Moana

For F*** Magazine

MOANA 

Director : Ron Clements, John Musker
Cast : Auli’i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Temuera Morrison, Rachel House, Nicole Scherzinger, Jemaine Clement, Alan Tudyk
Genre : Animation
Run Time : 1h 54min
Opens : 24 November 2016
Rating : PG

moana-posterDisney heeds the call of the ocean with the studio’s 56th animated feature film. Young Moana (Cravalho), the daughter of chief Tui (Morrison) and Shira (Scherzinger), lives on the Polynesian island of Motonui. Tui insists that his daughter remain on the island to eventually take over the duties of chief, but Moana is unable to resist the beckoning of the sea. Moana’s grandmother Tala (House) encourages the girl’s instincts, much to Tui’s chagrin. When the Motnonui islanders find their livelihoods threatened as coconut trees fail to bear fruit and no fish can be caught, Moana sets out to find the one person who can fix the situation. This is the demigod Maui (Johnson), who can shape-shift into various animals. Accompanied by the none-too-bright rooster Hei Hei (Tudyk), Moana and Maui embark on a journey to return a mystical artefact known as the Heart of Te Fiti. Neither is too fond of the other, but they will need to work together to survive the arduous voyage and defeat the deadly lava goddess Te Kā.

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Moana is directed by Ron Clements and John Musker, Disney animation mainstays whose first film for the studio was 1986’s The Great Mouse Detective. Clements and Musker kick-started the studio’s ‘Renaissance’ period with The Little Mermaid three years later, following that with Aladdin, Hercules, Treasure Planet and The Princess and the Frog. The duo undertook extensive research trips to Polynesian islands, and the effort put into authentically capturing and portraying that rich culture is evident in Moana. The animation is detailed and vibrant, with some of the finest computer-generated water we’ve ever seen playing an important role. The ocean is personified as a living entity, with globules of water reminiscent of The Abyss extending from the surface to greet Moana.

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Moana has been billed as being vastly different from all the other Disney Princess films in the studio’s canon, but for the most part, it sticks to a tried and true Hero’s Journey formula. There’s a MacGuffin in the form of the Heart of Te Fiti jewel, there’s a quest to go on and hurdles to overcome. While there’s a big reveal during the film’s climax, there isn’t too much here that’s very surprising. Moana and Maui’s adventures take on an episodic nature. A thrilling action sequence in which the pair is ambushed by a horde of pygmy pirates called the Kakamora brings Mad Max: Fury Road to mind. There isn’t really an overarching villain, with Te Kā only really making her presence felt during the film’s final battle.

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There are plenty of visual gags that work great, including a moment in which Maui hits a snag with his shape-shifting superpowers. Hei Hei, whom Clements describes as “the dumbest character in the history of Disney animation,” is endlessly amusing. However, several stabs at self-referential humour seem a little jarring. Maui tacitly comments on Moana’s status as a Disney Princess, and there’s a particularly on-the-nose reference to The Little Mermaid. There’s also a joke about Twitter that seems Dreamworks-y.

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One of the film’s biggest selling points is that, as with Brave, there isn’t a love interest in sight. Moana has great agency and isn’t defined solely by her relationships to any of the other characters.15-year-old Cravalho was the last of hundreds of Polynesian women to audition. She makes her feature film acting debut here, bringing an appropriate blend of plucky adventurer and 21st Century teenager to her performance. While Moana is a great character, there are familiar elements to her – she wants adventure in a great wide somewhere, and longs to get out from under the thumb of her overprotective father. It is nice that the character is given a noticeably different body type from the standard svelte Disney princess, and the character’s beauty is showcased in beautifully-lit magic hour scenes.

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Johnson’s trademark charm and charisma is on display as Maui, a self-centred demigod who craves adulation. Maui’s facial expressions appear to be modelled directly on Johnson’s, with the signature ‘people’s eyebrow’ look getting the spotlight. The character isn’t intended to be wholly likeable, and while the relationship between Maui and Moana does get satisfactory development, it can be tedious at times. Musker and Clements have cleverly worked some 2D animation into the film, in the form of Maui’s tattoos. ‘Mini Maui’, who acts as the demigod’s conscience, is a clever way of giving Maui his own sidekick.

