‘Moana’ Review

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Directors: Ron Clements & John Musker (co-directed by Don Hall and Chris Williams)

Writer: Jared Bush

Cast: Auli’I Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Rachel House, Temuera Morrison, Alan Tudyk, Nicole Scherzinger, and Jemaine Clement

Synopsis: In Ancient Polynesia, when a terrible curse incurred by Maui reaches an impetuous Chieftain’s daughter’s island, she answers the Ocean’s call to seek out the demigod to set things right.

 

*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

Disney Animation is having a pretty great record recently. They’ve had smash hits in Wreck-It Ralph, Big Hero 6, Zootopia, and of course the big one, Frozen. However, Moana feels completely different from all those films, and that is what makes the film work. Enriched with the culture behind it, and it’s great soundtrack, Moana is one of those films I think people will be talking about for a while.

Moana follows Moana, voiced by newcomer Auli’i Cravalho, is an adventurous teenager who has always been connected to venture into the ocean, but is forbidden by her father Chief Tui (Morrison), who instead wants Moana to lead the village. However, when an old darkness begins to take over the island, Moana sees this as her opportunity to finally get off the island and save her people, but she’ll need the help of the demigod Maui (voiced by Dwayne Johnson).

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The film starts off by telling us a tale of Maui, and what essentially becomes the adventurous tale of finding and returning the heart of Te Fiti, a god amongst the Polynesian people. The tale is a great jumping in point for people not familiar with the Polynesian culture – of course it’s not all of the history – but it certainly makes you understand Moana, and why she has an adventurous spirit. The other nice thing that the film does is we get to spend a great deal of time with Moana and the people of the island. So you can understand when Moana leaves, it’s not only a big deal for her, but also for the people of the island.

Moana herself is a good character. She’s strong-minded and has a good sense of herself, but also naïve when it comes to certain things, which makes her a good character to follow. When it comes to Maui, well, there’s a reason they got The Rock to do the voice for the demigod. Johnson brings his huge and charismatic personality to Maui, and essentially feels like an extension to Johnson himself. But, like Moana, is a flawed hero himself and needs Moana as much as Moana needs him. The pairing of the two, and the voice actors of Cravalho and Johnson, is great to watch and hearing them go back-and-forth with each other would usually be a highlight, but does help.

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The film is pretty much Moana and Johnson, but Rachel House plays an important role in the film and an important character in Moana’s life in her Gramma Tala, Disney go-to now Alan Tudyk does some voice work for Hei Hei, a brainless rooster who is sure to be a fan-favorite amongst youngsters, and the water, yes, the ocean is a character in itself that helps Moana on some occasion, although I kind of wished they would have used it more, but that’s just me being nitpicky. Finally, Jemaine Clement pops in as Tamatoa, a large crab that brings one of the more light-hearted songs of the film that makes sense for his character. Another potential fan-favorite set of characters are the Kakamora, which are coconut pirates – yes, coconut pirates – who are part of a action scene that is very Mad Max: Fury Road inspired.

The highlight of the film here is the music. Each song is catchy, highly entertaining, plays a role in the scene, and more importantly, beautifully done. I have no doubt you’ll be singing or humming these songs when you leave the theater or blast them on your drive home. The music also brings home many themes for not just the characters singing them, but also for the adventure themselves. They’re rather moving songs that even I’ll admit, had me on the verge of tears.

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All in all, Moana is another great addition of the Disney Animation category. Filled with rich visuals, history and music, time will tell how audiences treat Moana, but it is definitely worth your time. Does it fall into familiar territory sometimes? Sure, but it has enough to separate itself from the pack.

Moana

4.5 out of 5

‘The BFG’ Review

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Director: Steven Spielberg

Writer: Melissa Mathison

Cast: Ruby Barnhill, Mark Rylance, Penelope Wilson, Jemaine Clement, Rebecca Hall, Rafe Spall, and Bill Hader

Synopsis: A girl named Sophie encounters the Big Friendly Giant who, despite his intimidating appearance, turns out to be a kindhearted soul who is considered an outcast by the other giants because, unlike them, he refuses to eat children.

 

*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

Looking back, I have actually never read Roald Dahl’s The BFG, which is a shame because I know a lot of people my age that have and have loved it. So I feel like I’m missing out, but reading other Dahl’s work I’m sure the world is as great as his other works like “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “Matilda.” While there is another version of The BFG out there, another version with Steven Spielberg had been kicking around Hollywood, but it wasn’t until now that they decided to pull the trigger and bring us a great world and filled with two great characters. Not only that, this is the last film screenwriter Melissa Mathison – she also did E.T. – worked on before she sadly passed away.

The BFG follows Sophie, played by newcomer Ruby Barnhill, an orphan living in London, who one night spots a giant (Oscar winner Mark Rylance) outside her window. The giant, also spotting her, snatches her away and takes her to Giant Country. While there, she tries to escape but soon realizes that the giant isn’t as bad as stories have them to be, and eventually calls him “BFG” for Big Friendly Giant. Not only that, BFG is the runt of a band of brothers that are massively bigger than him, and are cannibalistic. Sophie, seeing the good in BFG, tries to devise a plan to stop the other giants and help The BFG’s life.

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While I did enjoy The BFG, there is a pacing issue right smack dab in the middle of the film, and the final big moment of the film between Sophie, BFG, and the other giants is a bit anti-climatic for me. However, what keeps the film going is definitely the chemistry between leads Barnhill and Rylance. The two are unbelievable together and are truly the best part of the whole film.

Rylance became a bit of a household name after nabbing the Oscar for his work in Bridge of Spies (also directed by Spielberg), and is once again magnificent here as BFG. Even under all the CGI, Rylance gives a great performance, and kudos goes to Barnhill, making her film debut in not just a big budget Hollywood film, but a Spielberg film at that. Most of film is the two interacting with each other and BFG showing her what he does for a living of collecting dreams. That is where Spielberg ups the fantasy aspect and leads to some great shots of Sophie running around chasing small colorful orbs.

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The mean giants, which all have weird names like Bloodbottler, Bonecruncher, Childchewer, Gizzardgulper, Meatdripper, Butcher Boy, and the leader of the group Fleshlumpeater (voiced by Jemaine Clement), don’t get a ton of screen time, so when it comes to them, they are arguably one of the  weaker parts of the film. The rest of the human supporting cast comes in the form of Penelope Wilton playing The Queen, her head of security Mr. Tibbs (Spall) and assistant Mary (Hall). All of them play their part well, and are involved in one of the best and humorous scenes of the film.

All in all, The BFG is a great magical adventure that is held together by leads Mark Rylance and Ruby Barnhill. The film does have some pacing some issues but overall, The BFG is a great time to be had.

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The BFG

4 out of 5