‘If you wear a dress, and have an animal sidekick, you’re a princess…’
I have very little time for musicals. Not literally obviously, in real life I have loads of time to do loads of things, I just choose to spend that time eating and sobbing, and sometimes watching the occasional film. I digress. I don’t like musicals too much is what I am saying. The gloopy, sweetly saccharine world of the Disney musical is something that I find particularly distressing so Moana was on to a loser from the off. And yet…
Moana is a Polynesian princess (regardless of what she herself says) who must discover who she really is in order to fulfil her destiny. So far, so Disney. The opening thirty minutes of Moana were everything I dislike about Disney musicals. Montages, singing, cutesy sidekicks, singing, predictable plot points and also the singing. So. Much. Singing. All of it predictable and boring. The songs; screechingly forgettable and far too pleased with themselves.
Just when I thought all was lost, Maui appears played with an outstanding arrogance by Dwayne Johnson to save the day. I always loved Johnson as a wrestler, The Rock was always a hilarious character, but I have never seen any of his cinematic output. He transforms Moana from a plodding, stale retread of previous Disney films into something quite wonderful. Moana herself doesn’t come into her own until being paired with Maui and he provides all the films best comedic moments, His introductory song is also genuinely wonderful. Something that is a rarity in the Disney musical.
Almost matching him is the ubiquitous Jermaine Clement who despite being everywhere at the moment still manages to bring something unique to everything in which he appears. His song is the best of the whole film and the extended sequence between Maui, Moana and Clement’s Tamatoa provides the movie’s peak. From there things dip a little but the visually impressive conclusion is a surprisingly succinct and successful ending to a film that I enjoyed about as much as is possible for a musical aimed at children. The nagging issue here is that Pixar have shown time and time again that it is possible to make a children’s film that transcends that particular genre to become something genuinely thrilling. Disney are lagging way behind in that regard.
On a scale of 1 to Anna from Frozen on the list of unbearable Disney princesses, Moana is definitely one of the best. As a work in its own right however, while Moana isn’t quite the film to convert me to the Disney musical, it has instilled a grudging respect deep within my cold, dead heart. Well played Moana… well played.