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We’re not sure why Alan Tudyk was needed solely to make clucking sound effects, but in any case, we’re glad that Hei Hei and Pua the pig don’t talk. Bit of a shame that the adorable Pua was left behind on Motonui and didn’t join Moana, Maui and Hei Hei on their voyage. House’s Gramma Tala is the stock ‘wise grandmother’ archetype through and through, but her interactions with Moana do provide some of the film’s most emotional moments. Jemaine Clement pops up voicing a colossal crab monster named Tamatoa, in what is probably the film’s low point. It seems like such a calculation, that this is the designated scene-stealing supporting villain. Clement’s Tim Curry-type delivery is all too similar to his performance in the Rio films.

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The aspect of Moana that most disappointed this reviewer is the music. Please put away your pitchforks. Oceanic music group Te Vaka, Mark Mancina and vaunted Broadway impresario Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote the film’s music, with Miranda writing the lyrics. They’re all fine, but aren’t as hummable as one would expect. Maui may have his magical fish hook, but these songs seem to lack hooks of their own. The Disney animated canon has produced such memorable tunes as Part of Your World, A Whole New World, Beauty and the Beast and, yes, Let It Go. Alas, nothing in Moana is that instantly catchy and memorable. This reviewer is sure the songs will grow on him, but we were hoping for songs that cling to you immediately.

While Moana delivers grand adventure and meticulously-animated spectacle, it doesn’t hit the heights of sublime poignancy which Disney has proven capable of. It’s a fine quest movie with a few lulls and songs that are okay at best, but lots of kids are bound to gravitate to the spirited heroine.

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Inner Workings, the short film preceding the feature, is delightful and infectiously silly. Stick around for a post-credits gag.

Summary: Splendid animation and a sincerity in putting Polynesian culture on the big screen offset Moana’s formulaic elements and somewhat unmemorable songs.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

IGNITE THE TIKI TORCH: The stars and filmmakers of Moana light up the ArtScience Museum

For F*** Magazine

IGNITE THE TIKI TORCH
The stars and filmmakers of Moana light up the ArtScience Museum

Words and photos by Jedd Jong

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Disney brought a taste of the rich culture of the Polynesian islands to our own sunny isle, with a light-up at the ArtScience Museum at Marina Bay Sands on the night of November 9th to kick off the festive season. Disney’s animated musical adventure comedy Moana is inspired by Oceanic mythology and centres on the titular young voyager (voiced by Auli’I Cravalho), who teams up with the demigod Maui (voiced by Dwayne Johnson) on an epic ocean-spanning quest.

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Cravalho, producer Osnat Shure, lighting artist Roger Lee and visual development artist Griselda Sastrawinatra were at the ArtScience Museum to officiate the light-up, alongside host Carla Dunareanu. The L.A.-based Nonosina dance troupe performed a Polynesian dance set to Logo Te Pate, a song by Oceanic music group Te Vaka. Te Vaka’s frontman Opetaia Foa’i, alongside Mark Mancina and Broadway impresario Lin-Manuel Miranda, composed the music for Moana. The dance we saw was choreographed by Tiana Nonosina Liufau, who played the drums to accompany the performers.

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“we’re so excited about the holiday season and we always like to kick it off with a festive light-up,” said Marina Bay Sands’ president and CEO George Tanasijevich. “We’re very pleased to feature Moana and to partner with Disney for tonight’s event. Disney has been such a great collaborator with Marina Bay Sands over the years. This is the beginning of the holiday season, so we’re very happy that you could be here tonight.”

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“At Disney, our dream is to create happiness through magical moments for communities around the world,” proclaimed Robert Gilby, managing director of the Walt Disney Company Southeast Asia. “And today, for the Singapore community and for all visitors to Singapore, we’re delighted to celebrate this festive lighting with the star and creators of our latest fun animated feature film, Moana,” he continued. “We hope that the beautiful story and the amazing characters and this festive lighting inspire you to celebrate your own magical moments here at Marina Bay Sands.”

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Moana opens on November 23 2016.

WAVERIDERS: The star and filmmakers of Moana island-hop to Singapore

For F*** Magazine

WAVERIDERS
The star and filmmakers of Moana island-hop to Singapore

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This morning, F*** was at Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre in Singapore to meet the leading lady, producer and artists from Disney’s Moana. The film tells the story of its titular heroine’s epic voyage across the ocean. Accompanied by the demigod Maui, voiced by Dwayne Johnson, Moana embarks on a quest to restore life to her home of Motonui, threatened by the lava goddess Te Kā.

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In addition to Moana’s voice actress Auli’i Cravalho, producer Osnat Shurer, lighting artist Roger Lee and visual development artist Griselda Sastrawinata took the stage to talk to the press about the film.

