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Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Moana - Articles and Interviews (Part 2)

Since it was released in America over Thanksgiving weekend, Moana has been a huge critical and commercial success. It has a 95% positive score on the review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, based on nearly 200 reviews, and has already been nominated for six Annie Awards and two Golden Globes. In addition, the film has currently made $284.5 million worldwide, and it's yet to be released in countries such as Australia and Japan. I saw Moana a fortnight ago, and I really enjoyed the film. The characters and story were interesting, and the songs and animation were excellent. Overall, it's another Disney classic.

Last month, I posted a set of articles about the film, mostly focused on the pre-release publicity. Here are 21 more articles about the movie. These range from interviews with people involved in making Moana to articles discussing the positives and negatives of the film's portrayal of Polynesian culture. 

Interviews with the Cast 

With the exception of Alan Tudyk (who voices the dim-witted chicken Heihei and gets a couple of lines as an unnamed villager), all the voice actors involved in Moana are Polynesian, or have Polynesian ancestry. They given a number of interviews where have praised the manner in which Moana brings their native culture to life.

Dwayne Johnson, star of Moana and the Sexiest Man Alive, is also a big ol’ crybaby - 2016's highest-paid actor, Dwayne Johnson (AKA The Rock), who voices Maui, is unquestionably the most famous person in Moana's voice cast. In this interview, he talks about how he"cried multiple times" when he saw the finished product, and praises its portrayal of Polynesian values.  He also reveals who his favourite Disney villain is, and how this inspired his portrayal of Maui. 

Jemaine Clement's 'crabulous' role in Disney's Moana - Flight of the Conchords star Jemaine Clement voices one of Moana's most memorable characters, the giant kleptomaniac crab Tamatoa. In an interview with Jack Van Beynen, he discusses what it's like to be a voice actor, and even briefly mentions Moana's fandom. This article also mentions a comedic play about Maui written by Clement and Taika Waititi 12 years before the Disney film came out. 

Jemaine Clement Talks Playing A Giant Crab In Moana, Channeling David Bowie And Maori Myths (Exclusive) - A second interview with Jemaine Clement, in which he predominantly discusses the creation of Tamatoa's signature song, "Shiny". He also talks about improvising a number of lines which were cut from the finished film, and mentions the "terrifying" nature of many Maui myths from the Maori culture.

Temuera Morrison and Rachel House on whether Moana is cultural appropriation - Two of the most prominent stars in Moana are the Maori actors Temuera Morrison (who voices Moana's father, Cheif Tui) and Rachel House (who voices Moana's grandmother, Gramma Tala). In this article, they both talk about what it was like to work with Disney, and praise Moana's portrayal of their culture. They also express hope that the movie will lead to increased interest in Polynesian stories. 

Interviews with the Crew 

A wide range of people are involved in the production process of an animated movie, ranging from producers and directors to costume designers. Several of the most prominent people to work behind the scenes on Moana have talked about the contributions they made to the movie, including a large number of people from the Polynesian islands. 

Disney's Moana: how Kiwis made it happen - This article from the New Zealand website Stuff centres around an interview with Moana's directors Ron Clements and John Musker, who discuss the contributions made by a number of important "Kiwis"; screenwriter Taikia Waititi (who wrote the first draft of the movie, and provided much of its "architecture"), actors Temuera Morrison, Rachel House and Jemaine Clement, and songwriter Opetaia Foa'i. Clements and Musker provide a number of interesting anecdotes, especially when they discuss how Morrison would prepare for recording sessions by speaking Maori. 

Moana is Making Waves Around Globe- Whilst Stuff's article focused on the New Zealanders who worked on Moana, this article from Voa News focuses on the Hawaiian cast and crew, especially Aaron and Jordan Kandell, a pair of Hawaiian twins who were among the seven people credited with writing the story. Voa News' article is full of interesting information, with Aaron Kandell discussing how his experiences as a wayfinder inspired his contributions the movie, and Jordan discussing the Moana's feminist messages. There is also a contribution from a friend of Auli'i Cravalho, the girl who voiced Moana. . 

