Moana – A Review

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It’s a little surprising that it took me this long to see a project involving two of my favorite people – Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Lin-Manuel Miranda. While I was looking forward to watching Moana because of their involvement, it always slipped down my list of priorities at the Cineplex. Animated films are never my go to movies; I usually enjoy them – especially if made by Pixar – but clearly I am not their target demographic. And then there is the unfortunate fact that you are going to find a lot of kids at a kids’ movie. I like children just fine, but I take my movie going pretty seriously and that doesn’t always jibe well a room full of excited kiddos. It’s not fair to them for me to get annoyed – this is after all their turf – so when I do go to see animated films I try to do so after a movie has been out for a while and at off-times when the theater will be less crowded. Of course, my annoyance at theater etiquette is not limited to the younger set; I’d actually take a theater full of kids over a theater full of people over the age of 70. In my experience, the latter has a harder time not talking during a movie.

I’ve been so busy trying to get a jump start on my Oscar death race that I was in danger of missing Moana completely; the number of screenings was dwindling and it was already at the area’s second run theater, a sure sign that its days on the big screen were numbered. Since Moana will likely get some sort of Oscar nomination – either for Best Animated Feature or Best Original Song – there was no more putting this off. It was see it now or kick myself later when nominations were announced and I’d missed my chance.

Moana tells the story of a young woman (voiced by Auli’i Cravalho) who is the daughter of the chief (voiced by Temuera Morrison/Christopher Jackson) of the Polynesian island Motunui. She is drawn to the ocean, though her father forbids her from going out beyond the reef and insists that the island provides everything that they need. Instead, he wants her to focus on learning the responsibilities of leading the villagers for when she eventually becomes chief. However, the island appears to be in peril – vegetation begins dying and the fish that were previously plentiful have become scarce. Legend has it that many years ago the demigod Maui (voiced by Dwayne Johnson) stole and lost the heart of the island goddess Te Feti, which has caused the darkness that is now consuming their island. In order to save the island, Moana must disobey her father and set off on a journey to find Maui and force him to return the heart to Te Feti.

There is a lot to like about Moana. The film brings some much needed diversity to the Disney universe by introducing characters of Polynesian descent and their culture. While Disney has been making strides in offering more representation in their movies, there is still a lot of work to be done and I am glad to see the trend continue. The songs are pretty catchy and if you have listened to the Hamilton soundtrack as many times as I have, you can definitely pick up the Lin-Manuel Miranda influences. On more than one occasion I thought to myself “this song has hints of ‘Dear Theodosia’ or ‘Alexander Hamilton’ in it.” I’ve had the song “You’re Welcome” stuck in my head since I saw the movie (it probably doesn’t hurt that it’s sung by The Rock). As a Flight of the Conchords fan, I also especially enjoyed Jermain Clement’s performance of “Shiny.” Miranda said that he wrote the song as a tribute to David Bowie, which you can sense when you hear it. It’s a great song.

Most important to me, however, is that Moana does a lot to break the “princess complex” that Disney has relied on far too long for its female characters. Overtly, Moana rejects being called a princess; she is the future chief of her people, a position that appears to have been exclusively held by men but is presented without any question or commentary as to her right to this leadership post. There is also no love story in Moana; the question of who Moana will marry is never even discussed and her relationship with Maui is 100% platonic. Even Brave, which is lauded by many as an important departure from the typical princess story, is focused on Merida’s pending betrothal. Moana is the story of a girl on an adventure to help save her island; she’s brave, smart, and when she sees her people are in trouble, she finds a solution. Moana is an important next step in modernizing how women and girls are portrayed in Disney movies. It was honestly refreshing to see.

While I generally enjoyed Moana, I did find parts of it a little slow. That doesn’t bode well for holding the attention of a 4 year old, since I’d like to think I have marginally more focus that they do. Perhaps because despite all of it progressive features Moana still follows a formula that contributed to my occasional boredom. Since this was a Disney movie, it was never really in doubt that Moana would be successful in her quest. The film also gave her an animal sidekick, since I’m pretty sure that’s mandatory, in the form of a dumb chicken, which was moderate amusing in the beginning but had diminishing returns with every example of how simple-minded Hey Hey was. Moana could have also used a little more humor. There were some occasional moments that were funny, but there weren’t any laugh out loud moments for kids or adults. The Rock has good comedic sensibilities, so I wish that they had given him more material on this front. There was only one child at the screening I was at – there were only 7 people total, which was amazing – and I don’t think I heard him laugh once the entire duration of the movie. Animated films tend to lay on the silly humor a little too much for my enjoyment, but Moana went too far in the other direction and was perhaps too serious. Throw in a wise cracking seagull or something – if not just for comedy, but for merchandising potential.