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Before the press conference began, we were treated to a performance of the song How Far I’ll Go from the film. Janella Salvador from the Philippines, Maudy Ayunda from Indonesia, Ayda Jebat from Malaysia, Myra Maneepat Molloy from Thailand and Minh Nhu from Vietnam performed the film in their respective native languages. Molloy and Minh Nhu are voicing Moana in the Thai and Vietnamese dubs of the film respectively.

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Cravalho did seem like a Disney princess come to life, displaying both bubbly enthusiasm and measured poise throughout the press conference. “We’re practically all family from across the sea,” she said cheerily to the crowd.

Clements, Musker and Shurer auditioned hundreds of Polynesian women for the lead role, and Cravalho was the last one they saw. “I didn’t initially audition for Moana, because [at] first, I had seen so many wonderful auditions on YouTube, and my friends were trying out, and I thought ‘you know what, whoever is chosen is going to be so awesome’,” Cravalho admitted.

The character’s name means ‘ocean’, and Cravalho’s hobbies include paddle-boarding and sailing. “It’s meant to be, I now believe in fate,” Cravalho said. She added that she doesn’t do any land sports, because she’s “a klutz on land”.

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Cravalho took the responsibility of representing her Polynesian heritage seriously. “This movie is real,” she proclaimed. “Wayfinding and navigating by the stars, that’s something that my ancestors really did, so the fact that Disney has made a film that is inspired by my culture, gives me a great deal of pride.” Moana is an adventurer, descended from a long line of voyagers who settled down and stopped traversing the ocean a thousand years ago. “Another thing that I love about Moana is that I get to describe her as a heroine,” Cravalho enthused.

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Great pains were taken to ensure that the rich culture of Oceania was not shown in a superficial manner, with Clements and Musker leading multiple research expeditions to the Pacific Islands. Disney assembled a team of advisors who came to be known as the Oceanic Story Trust, comprising anthropologists, archaeologists, educators, linguists, master tattooists, dance choreographers, haka practitioners, navigators and experts on Polynesian culture.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACravalho’s choice of favourite Disney character made perfect sense – it was a heroine who, like Moana, embarked on a life-changing, self-sacrificial adventure: Mulan. “She’s so incredibly amazing and she broke that gender norm, she went out there and did her thang. I remember telling myself at a young age, ‘that’s what I want to do.’ I want to honour my family wherever I go,” Cravalho declared.

Shurer was quick to acknowledge the massive team who assembled the film, saying “Disney has hundreds and hundreds of artists in our studio from over 25 countries, and that adds to the richness and diversity of everything we do. When you see the film, you see everyone’s work, so
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Two of those artists, Lee and Sastrawinata, have become hometown heroes. Lee was born and raised in Singapore and moved to the United States four years ago to pursue a career in animation at Walt Disney Animation Studios as a lighting artist, lighting and compositing shots. Lee’s credits include such blockbusters as Frozen, Big Hero 6 and Zootopia. “This dream seemed so out of reach, Disney seemed so far away,” Lee reflected. “It definitely needs a lot of perseverance, I focused on what I wanted to do and kept tweaking my path”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASastrawinata joined Disney Animation a year ago, and Moana is her first film at the studio. “I didn’t think that I would work on a movie with directors whose movies I watched as a kid, Aladdin and Little Mermaid, so it’s just
amazing to get to do that,” Sastrawinata said. She gravitated to the film’s lead character, recalling “I heard about Moana, a story with a heroine, and I was like ‘yes, put me in it!’”

“It’s going to make you laugh, it’s going to make you cry and it’s going to make you think,” Shurer promised. “Moana in part is about us stopping to listen to the voice inside ourselves. The world will always tell you who you’re meant to be, and it’s the voice inside us who tells us who we really are,” Shurer explained. “Any age, any gender, to stop to listen and to follow that call is relevant to every one of us.”

At the conclusion of the press conference, Cravalho, Shurer, Lee and Sastrawinata were presented with bento boxes designed by Shirley Wong. Made with local ingredients, the food was arranged to resemble characters from Moana. “This is the most beautiful food I’ve ever seen,” Cravalho exclaimed.

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Moana opens on 24 November 2016 in Singapore.

Cravalho, Shurer, Lee and Sastrawinata will attend a festive light-up ceremony at the Helix Bridge at Marina Bay Sands tomorrow night, 9th November 2016, at 8 pm.

 Words and pictures by Jedd Jong