Moana (2016)

2017 #85
Ron Clements & John Musker | 103 mins | TV (HD+3D) | 2.35:1 | USA / English | PG / PG

Moana

The latest entry in Disney’s animated canon (the 56th), Moana is another princess-starring musical — that genre fully back in vogue for animated movies since the success of Frozen, I guess. The twist (if you can call it that, because the film thankfully doesn’t belabour the point) is that this isn’t another European-style princess fairytale, but rather one inspired by Polynesian culture, with songs co-written by That Guy From Hamilton.

Moana (voiced by newcomer Auli’i Cravalho) is the daughter of a chief whose tribe never venture far from their island’s waters, despite the sea calling to Moana — literally, as it turns out, because when the island’s crops begin to wither, the sea chooses Moana to undertake a quest to find the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) to restore a MacGuffin and make everything a-okay again. Along the way, there are moral lessons about being adventurous and stuff.

Although the cultural setting is notably different to Disney’s usual stomping ground — and, don’t get me wrong, that diversity is something to be applauded, both for putting different kinds of heroes on screen and for giving us all something fresh — Moana is executed with Disney’s customary slickness. It looks fantastic, especially in 3D, where the ocean stretches forever into the screen, and there’s a musical sequence with 2D backgrounds that, ironically, is one of the best extra-dimensional bits because of what it does with said backgrounds. The songs are a toe-tapping treat too, with Moana’s big number, How Far I’ll Go, a more likeable earworm than certain other Disney songs about going; a David Bowie-inspired villain’s song, Shiny; and, my personal favourite, a comedy number sung by the Rock called You’re Welcome (this being the one with the 2D-that-looks-fab-in-3D animation).

Maui and Moana

Surprisingly for a Disney princess film, there’s a superb action sequence in the middle, a rope-swinging sea battle against… miniature… pirate… coconut… things… er, I guess…? Anyway, it may actually be one of my favourite action scenes of the year, which is not what you generally find in a Disney musical. The big action scene at the end is perhaps slightly less effective as it strives hard to be an epic climax, but I think that’s nitpicking — it’s conceptually strong, with another positive underlying message. A bigger problem is the character of the sea: it chooses Moana for the quest, which arguably takes away some of her agency (the film fights to seem like it’s giving it back to her), and regularly turns up as a mini deus ex machina every time the characters need a hand.

That said, while I can observe those issues from an objective and critically-minded point of view, they didn’t actually bother me all that much. If you just (ahem) let it go, Moana is a ceaselessly likeable, consistently entertaining musical adventure. Along with Frozen and Zootropolis, it suggests Disney have hit a real stride right now that hopefully they can continue to build on.

4 out of 5

Moana is available on Sky Cinema from today.

It placed 16th on my list of The 17 Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2017, which can be read in full here.

Aladdin (1992)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #1

Imagine if you had three wishes,
three hopes, three dreams
and they all could come true.

Country: USA
Language: English
Runtime: 90 minutes
BBFC: U
MPAA: G

Original Release: 25th November 1992 (USA)
UK Release: 18th November 1993
First Seen: VHS, c.1993

Stars
Scott Weinger (Aladdin and the King of Thieves, Shredder)
Robin Williams (Good Will Hunting, Insomnia)
Linda Larkin (The Return of Jafar, Joshua)
Jonathan Freeman (The Return of Jafar, The Ice Storm)

Directors
Ron Clements (Basil the Great Mouse Detective, Hercules)
John Musker (The Little Mermaid, The Princess and the Frog)

Screenwriters
Ron Clements (The Little Mermaid, The Princess and the Frog)
John Musker (Basil the Great Mouse Detective, Hercules)
Ted Elliott (The Mask of Zorro, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl)
Terry Rossio (Shrek, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End)

Story by
Deep breath… Burny Mattinson and Roger Allers, Daan Jippes, Kevin Harkey, Sue Nichols, Francis Glebas, Darrell Rooney, Larry Leker, James Fujii, Kirk Hanson, Kevin Lima, Rebecca Rees, David S. Smith, Chris Sanders, Brian Pimental & Patrick A. Ventura.

Based on
The folktale of Aladdin and the magic lamp from One Thousand and One Nights, aka The Arabian Nights.

