Moana Review

Last year Inside Out blew everyone away with its stunning effects and inventive premise. Then The Good Dinosaur came out in the second half of 2015 and did not live up to the high standards set before it. This year Zootropolis wowed the audience and received praise for its narrative and story elements. Now Moana is stepping into the void left by The Good Dinosaur. Does it fail like last time or does it continue a good year for Disney?

Moana stars Auli’i Cravahlo, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Rachael House and Temuera Morrison and is directed by Ron Clements and John Musker. The film follows Moana (Cravahlo), a chieftains daughter, who must set off across the ocean to find demigod Maui (Johnson) and help recover the “heart of the sea”.

The animation and design, like all Disney films, is superb. The film is set on a chain of Polynesian islands with Moana and Maui sailing between them. The islands look superb with the water being a highlight. I know it sounds odd to praise the water, but it’s one of the hardest things to animate and here it’s almost photorealistic. Polynesian culture has been heavily researched and is used throughout the film with artwork, tattoos, and traditional dances in almost every frame. It’s a setting that’s underused in films (it has only small similarities to Lilo and Stich) and it looks beautiful.

Moana as a Disney “princess” is also quite a developed character. Voiced by newcomer Auli’i Cravahlo (say it how you spell it), she breaks the mould for women in the Disney pantheon despite rehashing elements of Mulan’s and Pocahontas’ character. Moana’s not the omni-competent badass of Brave or the ditzy, naïve damsel of Tangled. She makes mistakes, learns from people around her, and eventually saves the day, with not a prince figure ever gracing the screen to marry her and whisk her off into the sunset. She’s not even a princess, which the film comments upon with a series of meta-jokes. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson does his usual thing as Maui, a demigod who Moana must enlist to help her quest. He’s oafish and workshy, wanting to just rest on his title of demigod rather than do anything heroic. His body is covered in tattoos, some of which come alive and argue with him throughout the film. They soon become a reoccurring sight gag as they run from one side of his body to the other, trying to keep his attention.

The music is a mixed bag. Written by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Opetaia Foa’i (the former of Hamilton fame) some songs are absolute belters while others are forgettable or boring. Moana’s main theme is an excellent powerful ballad in the same vein as “Just Around The Riverbend” or “Let it Go”. It may not reach the huge popularity of Frozen‘s hit wonder, but you will definitely hear it in the coming months. The two final songs are quiet and emotional and give a nice change after the Broadway-style of the others. The rest are not going to be classics in my opinion, with the worst involving a cringe-worthy song by a giant crab. All the songs continue the Polynesian feel with chanting, pipes, and drums backing up the powerful voices and is a refreshing change from Disney’s usual musical tastes.

The only real fault I can find with Moana is the script. The story is a standard Disney adventure, but the interactions between the characters aren’t up to par. With lines like, “I will tell you my story…in song format,” it seems that the script needed to go through a few more rewrites before filming started. Plot points arrive quick and are dismissed even quicker, sometimes just for a one-off joke. Most of it seems a bit rushed.

In the end, Moana is a middle of the road offering. The animation, characters and (half of) the music are well worth the trip to the cinema, but a weak story and script don’t make it any better than passable.

Score: 6/10 Flourishes of brilliance with some minor faults.

San Andreas Review

I never really liked disaster movies. I was not all interested in the likes of The Day After Tomorrow, Armageddon or Independence Day. So when I heard about San Andreas I was more than a little sceptical that it was just going to be scene after scene of destruction. I was right in my deduction, but it didn’t stop the film from being a fun ride that wouldn’t let up until the very end.

San Andreas stars Dwanye “The Rock” Johnson, Alex Daddario, Carla Guggino, Ioan Gruffudd, Paul Giamatti and oddly enough Kyle Minogue. When the famous San Andreas Fault line on the west coast of America finally gives, a massive earthquake stands between Ray (Johnson) from his ex wife and his daughter.

If you’ve even seen half of a disaster movie in the past ten years you know the gist of the story. Absent dad, divorced mother, child in need, evil new stepdad, contrived romance, old people dying together, annoying kid you wished would get swept up in the destruction, yadda yadda yadda. It got to the point where I was fighting the urge to laugh in my cinema seat when some clichéd disaster movie story stereotype was brought up. But we all knew San Andreas’ story wasn’t going to be its strong point, we are here for the stunning destruction Mother Nature leaves in her wake. And it’s awesome.

Steve Yedin, cinematographer of Looper and the upcoming Star Wars Episode VII gives us several gorgeous panoramic shots of San Francisco being destroyed again and again throughout, with aerial photography being one of the greatest achievements in the film. Even though CGI fills in most of the fire, smoke and rubble, it wouldn’t look half as good if the entire thing was CGI. You can still spot it in certain occasions when close-ups on actors betray the green screen behind them, but overall the effects are well done.

The acting is deliciously overdone, with everyone seeming to just role with it and have fun while the world burns around them. The Rock gives a solid performance as basically himself, a super powered beefcake who is the nicest person anyone can ask for as well has being a Fire and Rescue operator, just in case you weren’t 100% on his side. Carla Guggino plays his ex-wife (very important to remember she’s his ex-wife, if the film doesn’t bash you around the head with that idea within the first couple of minutes) and Alex Daddiaro is his daughter, who has been taught by her superhero father how to save herself from the worst of the earthquake. We are also introduced to two young men, Ben (played by Colton Haynes) and his kid brother Ollie (Art Parkinson), neither of whom are from England in real life but both sporting stereotypical English accents in the film.

To go along with the over-the-top acting, the screenplay is delightfully hammy, with several lines making me crack up/shake my head in disbelief. The final line of the film is its best, sending several members of the audience into laughter. The film is one step short of just shouting “’MURICA” at the end while punching the air, but it pulls back just enough to be the clichéd Hollywood ending that most disaster films take.

The science of the film, given to us on a drip feed by a super serious Paul Giamatti seems to be accurate. The film creates a more realistic disaster than whatever 2012 threw at the audience, but it’s all still tied up in science techno-babble. All you really need to know is that big numbers are really bad and usually come with severe ground-shaking.

The film at 107 minutes feels a bit long for such a simple set up, and with only a few minutes where the pace drops to a snails pace so that we can find out how much The Rock loves his family. The film moves along at a fairly quick pace, even though it does starts getting repetitive after a while.

In summary, San Andreas has nothing new in its characters or its story arc. It’s a once-a-minute thrill that doesn’t let up, but there is really nothing that will make it any more than what it is, a simple disaster film. But if you are looking for the next wave of destruction on a cinema screen, look no further.

Score: 6/10 Fun while it lasts, but nothing below the surface