Moana – A Review

Image result for moana posterDisney’s latest princess tale brings in a world of change. Moana is Disney’s first Polynesian princess and more importantly she is about as real as they get in terms of appearances. Gone are the trademark tiny waists and big eyes. Also this daughter of the chief of Motunui is no damsel in distress.

 

Featuring the vocal talents of Auli’i Caravalho as Moana and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as the  demi-god Maui the story is about Moana’s quest to return the heart of island goddess Te Fiti which Maui stole and as a result of which death and darkness is spreading to Motunui. What follows is a series of adventures as Moana first seeks Maui, trying to convince him return the heart of Te Fiti, then them jointly looking for his magical fishhook that allows him to shapeshift and then them returning to Te Fiti only to be confronted by Maui’s nemesis Te Ka the Lava monster.

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Moana is bursting with Polynesian influences, the music and the dance, the myths and the legends all lend to a beautifully layered and mostly unconventional story telling as far as Disney clichés go. Maui played by The Rock is a tattoo clad haka-tribesman character. The Animation in Moana is amped up a notch beyond just the main characters. The tattoos on Maui also tell a story, they come alive, its animation within animation! It’s Anim-ception. Also the animation during the song “you’re welcome” where the 3-d animated Maui and Moana run through 2-d hand drawn animation you get a strange but pleasant surprise where visually the animated characters look real. Also in some of the scenes shot on the ocean it almost feels like the animated characters are superimposed on actual panoramic live photography of the sea.

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The vocal talents of Auli’i and Johnson are fun and never once do they get annoying. The characters of HeiHei the stupid rooster and Pua the teacup pig are cute. Moana is bursting with colour and happiness. Like in any typical Disney movie you never once doubt that the heroine will complete the task at hand but the somewhat predictable ride is made fun by stunning visuals that are full of colour and textures. Featuring the musical talents of Opetaia Foa’i, Mark Mancina and Lin Manuel Miranda – the superstar creator of the Broadway hit Hamilton, Moana has a very unique soundtrack that still has the familiar operatic notes of the Disney staple.

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I love animated films and the simple joys they offer. But Moana is extra special. It somehow feels a little grown up and the unbridled happiness and humour that it has to offer makes it one to be revisited many times. The only film I can compare this to visually was the stunning and colourful world of Nemo that Disney created nearly a decade ago. Go with kids if you have them or just go by yourself but don’t miss Moana.

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Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) – A Review

Alejandro Inarritu directs Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Edward Norton and Naomi Watts in Birdman or The unexpected virtue of ignorance set in the world of New York’s Broadway theatre and tells the story of a washed up actor in a Mise en abyme setting.

Riggan Thompson played by Michael Keaton is a once-famous actor known for his starring role as the Birdman-the superhero in 3 movies. Long gone are the days of box office successes and adoring masses and Riggan finds himself irrelevant and artistically unsatisfied and decides to adapt a well-known and much respected playwright’s show for Broadway which needs him to find a suitable actor to fill the playbill after the current actor is injured in an accident while on set which Riggan believes was caused by him. In walks Edward Norton’s Mike a much loved theatre darling with a raging ego and a surety in his craft which seems to threaten Riggan. What enfolds is the backstage and preview shenanigans as Riggan tries to put together a show which a part of him says will resurrect him in the world of performing arts while the other voice nags at the back of his head. The cast is supported by Naomi Watts who plays Mike’s wife/partner and Andrea Riseborough who plays Laura Riggan’s girlfriend and co-actor. Emma Stone plays Sam, Riggan’s daughter and Zack Galifianakis who plays Jake Riggan’s lawyer and backer of the show, these two play a very understated but crucial supporting role which keeps this story moving forwards.

I had a major challenge with Innaritu’s Babel and found it to be an incoherent mess with a background score that was at odds with the story telling. Here too Innaritu seems to be working at a schizophrenic pace and creates an atmosphere that is so claustrophobic that it almost becomes too much to bear but then as the story starts taking shape and things start becoming a little clearer you start to appreciate the atmosphere and the almost off-beat drum score which seems to be reflecting Riggan’s state of mind and it comes together in sync only towards the end when Riggan delivers the climax at the end of his opening night. Michael Keaton is brilliant as is Edward Norton, their back and forth and their uninhibited exhibitionist portrayal of the insecurities, the vanities and the delusions that make up an actor is what carries the film. The Birdman alter-ego sequences are a genuine suspension of belief as you question yourself what the hell is actually going on and Innaritu doesn’t dumb it down for the audience to make them realize that Riggan isn’t telekinetic but plain delusional.

There is however a problem of pacing as the initial preview pieces take way too long to establish the plot points that they need to and it takes forever for the story to pick up steam, and for a movie under 2 hours it is criminal. But this is easily overcome by the dark humor and the brilliant commentary on the state of the movies today. A number of important arguments are made in the due course of natural conversations between the characters, the most relevant ones are about the cultural genocide where everything is driven by the superhero franchises and the big weekend opening numbers and the conversation that Sam has with Riggan who seems to be holding onto a romantic’s notion of what it means to be culturally relevant and to scoff at social media without understanding the power it provides and the need for its existence. It is here that the movie really succeeds. Emanuel Lubeziski’s work behind the camera is frenetic and filled with the same anxious energy that Riggan seems to possess and it takes you in to the actor’s headspace and the way he utilizes every nook and cranny of the St. James theatre it just opens up the world that exists both front and back of the stage.

Watch this movie if you want to get an insight into what drives actors, the big stars and the burnt out ones alike. What it for an incredible and unrelenting 2nd and 3rd act where Michael Keaton, Emma Stone and Edward Norton all shine bright and luminous. Michael Keaton just moved to the top of my list of actors who should take home the gold on 22nd February.