Moana is certainly a solid film and is an encouraging evolution of the typical Disney princess story. The music is top notch and the adventure that Moana embarks on is a lot of fun. The animation is really beautiful – it’s impressive how realistic the ocean looks in some of the scenes. Spending time with The Rock is always a good thing in my book, which is another added perk of Moana. There are moments when the action drags a bit and the film could be a bit shorter and funnier, but overall it was quite enjoyable. I haven’t seen enough of the other potential best animated film nominees to know if Moana has a chance at the Oscar, but it’s worth seeing regardless.

Things That Make You Go Hmmmmm

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One of the things that is great about pop culture is that there is something out there for everybody. With so many options in entertainment, you are bound to find something that you are into, no matter how off-beat or niche your interests may be. You may not always be in the majority, but thanks to the Internet and social media it is relatively easy to find other people that share your interests no matter how specific your pop culture preferences may be. If you like Victorian zombie love stories (a real thing – I checked), there’s pop culture to consume and a community to discover.

While I fully support people’s right to like just about any pop culture that they want (as long as it isn’t hurting anyone), that doesn’t always mean that I understand it. This goes beyond me having different personal preferences than other people; I may think that Two and a Half Men is anathema to good TV, but I can at least somewhat grasp why some people would like it. There are some things in pop culture that I just can’t wrap my head around; every time I am confronted with these things, I just don’t get it. That doesn’t make these things invalid or bad, they just confuse me.

Adults who are really into Disney

Photo by Mark Ashman/Disney via Getty Images

Photo by Mark Ashman/Disney via Getty Images

Maybe because I didn’t grow up watching Disney movies I don’t have that same baseline level of nostalgia for the product as some people, but I honestly cannot figure out adults that are Disney enthusiasts. I’m not talking about parents of kids who are fans of Disney so that the adults become fans simply by immersion or survival instinct; I mean the full grown adults, many of whom don’t have kids, that go bonkers for all things Disney. I made my first – and only – trip to Disney World when I was in my early thirties and I was bored out of my mind. I didn’t get much out of it, other than finally being able to check the requisite life experience box. So the idea that people are going on their honeymoons to Disney World simply baffles me, as do adults that wear a lot of Disney-themed clothing or who get super excited when a movie is “released from the vault.” Love what you love, but know that every time you bring up some Disney stuff with a little too much enthusiasm, internally I’m doing this:

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Tom Hardy

For the life of me, I cannot figure this guy out. That’s probably a testament to his acting ability and his ability to physically transform himself, but I have no idea what I’m supposed to think about this guy. The first time I ever remember seeing Hardy was in the underrated Warrior. He was all buffed out and was playing an MMA fighter who looked like he could rip your head off. It was then pointed out to me that I had seen Hardy before in Inception, though I could barely place him. Then he was in a romantic comedy with Reese Witherspoon and then he was Bane in The Dark Knight Rises – and he looked totally different in all of them. Like, how is it even possible that this is the same guy:

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Beyond his appearance, I cannot even begin to get a bead on this guy’s personality. I can’t tell if he’s a nice guy who says some dumb things, a douche that is occasionally insightful or something altogether different. I dunno – he’s a cipher for me, which definitely speaks well for his ability to play many diverse roles. But he’s also a total enigma.

Reality TV

I used to watch some reality television, so I get why this is a thing in theory, but what perplexes me is how this is still a thing. At this point, we know so much about the production and creation of reality TV that we know that there is very little “reality” in it and it seems to me that it is the same storylines over and over again as they cast for certain types of “characters.” So while there used to be a factor of escapism in it, I don’t really get what people are getting out of it at this point when it’s become fairly predictable and repeats itself. It’s all so manufactured. And we all know it’s a sham – people who win reality show completions, in general, don’t go on to do anything else remotely noteworthy. Couples that meet on reality shows break up almost instantly. I’m unclear what the payoff is here.