Niuafolau’s experience contributing to ‘Moana’ - The Samoan anthropologist and historian Niuafolau Dionne Fonoti was part of the "Oceanic Story Trust", a group of experts in Polynesian culture who worked to ensure that Moana would portray their culture as authentically as possible. In this article, she discusses her initial concerns about working with Disney, but states that the hard work has paid off, as Disney "understood our cultures". Fonoti is also proud that Moana has been very popular in Samoa. 

Opetaia Foa'i Talks Disney's Moana & Helping To Bring Polynesian Culture To Life Onscreen (Exclusive)- Whilst a lot of the advance publicity for Moana has focused on the fact that the soundtrack was written by Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, the contributions made by Opetaia Foa'i, lead singer of the group Te Vaka, were equally important in creating the movie's music. In this article, Foa'i talks about the attention which Moana has received, and the need to include key aspects of Samoan culture in the film. 

Reactions from Polynesia

Critics and viewers all over the world have reviewed Moana, but the most important reactions are those from the Polynesian communities whose culture and mythology inspired the movie. They have generally reacted positively to the film. 

Some Things About Disney’s “Moana” That Real Polynesians Want You To Know - This article on Buzzfeed examines how a range of Polynesian people reacted to the movie. 25 Polynesian people provide their opinions on different aspects of the movie. They seem to reach a consensus that Moana and Gramma Tala are the two best characters, but there is some criticism of couple of liberties taken by Disney (such as the idea of Moana becoming her Island's chief) . The Polynesian cinemagoers generally support Moana's portrayal of their culture, and are pleased about the increased publicity it has received as a result of the movie. 

Steve Soltysik teaches Wilcox 2nd graders about Polynesian navigation, Hokulea - This article centres around Steve Solysik, who teaches Hawaiian children about Polynesian traditions of navigation and wayfinding. At one point, he acknowledges that Moana has led to increased interest in these aspects of Polynesian culture. Solysik's comments provide important insights into the roles which movies can play in bringing important customs and traditions to mainstream attention. 

West Hawaii families praise ‘Moana’ - This article focuses on how West Hawaiian families have reacted to Moana. The people interviewed describe Moana as "meaningful", and claimed that the movie excited them enough to give them "chicken skin" (i.e goose bumps), even if its depiction of Polynesian lifestyles was more influenced by Samoan and Tongan cultures. 

Praise and Criticism 

Moana has received plenty of praise for its animation, music, strong lead character and portrayal of Polynesian life. However, the movie has also gained criticism for the way in which it combines elements from the culture and mythology a wide range of islands to form a single idyllic vision of Polynesia. There have also been some articles discussing how the movie relates to environmental issues. 

"Consider the Coconut": How Moana uses Polynesian culture to create a prototypical Disney story- Taking its title from a line in Moana's opening song, "Where You Are", this article on Slate discusses its portrayal of Polynesian culture. It praises the Polynesian cast and music and the portrayal of wayfinding, but notes that the movie closely follows the traditional Disney formula in many ways, highlighting the fact that it is primarily a product aimed at mass audiences. Overall, this article is very interesting, as it provides plenty of insights into "the complicated interaction between culture and commerce". 

How the Story of "Moana" and Maui Holds Up Against Cultural Truths - In this article, Smithsonian scholar Doug Herman discusses the positives and negatives of Moana's portrayal of Polynesian culture. He praises the movie's depiction of Polynesia's wayfinding history, which he refers to "as the greatest human adventure story of all time" but criticises the depiction of Maui and the overly romanticised portrayal of tribal life. He also believes that the troublesome Kakamora, who wear coconuts as armour, perpetuate stereotypes of the Polynesians as "Coconut people". Though I don't agree with all of Herman's complaints, he provides an engaging and balanced article which provides some very interesting information on Polynesian culture and traditions. 

Moana Movie: That Chicken is a Historical Interest, Not Just a Side Comic- There is plenty of interest in Polynesian culture in the Philippines, and many Filipinos believe that the Polynesian people originated from Southeast Asia. This article discusses this theory, and how Moana's chicken sidekick, Heihei, may be a homage to it. Heihei is a Bantam Rooster, and this species can be found in both the Phillipines and Hawaii. This article provides some interesting observations about the origins of Polynesian culture, and its links to Southeast Asia. 

