He's fantastic in "You're Welcome," a ballad fittingly all about how great he is, hitting the high notes and rap syncopations like a professional musician. Frozen would've been better with The Rock, and in all fairness, any movie would because seriously — what can't he do?
There's An Awesome 'Mad Max: Fury Road' Tribute
Yes, you read correctly, this film has a 10-minute Mad Max: Fury Road tribute, and it's glorious. Everything is the same except it's in the ocean — the vehicles are ships, and the War Boys are live coconuts. Add that in with Moana as Furiousa and Maui as Max and the movie has George Miller's essence down to a tee. Full of insanely large ships, coconuts banging on drums and even Junkie XL's "Brothers In Arms" sprinkled in throughout the score, it's hard not to give this movie an edge over Frozen. It's OK, Olaf, you're still my favorite snowman.
Moana has, hands down, the best lyrical film music of 2016, but how does it hold up against Frozen? It's really close, but here's why Moana has the edge. "Let It Go" is an amazing vocal showcase, but is any song even remotely close to that one in the Frozen soundtrack? Sure, "Do You Want To Build A Snowman" is a fun song until it shifts into something far darker, but without "Let It Go," the soundtrack as a whole does not have that much left.
In Moana every song works. Hamilton's Lin-Manuel Miranda gives a modern twist and fresh blood to typical Disney fanfare, but it works to Moana's favor magnificently, creating compositions that fuse Pacific culture and contemporary music naturally. "You're Welcome," "How Far I'll Go," and "We Know The Way" never feel out of place in the film. They're catchy, beautiful, and even immersive. That is where Moana has the upper hand.
The landscapes in Moana are absolutely breathtaking. From the sand, to the sky, and down to the ocean, Disney has constructed a beauty to behold. The water in itself becomes a character, with its subtle ripples and reflections being where Moana succeeds in being a visual marvel. Whether it is night or day, it never fails to impress, matching the beauty of Life Of Pi. It is hard to express the wonder the spiritual manta ray creates as it swims under Moana's raft. Though Arendelle is a magical place, it all feels very familiar. The same could be said about the snow in Frozen — you never feel the wonder and amusement that Moana offers. Animation has advanced a whole lot in the past half-decade, and #Disney's newest offering is no different.
Learn more about the legends that inspired Moana in the video below:
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