Tuesday, November 29, 2016
First off – the obligatory disclaimer: I love animated movies. THE INCREDIBLES was exactly that. The TOY STORY series rocked. Hey, I loved THE LITTLE MERMAID and BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. And even ALADDIN (both the Disney version and the one with Mr. Magoo). THE IRON GIANT is not to be missed. And the classic old Disney features are still thrilling even though mothers in those films get killed a lot.
So I went in to MOANA wanting to love it. At worst I thought it would be FROZEN with better weather. MOANA had songs by Lin-Manual Miranda, which alone is worth the price of admission. Hawaii is a favorite location of mine. I’m going there again this week (fair warning to the papayas). And Disney animation is just dazzling.
Happy to say all of that was in the film in abundance. The songs were clever (although not remotely memorable), Hawaii was depicted as lush and tropical and without Hertz Rental Car kiosks, and the animation was painstakingly beautiful.
But the story was just a rehash of every Disney animation trope. Plucky young girl protagonist. Father who doesn’t want her to leave the island. (“Ariel, don’t go to the surface.” “Belle, don’t leave the town.” “FROZEN-girl (I forgot her name), don’t leave the town.”)
And the movie feels like two hours. Back when Uncle Walt was in charge he understood that 75 minutes was max. If this group was making SNOW WHITE today I’m sure there would be 30 drawfs. I was checking my watch an hour into the film. Even the animation, which is so extraordinary, loses its pizzazz after the seventh angry ocean sequence.
MOANA is making a shit-ton of money, and like I said, every critic has lavished it with praise. So take my review as the lone dissenting voice. Either that or some critics were afraid to say they didn’t like it for fear that they’d be in the minority or they'd no longer get fast passes at Disneyland. Lin-Manual Miranda will probably win an Oscar because (a) this is his year, and (b) what else is there in that category? There’s no Bond movie this year. But at the screening I attended, parents were taking their kids out of the theater throughout the entire film. Warning: There are a number of scenes that might scare the shit out of your little tyke. ( Either that or mom needed to use the bathroom and that was her excuse.)
I realize that most people don’t go to Disney animated movies to follow a great story or marvel in the advancements in the art of animation. They go because of the formulas. It’s reliable. They get songs, cute animals, a courageous heroine who is maybe voting age, pretty images, and it’s 90 fewer minutes parents have to entertain their kids. (I’m sure by the end of Christmas vacation parents will wish the movie were four hours.) But it bothers me that critics are comparing MOANA to the best of Disney. That it is not.
I also worry that when they do the inevitable Broadway stage musical of MOANA people in the first twenty rows are going to get soaked.
By Ken Levine at 6:00 AM