Princess Moana, the Rogue One rebel, the Eagle Huntress: meet film’s female heroes - This article from The Guardian aims to look at a number of films released in the UK during December which feature strong female protagonists. However, it primarily focuses on Moana, mentioning how a number of writers have reacted to the titular protagonist and her movie.  Although the article mentions the small but vocal group of critics staunchly opposed to the idea of Disney making a film about Polynesian culture, the majority of people who contribute their opinions are full of praise for Moana, and hope that its success will lead to an increased number of films with "diverse and interesting characters"

The Hole in Moana’s Heart - Whilst most criticisms of Moana have focused on its portrayal of Polynesian mythology, the environmentalist Edward Stanton argues that a bigger problem is the movie's failure to engage properly with environmental concerns, as "People, not gods, were the cause of environmental devastation on Pacific Islands." Many of the tribes who settled on the Polynesian islands were affected by ecological decline, which eventually led to famine, especially in Rapa Nui (Easter Island). Stanton believes that Moana's refusal to discuss this reality is based on a desire to avoid offending people, and the movie needed a stronger approach in order to highlight the destructive effects of human disrespect for the environment. 

What Standing Rock and 'Moana' Have in Common - This article from Vice tries to link the themes and messages of Moana to the protests at Standing Rock, where Native Americans and environmental campaigners have fought to prevent the construction of an oil pipeline across sacred Sioux lands. Like the protestors at Standing Rock, Moana is fighting to preserve her land and her community. However, whilst Moana 's success highlights the power of the individual, the protestors at Standing Rock managed to get the pipeline withdrawn through mass protests and collective organisation.  

Criticism of Maui

One of the most polarising elements of Moana (especially among the Polynesian community) is the depiction of Maui. The revered demi-god is portrayed as a comic relief sidekick whose bravado hides some deep insecurities. Although I was generally OK with Moana's take on Maui, his bulky build and egocentric behaviour (especially in his early scenes) have annoyed a number of experts, who have provided some strong criticisms.

Goddess Hina: The Missing Heroine from Disneyʼs Moana - In this article, Tevita O. Ka'ili, a cultural anthropologist from Tonga, argues that one of the most problematic features of Moana is the omission of  the powerful goddess  Hina.  She is traditionally portrayed as Maui's female counterpart, (the exact nature of her relationship to Maui varies from island to island), and Ka'ili argues that the failure to include Hina leads to an overly simplified portrayal of Polynesian mythology, magnifying the problems with the movie's depiction of Maui. He regards the omission of Hina as an example of "Disneyfication" and concludes that "Disney lacks the cultural depth to tell our stories". 

Maui needs to Maui - This letter, written to the Samoan Observer, gets its title from the fact that the Samoan verb "maui" (spelled the same as Maui's name, but pronounced differently) means "to shrink". The writer, LV Letalu , argues that the decision to reduce Maui's power and increase his flaws is based on the need to emphasise Moana's status as the movie's protagonist, with Maui assuming the role of her "foil".

Moana and Resistance Spectating - Richard Wolfgramm's article for focuses on the need to be a "resisting spectator" and watch movies like Moana with a critical eye. Whilst he praises several aspects of the film (such as the animation and Auli'i Cravalho's voice acting), he brutally attacks the portrayal of Maui, believing that he is reduced to an "arrogant, egotistical [and] self-absorbed" caricature rooted too heavily in Western stereotypes. Wolfgramm makes some interesting points about the uneasy relationship between big American film studios such as Disney and the minority cultures they often depict, but I passionately disagree with his claims that Moana's directors were motivated primarily by money. 

The Supersize Cliché in ‘Moana’ - This article in the New York Times is written by Lawrence Downes. He argues that Maui's design perpetuates the stereotype of "humongous Hawaiians", leading to greater ignorance of the fact "that Islanders come in all sizes". Although Maui's energy and agility confirms that his huge size is due to muscle, not fat, Downes raises some important concerns regarding the depiction of Polynesian males in the media.


All the articles listed above discuss Moana's portrayal of Polynesian culture, They provide a range of opinions, from praise for the movie's vibrant animation and depiction of wayfinding, to criticism of its take on Maui. In addition, the people who wrote the articles and the experts interviewed or quoted by them provide a number of fascinating insights into the mythology and customs which inspired Moana. Regardless of whether you're a fan of the film or not, these articles are all worth reading.

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Christmas TV and Films

During the Christmas Season, the British TV schedules include a number of excellent TV programmes and films which aim to provide enjoyable escapism for the whole family on the dark, cold December nights. Here is a list of particularly interesting TV programmes and films airing during the last fortnight of 2016, all of which are based on, or inspired by, fairy tales, mythology and classic children's stories. In order to make this list easier to put together, I am only including films and TV programmes on Britain's five terrestrial channels - BBC1, BBC2, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5.


Paul O' Grady's Favourite Fairy Tales

When's It On? - Tuesday 20th December at 9PM (ITV1)

TV presenter Paul O'Grady, currently playing the Wicked Stepmother in the London Palladium's Christmas pantomime version of Cinderella, presents this documentary about the Brothers Grimm. In it, he looks at the German locations which inspired classic fairy tales such as Rapunzel and Snow White, and how these stories have evolved throughout the centuries. This documentary seems like it will be entertaining viewing for families and fairy tale enthusiasts, even if you are familiar with the insights which O'Grady offers.

Dancing The Nutcracker: Inside the Royal Ballet

When's It On? - Christmas Day at 4:00PM (BBC2)

The Royal Ballet's version of The Nutcracker, being performed to mark the 90th birthday of famed choreographer Peter Wright, is on at the Royal Opera House until January. In order to co-incide with its run, the Royal Ballet has provided a rare opportunity for TV audiences to see what life is like behind the scenes, as the company prepares for the production. Across three months of rehearsals, we get to see the cast, which ranges from 11 year-old pupils at the Royal Ballet School, to the woman playing the Sugar Plum Fairy herself, practise for their roles. We also get to see the technical crew in action, as the special effects are brought to life. If you are interested in seeing how an iconic ballet is made, or want an intelligent documentary to contrast with the usual Christmas Day entertainment, then then Dancing The Nutcracker: Inside The Royal Ballet is a must-see.

The Nation's Favourite Disney Songs

When's It On? - Boxing Day at 1:40PM (ITV)

This special was aired last year, but is being repeated during Boxing Day. If you haven't seen it already, The Nation's Favourite Disney Songs provides a countdown of the Top 10 Disney songs (according to a poll conducted by ITV), including classic tunes from iconic Disney films such as The Lion King, Frozen and The Jungle Book. The magician and TV presenter Stephen Mulhern narrates, as a number of celebrities, including McFly member Harry Judd and Strictly Come Dancing judge Arlene Phillips, talk about why they love the songs on the countdown, with their children often providing additional praise.  In addition, a number of people involved in the production of the Disney films mentioned, ranging from Mary Poppins star Jane Dotrice to Aladdin songwriter Sir Tim Rice, provide insight into what it was like to work on a Disney film and hear the classic songs being brought to life. This countdown provides a strong list of  Disney songs, and even if you don't agree with it ("Classic" films from Walt Disney's lifetime are a little too dominant) it is interesting to see fans and experts talk about why these tunes are so appealing.

Revolting Rhymes 

When's It On? - Boxing Day and Tuesday 27th December at 6:30PM (BBC1)

Roald Dahl's 1982 book Revolting Rhymes contained six poems which provided twisted and irreverent takes on classic fairy tales. In this two-part animated series, we get adaptations of five of these poems, with "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" being the only one not to be included.

The first episode depicts the friendship between Snow White and Little Red Riding Hood, as the former helps the Seven Dwarves make a fortune through gambling on horse racing, and the latter makes a living by hunting wolves. Meanwhile, the second episode combines the stories of Cinderella and Jack and the Beanstalk, with Cinderella finding out that her Prince Charming is not as nice as he appears, and Jack learning that the only way to get a happy ending is to improve his personal hygiene. A number of British actors, including David Walliams, Rob Brydon and Dominic West, voice multiple roles in both specials. Revolting Rhymes promise to be perfect fun for fans of Roald Dahl, and it seems like it will capture the hilarious tone of the source material.