Harry Potter

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Let me clarify this – I read and enjoyed all of the Harry Potter books. I even read the final book in a day to avoid spoilers. I want to check out the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios when I get the chance. I’d say I’m a casual fan at best; I didn’t watch all the movies and if you pressed me on any real Harry Potter trivia, I’d probably flame out. I have no animosity or confusion toward Harry Potter in general; I get why people dig it.

What makes me shake my head is the intensity of the passion that some fans have about all thing Harry Potter to this day. Like, I thought real-life Quidditch leagues were a little weird, but whatever. It was an inventive way to show your fandom. Those were popping up not that long after the book series has finished, so there was some timeliness in their origin. But at this point, I feel like there isn’t much more of the Harry Potter world proper that is left to explore, but people are still nuts about this stuff and author J.K. Rowling is more than happy to fuel the flames with revelations and regrets about the books. I have some friends that are in their late 20s/early 30s and I am always slightly thrown off by how excited you can make them by just broaching anything Harry Potter-related. I get that they were kids when these books came out while I was an adult when I read them, but I in no way feel that passionately about anything that I liked at that age. Harry Potter fans also had the benefit of multiple outlets for their fandom thanks to the Internet, but that only seems to have made it stronger. I respect their fandom, even if I can’t say that I fully understand why they still feel so strongly about it. I love Hamilton, but even I’m getting a little tired of its ubiquitousness. And that’s only been a year. The last Harry Potter book came out in 2007; the last movie in 2011. These people just have more stamina than I do – or I am simply not wired for that level of commitment.

Now it’s your turn……what pop culture phenomena to you simply not understand. Sound off in the comments.

Pop Culture Odds and Ends – It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia Edition

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I decided to spend part of my Memorial Day weekend on a quick getaway to Philadelphia. I’ve only been to Philly a handful of times prior and I was primarily there for a singular purpose (baseball game or concert), so I haven’t done any of the more touristy things that one would do or really gotten the chance to explore the city. I managed to fit in a lot in my brief 26 hours in the city, crossing off old standbys like visiting Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. I also managed to soak up a little pop culture by running briskly jogging up the Rocky steps in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

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Not far from the steps is the Rocky statue. Pro tip – the couple that seems to be organizing tourists and offering to take photos don’t actually have any official capacity to do so. They are just people hustling for money and will yell at you if you don’t tip them.

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#Rocky statue

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I also checked out Eastern State Penitentiary, which I went to just because I thought it looked cool and would be interesting (which it was), but also turned out to be the filming location for the movie 12 Monkeys, as well as various music videos. This means Brad Pitt, Bruce Willis, and I were all occupied the same space, though sadly not at the same time.

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The prison has been featured on MTV’s Fear and on Ghost Hunters. I’m usually a pretty tough nut to crack – I love horror movies and am never scared by them – but this place legitimately freaked me out a little. It’s oddly beautiful, but there is also a very creepy vibe that hovers over the entire place.

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Hospital wing #Philly

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View of the cell block

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It doesn’t help that you are wandering around with headphones on, so your senses are a little off and you aren’t as aware of your surroundings. I found it fascinating, but I also am pretty sure that there is no way in hell you could talk me into going back for their Terror Behind the Walls tours during Halloween.

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But enough about my travels. On to more important things – the pop culture roundup. As always, I’ve found the best that the world of pop culture has to offer. So while I catch up after my mini-getaway, get yourself up to speed on the pop culture that you might have missed.

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Time for some trailers…..

  • The Infiltrator:

 

  • BoJack Horseman, season 3:

 

  • The Space Between Us:

 

  • Marauders:

 

  • Sharknado: The 4th Awakens:

 

  • The Little Prince:

 

  • Roadies:

 

  • The Fundamentals of Caring:

 

  • Wiener-Dog:

 

  • James Franco’s Mother, May I Sleep With Danger:

 

  • Monster Trucks:

 

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As always, we end with the mashups and supercuts:

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  • X-Men meets Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous:

 

  • I’d probably like Star Wars if this was representative of the Storm Troopers:

 

  • Bruce Springsteen and Bono sing “Because the Night”:

 

  • Obama sings Rihanna:

 

  • The first and last appearance of characters in Tarantino films:

 

  • A vintage jazz version of Biggie’s ”Juicy”:

 

  • And finally, Finding Nemo told in emoji: