Moana ★★½

"This is annoying in exactly the same way as Aladdin," I thought, having completely forgotten until the credits rolled that this mishmash of market-tested impulses and technical chutzpah is also the work of the overrated-for-life and perpetually over-employed Musker & Clements, architects of Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, The Great Mouse Detective, and various other toy and ride-centered properties that incidentally involved motion pictures at some point. I'm sure it isn't completely their fault; the common denominator in the Disney studio's films (that I've seen) from the Katzenberg years onward is their inability to harness any sort of natural appeal or simplicity. With the exceptions of Zootopia and Lilo and Stitch and probably a few others that haven't come across my desk yet, there is an almost defiant refusal for humor or pathos to come about organically the way they do in the better Pixar films, for instance, or of course the best of the films that Walt actual Disney produced. At first Moana seems to have some degree of dignity reserved for the story it's telling and for its appealing central character, a little girl with the fate of the world literally resting on her shoulders as she gets swept up in a Polynesian mythology story, but it's then processed in the same exact irritatingly homogenized manner familiar from the likes of The Little Mermaid and Pocahontas as soon as it's invaded by other characters like the demigod Maui, voiced with a charmless thud by the Rock for no reason other than that Disney can then advertise that their film has the Rock in its cast. To the film's credit, it does get better near the end, building to a strong climax that feels emotionally earned -- in sharp contrast to the way these excessively worked-over movies generally play out -- but its only real artistic merit is in its impressive effects animation. The character designs are lazy and dull, with CG now almost fully having swallowed up any hint of personality in animation acting, and the songs -- which, "authentic" or not, sound no less like westernized faux-traditionalism than Paul McCartney playing "Mamunia" and are a lot less catchy -- are horrendously bad and flatly sung (as usual for the Disney musicals). Apart from some mildly amusing physical gags, none of the "jokes" land and they suffer from the Shrek breed of self-conscious smarminess; there's no thought given to letting a moment breathe, everything has to have some pointless kick-in-the-ass dig or moronic pop culture reference behind it. (I would love to know how many meetings it took to decide where to put a joke about "Tweeting" in this movie; I can hardly imagine anything more embarrassing and awkward.) I just can't deal with this shit articulately, so I'll give it up to the great Michael Barrier, who said everything I was thinking with much more eloquence and, frankly, patience.

I'm sure kids like this and I don't want to be hard on it for that reason but... kids would like a good movie if you showed 'em one too, I bet.

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