Peter Pan Goes Wrong

When's It On? - New Year's Eve at 6:20PM (BBC1)

Mischief Theatre have become the one of the biggest names in West End theatre due to farces such as The Play That Goes Wrong and The Comedy About A Bank Robbery. They have become so popular that their Christmas play Peter Pan Goes Wrong will be their first work to air on TV.

Peter Pan Goes Wrong, currently being performed at London's Apollo Theatre, tells the story of an ameteur dramatics society whose Christmas play (a version of Peter Pan) does not go to plan. Though this television adaptation will probably be heavily abridged to fit a one-hour time slot, it will also feature many of the play's most memorable moments as the cast argue and the special effects malfunction. The chaos will be highlighted by narration from Poirot star David Suchet. This looks like it will be great fun for those seeking to end the year by watching an amusing comedy.


Hercules (2014)

When's It On? - Sunday 18th December at 9PM (Channel 5)

The myths about the Greek demigod Hercules have always been popular due to his sheer strength and power. Most films about him have taken his heroism for granted, but this 2014 movie, based on the graphic novel Hercules: The Thracian Wars, provides a revisionist interpretation. In it, Hercules is portrayed as a mercenary who has exaggerated the stories of his "Twelve Labours" in order to improve his reputation. However, it doesn't take long before he has to demonstrate that he's worthy of his heroic status. Dwayne Johnson is the ideal choice to play Hercules, and he is joined by a fine supporting cast, including John Hurt and Ian McShane. This take on Hercules is aimed primarily at teenagers and older males, but it's great fun for anyone who's into the sword and sandal genre.

Puss In Boots (2011)

When's It On? - Wednesday 21st December at 1;45PM (BBC1)

One of the best characters in the Shrek franchise was Puss in Boots, a Zorro-inspired take on the fairy tale feline. In this spin-off, we get a story from Puss in Boots' past, as he teams up with his old friend Humpty Dumpty in order to steal the Golden Goose. Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek and Zach Galifianakis lead the voice cast for a tale which provides a comedic spin on swashbuckling adventure stories, but does not rely on pop culture references as much as the four Shrek films which preceded it.

Saving Mr. Banks (2013)

When's It On? - Friday 23rd December at 8:30PM (BBC2)

Mary Poppins is one of Disney's best-loved movies, and it's become so iconic that there is even a film about how it was made. Saving Mr. Banks tells the story of how Walt Disney persuaded P.L. Travers, author of the Mary Poppins books, to hand over the rights to her property. Walt Disney is played by Hollywood icon Tom Hanks, with Emma Thompson as Travers. Although the movie sanitizes a lot of aspects of this real-life story (such as Travers' opposition to the finished product) it is still an interesting look at the work which goes into making a children's classic.

Hans Christian Andersen (1952)

When's It On? - Christmas Eve at 8:10AM (BBC2)

Hans Christian Andersen is not a conventional biopic about the legendary fairy tale author, but instead, it is "a fairy tale about the great spinner of fairy tales". Though purists may be annoyed by the lack of historical accuracy, the great Danny Kaye plays Andersen, and the movie contains a number of songs, including "Wonderful Copenhagen", "Inchworm" and "The Ugly Duckling", which still hold up today. It is certainly worth getting up early in the morning to see this.

Jason & The Argonauts (1963)

When's It On? - Christmas Eve at 3:10PM (Channel 5)

Jason & The Argonauts is based on the Greek myths about Jason, who found the magical Golden Fleece. It tells the story of Jason's quest, as he is assisted by figures such as Hercules and Hera. This film is famed for its special effects, created by Ray Harryhausen, as Jason battles an army of skeletons, a Hydra, and a 100-foot tall giant. The 50's and 60's saw a number of sword-and-sandal films, many of which based on Greek mythology, and Jason & The Argonauts is one of the best movies in that genre.

