Saturday, May 27, 2017

You’re Welcome: The Official Black Owl Review of “Moana.”

“Holy smoke, Dan,” I hear you say. “Not only is this not the type of movie you ever do reviews on, this movie came out back in November.  Why are you even doing this?”
The short answer of course is, “ I do what I WANT to do!”  The more involved answer is two-fold.  I like watching animated films, and I like musicals, so I am a bit of a sucker for a lot of the newer kids movies that come out these days.  I don’t however rush out and watch them, because I have a soon to be 3-year-old granddaughter, and little Jade will make sure I see the movies I should be seeing (she also introduced me to “Hotel Transylvania” and “Zootopia,” and then we’ve shared some Studio Ghibli time together too).  I am fresh back from a few days at her house, and her film of choice not once but twice was “Moana” and it’s a delightful film from start to finish. 
The animation is gorgeous, and it seems Disney has finally cracked the code on dealing with other cultures without either appropriating or condescending to them.  The songs are out of this world, with a score by Mark Mancina beautifully falling in with songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda.  Also as I have stated a million times, Dwayne Johnson is weaponized charisma, and even just voicing Maui it’s a great performance—including his singing—from The Rock. 
“Great,” you say, “all completely true. But why are you choosing to write a review when there’s nary a superhero nor spaceship in sight?”  Because this is the movie I wanted “Interstellar” to be.

"What are you talking about?"
 Looking back over this blog, I never did do a review of “Interstellar.”  I know a lot of people really liked it and I don’t begrudge them having their minds blown.  I grew up watching Star Trek though, and time dilation is not a big reveal to me. (Except maybe that Nolan created a real sense of time dilation as the 170 minute running time seemed to last about 10 hours to me; seriously, how many times did I have to hear “Abort, Dr. Mann”?) The film really left me cold, but it wasn’t really the running time or the desperate need of an editor that turned me off.
"No really, abort, Dr. Mann!"
 It was a movie that betrayed its own message.  We start on Earth, dealing with the effects of climate change because people have ignored the science that could help them, and blamed the misuse of science and technology that caused the problem in the first place.  Society has become so insistent on ignoring science, schools teach that the Apollo program was faked.  Luckily, Professor Brand (Michael Caine) has been working behind the scenes to science the shit out of all this and use a new wormhole to discover new worlds to which we may evacuate humanity.  Joseph Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) will sacrifice his life with his daughter to go out and find a strange new world.  Hurray science!  Hurray human spirit of discovery!  Hurray knowledge!
Oh, but wait.  Brand’s a liar, and never thought any of this would work.  Later when the ship has a choice of tracking down respected scientist Dr. Mann (Matt Damon) who proclaims he has found the perfect world, or going after the planet where ship scientist Dr. Amelia Brand (Anne Hathaway) has a boyfriend who is likely dead, the crew chooses science over her gut feeling.  Ah, but Mann’s a liar, scientists suck, and we should have stuck with love!  If that's not weird enough, Cooper falls into a black hole called Gargantua and things get downright depressing.
The Space movie that hates Space.
 Cooper lost his daughter, the world is barely saved, and they could all have gotten along much better if they had pointed all those resources to the elder Brand’s plan B, which is what saves humanity in the end.  It was like two different people wrote the beginning and the end with completely different reasons for writing each part.
So, what does any of this have to do with a nice girl on Montanui?  She lives in a world that has forgotten what it once was.  The spirit of exploration that once drove her people has been replaced by a too-cautious contentment that ignores the impending disaster about to befall the environment.  This disaster was brought on by the misadventures of Maui, who was responsible for things like coconuts, and islands on which to live, and many wonderful things.  Like science though, acting without regard for balance, he brought disaster.  Again like science, he is what is necessary to restore the damage done in the first place. 
Tapping into her ancestors’ desire to voyage, Moana sets out to find Maui and return the balance of nature to Te Fiti, just as Cooper jumps on the Endurance to go fix humanity’s problems in “Interstellar.”  The difference here?  Moana manages to use Maui, and her own intellect, to figure out the problem and save the world, restoring the spirit of the Voyage to her people.  Cooper managed to discover that science was the bad guy…and, well, I am not really sure what message I am supposed to get from “Interstellar,” while “Moana” gives me themes of growth, finding answers to today’s problems  by looking “beyond the line where the sea meets the sky,” and the betterment of society by understanding how the world around you works, and not being scared of doing what you must to fix errors of the past.
“Moana” manages to praise the idea of intelligent progress while neither losing nor relying too much on sentimentality.  “Interstellar” betrays progress for sentimentality, and gives me a message that the more feasible “plan B” was really the right way to go, and maybe we didn’t really have to leave our solar system at all. Or maybe we do because we can blast our own answers back through time maybe?  I don’t know, “Interstellar” becomes its own Gargantua, collapsing under its own immense weight, unable to deliver a cogent message.  “Moana” sings its message loud and clear, and leaves you with a people restored, once again willing to take on the great unknown in a world they have saved from annihilation. 
To boldly go...
So, if you haven’t seen “Moana,” I think you should.  It’s a reminder of why we as a people should never be content “where you are” and should consider “how far I’ll go.”  Also, a lot shorter than “Interstellar,” and with a far more satisfying delivery.
You’re welcome.

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