That was a few weeks—and a couple hundred viewings—ago.
It’s an understatement to say that my family is enchanted by this movie. And I think I can pinpoint a few of the reasons why… a few reasons that make this particular movie different from your “normal” Disney animated movie as well as a good study in character and story (yay, I’m finally able to tie a blog post to a writing concept!):
1) The parents are alive through the entire movie. In sharp contrast to the running joke that Disney characters always have one or both parents either already dead or who die early on in the movie, Moana’s parents are happy and healthy. Same goes for the parents in the Disney movie “Brave,” but because the mother/daughter relationship is the main theme of the movie, they kind of have to live.
2) There is no romance. As a romance writer, this bums me out a little. However, Moana is a teenage girl, so the fact that she’s not searching for love or there’s no romantic interest hovering on the sidelines is a bit of a relief. Similarly, there was no romance in “Brave,” although there was the expected vying of potential suitors (resulting in the eventual decision that they were all too young for marriage). In fact, not only is there no romance in "Moana", romantic love is entirely off the radar screen. It’s simply a non-issue. The mother in me says “Good… she’s far too young anyway!”
3) There is no princess. There is only the daughter of the Chief (a curly-haired non-princess), and some fun jabs at the Disney formula ("If you wear a dress and you have an animal sidekick, you're a princess." And “If you start singing, I'm gonna throw up.”)
4) The music. Maybe it’s because the kiddos watch it every chance they can, but the songs still circle in my head and heart. Grand and empowering and humorous. I doubt any one song will catch on as much as “Let it Go” from Frozen did… but they were all memorable.
5) The evolution of the characters. What a great study of Goal, Motivation, and Conflict! Both internal and external, and both for Moana and for Maui, the demi-god who helps her reach her destination. Their individual GMCs conflict with one another’s, which makes the story even more dynamic. They each get their individual character arc, and I’m invested in both of them as a viewer. It makes the happy ending even more so!
6) The guy isn’t just there for show. In a lot of Disney movies, the male counterpart to the princess (usually a love interest, but this movie has no romance) is akin to a wooden prop. He’s simply a means for the princess to reach her goal, fall in love, or otherwise achieve her happily ever after. More recent movies also break from this tradition, notably “Brave,” “The Princess and the Frog” (even though it is a romance), and to a smaller extent “Beauty and the Beast” (though I might argue that the Beast’s character arc is pretty flimsy. He’s only concerned with external beauty, until the most beautiful girl in the village comes a-calling. Hmmm….) In "Moana", as mentioned before, Maui gets his own full character arc and GMC.
Okay, I’m going to stop lauding the movie because I’m starting to sound like a paid spokesperson. But what animated movie have you watched that ended up being far more than “just” a children’s movie?