The Wizard of Oz (1939)

When's It On? - Christmas Day at 2:10PM (Channel 5)

L. Frank Baum wrote The Wizard of Oz in 1900 in order to provide an American equivalent to classic European fairy tales, and the iconic status of the 1939 adaptation of this book highlights just how successful his endeavour was. The Wizard of Oz airs every in Britain every Christmas, and also appears on TV during the Bank Holidays, but it still feels fresh. It's hard to believe that the film is almost 80 years old, but songs such as "Somewhere over the Rainbow" are classics and characters such as Dorothy and the Tin Man remain appealing even today. The film is also notable for being one of the first to use technicolour, and the transition from the black-and-white world of Kansas to the colourful land of Oz is still a wonderful moment.

Frozen (2013) and The Lion King (1994)

When's It On? - Christmas Day at 3:10PM (BBC1 and ITV)

Christmas is an excellent time to watch a Disney film, as families want familiar entertainment which they can enjoy together. BBC1 and ITV aim to exploit this with a "Disney Duel" on Christmas Day, as Disney's two biggest animated films will be aired opposite each other.

BBC1 is airing Frozen, which is appearing on terrestrial TV for the first time. By now, the adventures of Anna and Elsa need no further introduction, but children (and even many parents) will gladly seize an opportunity to see Elsa sing "Let It Go" once more. Meanwhile, ITV is airing The Lion King, another film whose songs and characters are also incredibly familiar. Both films are worth revisiting time and again, so it will be incredibly hard to choose which one to see on Christmas Day.

Brave (2012) and Sleeping Beauty (1957)

When's It On? - Boxing Day at 2:40PM (BBC1 and ITV)

The second "Disney Duel" between BBC1 and ITV involves two films which are not as iconic as Frozen or The Lion King, but are still fun to watch. Brave, from the Disney-owned animation studio Pixar, is set in the picturesque Scottish highlands, and tells the story of the impulsive Princess Merida and her relationship with her mother Elinor.  Meanwhile, Sleeping Beauty provides an adaptation of the classic fairytale inspired by Tchaikovsky's ballet. It is most notable for its iconic villain Maleficent, the sort of wonderfully diabolical baddie which Disney don't provide anymore.

The Chronicles of Narnia:The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (2005)

When's It On? - Boxing Day at 4:10PM (Channel 4)

C.S. Lewis' classic tale is notable for its blend of epic fantasy and Christian allegory, and this is mostly preserved in this adaptation, which tells the story of four children who discover a fantasy world hidden inside a wardrobe and have to protect it from the evil White Witch. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe has a strong cast headed by Tilda Swinton (who plays the White Witch) and Liam Neeson (who voices the Christ-like lion Aslan), and the appealing story and spectacular battles are enjoyable to watch. In addition, Father Christmas has a cameo, further cementing this movie's status as ideal seasonal fare.

Peter Pan (2003)

When's It On? - Thursday 29th December at 1:15PM (ITV)

There have been a number of adaptations of Peter Pan, and whilst the 1953 Disney version is the best-known, this 2003 adaptation from P.J Hogan is worth checking out. The movie stars Jeremy Sumpter as Peter Pan and Rachel Hurd-Wood as Wendy, with Jason Isaacs chewing the scenery as Captain Hook. This version of Peter Pan is darker than most adaptations, and deals with more mature themes (especially in its depiction of Peter and Wendy's relationship), but it's still suitable for the whole family, and has no shortage of enjoyable action sequences.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Moana - Review

Who Made Moana?

Moana is Disney's 56th animated movie. It is directed by Ron Clements and John Musker, with Don Hall and Chris Williams as co-directors. Jared Bush receives sole credit for writing the screenplay, but seven people are credited with creating the story, including the four directors. Taika Waititi, who wrote the first draft of the screenplay, is not credited. but according to those involved in the production of Moana, he had quite a bit of influence on the finished film. 

What’s It About?

Moana tells the story of Moana (voiced by Auli'i Cravalho), the daughter of Tui (voiced by Temuera Morrison), chieftain of Motunui Island, and his wife Sita (voiced by Nicole Scherzinger). Moana is being trained to take up her future role as leader of the island, but she feels an uncontrollable desire to explore the sea, which is encouraged by her grandmother, Gramma Tala (voiced by Rachael House). However, exploration of the sea is now no longer practised, due to an incident from a thousand years ago, when the demigod Maui (voiced by Dwayne Johnson), stole the gemstone which was the heart of the living island Te Fiti. His actions inadvertently unleashed the Lava monster Te Ka, as well as a blight which is beginning to spread across the Ocean. When this darkness finally encroaches upon Motunui and leads to food shortages, Moana takes a boat and sets sail in order to find Maui and get him to restore Te Fiti’s heart to its proper place. On their voyage, the duo encounter a tribe of diminutive imps called Kakamora, and Tamatoa, a giant crab who steals shiny objects, before finally coming up against Te Ka itself.

