sovay: (Otachi: Pacific Rim)
sovay ([personal profile] sovay) wrote2017-08-11 03:14 am
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Guess I chose the right tattoo

I just finished watching Moana (2016) with my mother and [personal profile] spatch. I can't believe that music lost out to La La Land. Also, Zootopia better have been some kind of artistic landmark, because I'm willing to bet it didn't have hand-drawn animated tattoos, a bedazzled neon monster crab, or a sea I wanted to swim in.

I had seen Auliʻi Cravalho perform "How Far I'll Go" at the Oscars in February; I knew surprisingly little about the film otherwise, although that had not prevented me from being impressed by Philip Odango's Maui cosplay. I'm sorry I missed it in theaters. I am normally a hard sell on computer-generated rather than traditional animation, but the super/natural world of Moana is beautifully done, the star-thick skies, the curl and shatter of the waves, a green and flowering goddess settling herself to an island's sleep again. I'm not in a position to comment on the accuracy of the film's mythological representation, although I recognized most of the stories Maui tells about himself (the eel into coconuts one was new to me), but I really enjoyed seeing a movie whose trickster figure is a real trickster, not just the malevolent side of chaos. I like Moana as a protagonist—her sea-longing, her sense of humor, her stubbornness and her occasional incredulity that her life now involves having to fight tiny spiky sentient pirate coconuts over the world's most clueless chicken; I like that her conflicts with her family and with Maui are not gendered. Her return to Motunui with her grandmother's necklace around her throat and an outrigger canoe gifted her by a goddess, a wayfinder, a hero, makes me think someone else read Armstrong Sperry's Call It Courage (1940) as a child and wanted a better ending. The bond between her and her grandmother is the sort of thing that causes me to cry through a movie. I have also heard much worse reincarnation ideas than a manta ray. My mother made the connection between Te Kā and Te Fiti even before the film revealed it: once you remove the ability of a Pacific island to flower into life, of course all that's left is the volcanic rock, the earth cracking into the sea. The writers of Moana handle it a little differently than Lloyd Alexander, but I realized after the fact that Maui's final willingness to sacrifice his fishhook—his magic, the only thing he thinks makes the difference between a shape-changing culture hero and an unwanted child—called out the same response in me as Fflewddur's sacrifice of his harp. I had somehow missed that Dwayne Johnson can sing.

Is the film an authentic depiction of pre-colonial Polynesia? I don't see how it could be; first of all, there's a whole lot of cultures bracketed in that description, and despite the credited participation of the Oceanic Story Trust, which I appreciated seeing, both directors Ron Clements and John Musker and screenwriter Jared Bush were white and not as far as I can tell from anywhere in the relevant regions themselves. It's a Disney movie. They're adapting to the concept of diverse creators slightly faster than the subduction of the Pacific Plate. But its attention to material culture is notable, it does seem to have taken care with some traditions, and I'm still amused that the only actor in the main voice cast who is not of Polynesian descent is Alan Tudyk, voicing the above-mentioned chicken. (I'm also weirdly pleased that I have apparently heard enough Flight of the Conchords to recognize Jermaine Clement by his Bowie impression.) I hadn't heard of Opetaia Foa’i or Te Vaka before tonight, which may mark the first time a Disney musical has actually introduced me to musicians I plan to pursue beyond the soundtrack; I don't speak Samoan, Tokelauan, or Tuvaluan, so I am not the intended audience for some of Foa’i's lyrics and that's all right. I am glad they are in the languages they are in and I can appreciate the ones written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, since I'm pretty sure he's the best English-language lyricist Disney's had since Howard Ashman. Also, I realize that snappy, poppy, intermittently immature dialogue is a necessary component of a modern Disney film, but in the persistent wake of Girl of the Port (1930) and the convention of confining indigenous characters to pseudo-pidgin or formal speech, I am cool with a cast composed entirely of Pasifika characters who get lines as lofty as "Nope!", "Fish pee in you! All day!" and "Really? Blowdart in my butt cheek?" I mean, there are also serious conversations about responsibility, apology, healing the world, growing up. There are powerful, wordless sequences between human characters, nonhuman characters, elements of the natural world. There's a shot of a conch shell that speaks volumes. But also an accidentally half-shark trickster glumly describing his chances of beating a lava spirit with a well-deserved grudge as "bupkes."

I have had a migraine for about three days now and correspondingly haven't slept except for a couple of hours this afternoon, so I know this post is more notes than extended consideration, but I liked Moana so much, I wanted at least to mention it. It's funny, it's numinous, it celebrates traditional Polynesian navigation, it has no villain in the usual sense and I love its idea of a heroic happy ending, horizon, spray, steering by the swell and the stars. My mother tells me that my niece has imprinted to the point of going around randomly quoting the dialogue, so between Gramma Tala and "Shark head!" I'm wondering if she might like to visit the aquarium to pet the sharks and rays. [personal profile] handful_ofdust, thanks for the DVD! I will acquire the soundtrack on my own time. This voyage brought to you by my sea-called backers at Patreon.
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[personal profile] thistleingrey 2017-08-14 04:38 am (UTC)(link)
did you like it?

Frozen is miles better than The Little Mermaid (at which some classmates and I laughed during high school, so perhaps not a high bar), but in general I'm underexposed to Disney films, esp. recentish ones, and I'm happy to leave it thus. I haven't seen Brave, e.g., which I might like if I did see it. Frozen certainly captured the imaginations of little kids beyond the direct result of marketing exposure, however: in Reason's preschool class of yore, there were four or five Halloween Elsas, and one was a boy (with an older sister).

The bit from Frozen that I'm thinking of is the very end of "For the First Time in Forever," which is mostly not on YT as a clip. Here's a Thai fan version. Their English subs aside, during the last few seconds (as Anna skips towards the waterfront) the words are, "For the first time in forever / For the first time in forever / Nothing's in my way," and then she trips.

I haven't seen Moana entire yet. (Spoilers don't matter--just didn't want to imply by accident that I have.)