How does Disney’s latest musical Moana stand up to predecessors Tangled and Frozen? Film critic Tom Edgerton finds out
The transition from a hand drawn style to 3D animation was not always a decision I believed in; the hand-drawn aesthetic felt natural with that of a fairy-tale. Whilst I’ll miss the old generation of Disney, I am yet to be disappointed with this new era of animation. However, not until Moana can I say that these films compare to the Disney’s greats. I honestly have not enjoyed a film from Disney this much since Beauty and the Beast.
Everyone knows that the core of a great Disney film is the music, a great soundtrack carries these films far farther than anything other aspect. Whilst Tangled and Frozen have solid soundtracks, it took the beautiful mind of Lin-Manuel Miranda to allow Moana to transcend previous 3D animation films and their soundtracks. The songs’ ideals aid the soundtrack allowing for a harmony between story and song that some songs in previous works fail to achieve, creating a division in story and song that removed you from the plot. This is inherent in Olaf’s song in frozen, whilst endearing it serves little purpose to the story itself. Conversely, Jermaine Clements song which can be seen as the furthest from the plot and tone serves multiple purposes necessary for growth in the story; however transparent it may have been. Although in terms of stylistic and aesthetic relevance it is the most bizarre, taking a close homage to David Bowie and that generations style, for some this may have seemed jarring, but for me it surpassed any other song. As a fan of Flight of the Concords, this song was undoubtedly fashioned for Jermaine and his style of performance. Going from this ‘under the sea’ setting to one of spaced out surrealism, with neon glowing lights inevitably creates a clear distinction from previous set pieces. No matter how entertaining and stimulating this dramatic change in aesthetic was, it still was out-of-place. It felt like the strange trip that is synonymous with much of Jermaine’s music, however in a film directed towards families it may have been jarring and confusing.
Jermaine Clements song, whilst it may have been inappropriate for the general aesthetic of the film, I wished there was more of it overall. The film fails to distance itself from Disney tropes that have held many similar films back in the past. I understand that not only do these tropes sell to a mass audience but are part of the Disney appeal. But it is through the deviation of these tropes that the more critically acclaimed and enjoyable films are made. Sadly Moana, whilst extremely enjoyable does not isolate itself from this. The film begins with the strict yet caring father who wishes for Moana to rule after him, and therefore suppressing her true desire to travel the ocean; a plot line that carries a bit too many parallels to the little mermaid. However, it is not ‘under the sea’ but over it that Moana must travel. As chosen by the ocean she must deliver the heart of the earth into its origins, and through the help of the arrogant yet lovable scoundrel that is Maui, this goal is achieved. The removal of complexity in plot diminishes any possibilities in challenging emotions and arcs. I was disappointed at the ‘believe in yourself’ talk Moana used to inspire Maui, its clichés like this that hindered this film, removing complex emotions that can be woven into the story does allow for a wider appeal but diminishes the overall value. There were some moments of dialogue that made me wish it was like Les Misérables, so everyone sang allowing for the soundtrack to flourish and there was no dialogue to remind me how close Moana got to being incredible but ultimately failed in the end.
Verdict: Overall this film is perfect for families; the soundtrack does not isolate age groups and will remain ‘active’ within your brain, ‘erupting’ into your mind as you try to work, which is always the mark of a great soundtrack. There are only a few moments where I felt that the joke was aimed at an age group younger than my own. Creating comedy that appeals to all member of the family is a skill Disney has managed to maintain in recent years. The flaws within the film whilst hindering can be overlooked if you want an extremely palatable and entertaining film. Disney has succeeded in creating an enjoyable film that has built further on its previous 3D creations, with ‘catch’ier songs and a ‘refreshing’ aesthetic.
Article by Tom Edgerton