My Review

2016 has been a brilliant year for Disney. Zootropolis, The Jungle Book and Finding Dory have been major critical and commercial successes, and due to their ownership of Marvel Studios, Disney have completely dominated the list of the year’s highest-grossing movies. In order to meet the standard set by these movies, Moana had to be excellent. Fortunately, it provides viewers with the memorable characters, colourful animation and catchy songs needed for another Disney hit.

The first thing to note about Moana is that the animation is excellent – it’s really, really colourful. The vast expanses of water are depicted in great detail, and scenes where the ocean comes to life to assist Moana are fun to watch. The other locations, such as Moana’s island and the Underworld where Tamatoa lives (which is full of luminous ultraviolet monsters), are also animated very vividly. Meanwhile, the action sequences, including Moana’s initial attempt to sail beyond the reef, and her battle with the Kakamora, are fast-moving and exciting. However, the most impressive animation is used for Maui. His ability to shapeshift lends itself to a number of memorable visuals, as he changes into a wide range of creatures, including a bird, a beetle, and (for one brief but amusing moment) a reindeer. Maui’s tattoos are animated in traditional hand-drawn style, with a tattoo of himself (Mini-Maui) providing the role of his conscience, and getting some amusing moments. You can really see how much effort the animators put into the movie, and this makes it impressive, even by the higher standards of CGI animation.

The best character in Moana is easily the titular protagonist. Torn between her sense of duty to her island and her burning desire to explore the seas, she eventually finds a way to combine both of these seemingly conflicting aims. Moana can be funny, angry, kind, vulnerable and sensitive, and feels like a realistic and relatable character, keeping up Disney’s tradition of strong female leads. Another great character is Gramma Tala, the self-proclaimed “village crazy lady”, who tells Moana about her ancestor’s illustrious past. This is probably the first time that a grandmother-granddaughter relationship has been so important to a Disney film, and the bond between Moana and Gramma Tala provides the movie with many of its most powerful scenes. The other notable character is Maui. Given the reverence with which the demigod is viewed by many people, Disney were under a lot of pressure to do the character justice. There are some instances, especially early on, where he is a little too unpleasant to Moana, but he becomes more likeable when we learn more about his past and why he stole the heart of Te Fiti. In addition, Maui is often very funny. He gets many of the self-referential lines which have featured in Disney’s recent hits (for example, “If you start singing, I’m gonna throw up!”) and even manages to point out a couple of plot holes (Why did the ocean choose Moana?). However, for all these updates, Maui is still pretty close to the character from the myths. It is entirely plausible that his heroic deeds would make him become arrogant, and when Maui overcomes his flaws and unleashes the full power of his signature fish-hook, it’s genuinely awesome. Much of the second half of Moana features Moana and Maui on a boat together, but there’s nothing romantic about this relationship. Instead, it is more like the dynamic between a teacher and a student, as Maui teaches Moana the art of wayfaring, and Moana helps the demigod regain his former greatness. Though there are some amusing side characters (such as Moana’s dim-witted pet chicken Hei-Hei, who swallows rocks and ends up on her boat by accident), Moana, Maui and Gramma Tala are the three standouts, and they elevate the movie.