Music
Alan Menken (Little Shop of Horrors, Tangled)

Lyrics
Howard Ashman (Little Shop of Horrors, Beauty and the Beast)
Tim Rice (The Lion King, Evita)

The Story
Street urchin Aladdin falls for bored Princess Jasmine when she sneaks out of her palace one day, leading him to the clutches of evil vizier Jafar, who needs Aladdin to retrieve a magic lamp as part of his scheme to rule the land. When Aladdin accidentally discovers the lamp’s inhabitant, a wish-granting Genie, he uses his wishes to set about wooing the princess. Jafar, of course, has other ideas…

Our Hero
One jump ahead of the bread line, one swing ahead of the sword, steals only what he can’t afford (that’s everything). Riffraff, street rat, scoundrel. It’s Aladdin, of course.

Our Villain
Grand Vizier Jafar, a plotting underling — the kind of role that has strong precedent in fiction, I’m sure, though Conrad Veidt as villainous Grand Vizier Jaffar in The Thief of Bagdad is rather clearly the direct inspiration.

Best Supporting Character
Oh, I don’t know, maybe… the Genie! Fantastically voiced by a heavily-improvising Robin Williams, praise is also deserved for Eric Goldberg’s character animation, which matches him every step of the way. In fact, it was an animation Goldberg created using one of Williams’ stand-up routines that convinced the comic to take the part.

Memorable Quote
Aladdin: “You’re a prisoner?”
Genie: “It’s all part and parcel, the whole genie gig. Phenomenal cosmic powers! Itty bitty living space.”

Memorable Scene
Trapped in a desert cave, Aladdin accidentally rubs a lamp and unleashes the Genie — and with it, Robin Williams’ all-time-great hilarious performance.

Best Song
For me, it’s Prince Ali, the huge Genie-led number as a disguised Aladdin arrives back in town in grandiose style. The Genie’s big solo number, Friend Like Me, is an incredibly close second. Soppy A Whole New World won all the awards, because of course it did.

Truly Special Effect
Only the second time Disney used CGI with 2D character animation. In Beauty and the Beast, it built a room for the characters to dance in; here, there’s a character (the entrance to the cave) and a whole action sequence (the flying carpet escape from said cave). It earnt the team a BAFTA nomination. There’s no shame in what they lost to: Jurassic Park.

Making of
Robin Williams ad-libbed so much of his role as the Genie — generating almost 16 hours worth of material, in fact — that the film was rejected for a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar nomination.

Previously on…
Aladdin is Disney’s 31st Animated Classic, their official canon of animated movies. It’s the fourth film in the “Disney Renaissance”, the decade-long period (starting with The Little Mermaid and ending with Tarzan) when they had a run of films that were critically and financially successful (unlike those before and after said period).

Next time…
Two direct-to-video sequels, the second of which is quite good; in between those, a TV series ran for 86 episodes(!); a Broadway adaptation debuted in 2014 (it’s coming to the West End in May); not to mention numerous video games and appearances in other works, almost all still voiced by the less-starry names among the original cast. The go-to new voice for the Genie? Dan “Homer Simpson” Castellaneta.

Awards
2 Oscars (Original Song (A Whole New World), Original Score)
3 Oscar nominations (Sound, Sound Effects Editing, Original Song (Friend Like Me))
2 BAFTA nominations (Score, Special Effects)
1 Annie Award (Animated Feature)
3 Saturn Awards (Fantasy Film, Supporting Actor (Robin Williams), Younger Actor (Scott Weinger))
1 Saturn nomination (Music)
Nominated for the Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation.

What the Critics Said
“What will children make of a film whose main attraction — the Genie himself — has such obvious parent appeal? They needn’t know precisely what Mr. Williams is evoking to understand how funny he is. […] What will come through clearly to audiences of any age is the breathless euphoria of Mr. Williams’s free associations, in which no subject is off-limits, not even Disney itself.” — Janet Maslin, The New York Times

Score: 94%

What the Public Say
“the perfect Disney film, one that cleverly combines the sensibilities of classic and modern audiences, one that matches toe to toe with many of the studio’s greatest films. You may prefer the emotional heart-ache of The Lion King or the romantic magic from Beauty and the Beast, but I would always prefer the witty and charming Aladdin.” — feedingbrett @ Letterboxd

Verdict

Hailing from slap-bang in the middle of the Disney Renaissance, Aladdin may not be quite as strong as the films either side of it (Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King), but it’s the next best thing. Buoyed by Robin Williams’ top-drawer performance (have I mentioned that yet?), multiple toe-tapping musical numbers, and a dastardly villain who’s among Disney’s best — and is just one of several great supporting characters here, actually — Aladdin is an A-grade animated Arabian adventure.

In #2 no one can hear you scream.