Somebody at Disney knows kung-fu.
Or, at least, somebody at Disney is tired of the way most action movies end, with protagonist and antagonist getting mad, making faces and fists, then uselessly and endlessly slugging it out until the script tells them who wins (or, as we joked at Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: “whoever shouts the loudest always wins”).
First, with Doctor Strange, and now with Moana, the Disney (aka Marvel/Pixar/Lucasfilm) scripters (in this case Jared Bush, Pamela Ribon, Aaron Kandell, and Jordan Kandell, as well as co-directors Ron Clements, John Musker, Don Hall, and Chris Williams) decided to have heroes who constantly try to think of different, more effective, even (gasp-dare-I-say-it) non-aggressive ways to win.
It’s just one of this new cartoon’s majority of pluses. One of its minority minuses, however, is that somebody at Disney has not tired of contrived conflicts. What makes Moana 103 minutes instead of 93 is that most of the main characters display their emotional limitations early, then, once established, keep returning to them, seemingly in order to delay the climax.
The title character, a South Pacific princess, has doubts when chosen by the sea to return a small jade stone that serves as the heart of a goddess, despite her father having doubts about letting her do it, because the jade was stolen by an abandoned child who became a demigod, and now has doubts about his demi-goddishness.
Getting the feeling that this Disney movie isn’t in Kansas anymore? No, Moana is a wholly new fairy tale and displays its everything-and-the-kitchen-sink story points because it didn’t have the hundreds of years of shaking down that all the already established fairy tales had. Little matter. The movie is so immediately, stunningly, even rapturously, lush that I didn’t care.
The fact that the sea is somewhat cavalier in its collaboration with Moana, and the story shows evidence that the filmmakers struggled getting the running time down to even 103 minutes (what with a childhood friend character and a pet pig winding up as virtual cameos) ultimately didn’t matter to me, because what was left was so engaging, entertaining, imaginative, and be – you –tee – full!
The cast is immediately ingratiating, with the stand-outs, not surprisingly, being Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson as that superiority-complex-covering-an-inferiority-complex, jade-stealing demigod, and Flight of the Conchords’ Jermaine Clement as a David-Bowie-esque monster crab. If the last part of the last sentence made an eyebrow raise even a millimeter, you will have a very good time at Moana, what with tattoos that have a life of their own, and a Ben Turpin-esque (Google him) mentally-handicapped chicken.
Combining this quirky approach with such jaw-dropping, eye-widening visuals, not to mention the music of Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton the Musical) and Opetaia Foa’i (the leader of the New Zealand Oceanic music group Te Vaka) makes for an enchanting time at the movies.
You don’t have to come early for the pre-feature cartoon (a fine, but somewhat disappointing, variation on Inside Out concentrating on internal organs rather than emotions [to differentiate itself from Pixar, it might be better that Disney Animation Studios use its classic characters in pre-feature shorts, which worked so well on the Mickey Mouse cartoon “Get a Horse” which preceded Frozen]), but definitely stay for the after-end-credit extra scene. It didn’t feature Nick Fury, but it sure had me leaving the theater with a even wider smile.