Much has been made of the fact that Moana features a cast consisting almost entirely of Polynesian voice actors (with the notable exception of Alan Tudyk, who provides Hei-Hei’s clucks and screams, and also voices a minor un-named Islander), and they all succeed in bringing their characters to life. As Moana, Auli'i Cravalho pretty much has to carry the entire film on her shoulders. With the exception of a couple of sillier moments, she resoundingly succeeds in this task – it’s almost impossible to believe that this is the first movie she’s ever starred in. Dwayne Johnson has no trouble showing off Maui’s confidence and energy, but also succeeds in highlighting his vulnerability later on. Rachel House is full of warmth and feistiness as Gramma Tala. Temuera Morrison, who voices Tui, is a convincing leader, whilst Nicole Scherzinger’s acting as Sita is solid enough for her presence not to be too much of a distraction. It is also worth mentioning Jemaine Clement, who is really funny as Tamatoa, but also gets a couple of more menacing moments when his character belittles Moana and Maui. It’s evident that the cast was chosen for their talent as well as their ethnicity.

The high level of authenticity in the casting extends to the depiction of Pacific Islander culture. In the scenes showing daily life in Motunui, we see a number of traditional Polynesian customs, such as the weaving of baskets and the creation of a full-body Pe’a tattoo. We also see how Moana manages many of the problems facing her island, such as the dying coconuts and fish shortages. As well as being interesting to watch, this develops the story – It’s rare for a Disney film to give us this much insight into what it’s like to be a ruler. The extra realism this adds makes the characters more developed and the storyline more engaging.

The movie has about eight songs (not including reprises), and they are all great. They probably won’t achieve the chart success of “Let it Go” or “Try Everything” (they’re too closely linked to the movie and its characters to have the near-universal appeal of those songs), but Lin-Manuel Miranda and Opetaia Foa‘I have managed to provide music which is right up there with the songs from the Disney Renaissance.  Among the memorable tunes in Moana are “We Know The Way”, which blends English lyrics with lines in Tokelauan language (Tokelauan is a rare South Pacific dialect used in much of Opetaia Foa‘I’s previous music) to tell the story of Moana’s ancestors, and Tamatoa’s song “Shiny”, a villain song reminiscent of Jemaine Clement’s past work in Flight of the Conchords.  However, the movie’s two strongest songs are Moana’s song “How Far I’ll Go”, and Maui’s song “You’re Welcome”. Like all the best musical theatre songs, “How Far I’ll Go” does an excellent job of conveying how Moana feels about her desires and insecurities. It seems like a difficult song to sing, but Auli'i Cravalho does an excellent job of conveying her character’s emotions. Meanwhile, “You’re Welcome” is a Big-Band song which shares some DNA with “Friend Like Me”, but it has a unique identity of its own, as Maui boasts about all his heroic deeds from Polynesian mythology (slowing down the sun to make the day longer, raising islands from the sea, etc…). Dwayne Johnson is a surprisingly strong singer, and the song really plays to his sense of showmanship.

Probably the main weakness with Moana is the lack of a central villain. Like Pinocchio (which was released 76 years ago), Moana has an episodic structure, with Moana and Maui meeting an enemy, escaping from them, and moving on. The three antagonists the duo face are all very interesting, which makes it a shame that they don’t get enough screen time. Of these characters, Tamatoa, an egocentric kleptomaniac crab who dwarfs even Maui, is easily the best, which makes it a shame that he doesn’t appear for very long. Te Ka, the Monstro to Moana’s Pinocchio, is intimidating, but doesn’t do much apart from throwing balls of fire at our protagonists, and the reveal of its true identity could have been a bit more powerful. However, the villains are not the only characters who should have appeared more. Tui is a well-developed character, and has a very good reason not to want Moana to sail beyond the reef (When he was younger, his friend drowned after a sailing expedition went wrong), but he vanishes from the story after Moana leaves her island. It’s understandable that Clements and Musker did not want Tui to be another King Triton-type overprotective father, but it’s a bit annoying that we don’t really see him react to Moana’s disappearance.

However, these weaknesses are relatively minor in comparison to the movie’s positives. For all of Moana’s flaws, it is an upbeat movie with the three things which matter most when creating a Disney movie: great songs, great animation and great characters. By delivering these, Moana marks itself out as an excellent addition to the Disney Animated Canon.

P.S -  If you stay in your seat during the end credits, you'll see a final scene with Tamatoa, where he gets a particularly funny line referring to another crab from a different Disney movie. Moments like this are why he should have been given a much larger role.


Overall, Moana is another great animated movie from Disney, continuing the winning streak which began with Tangled in 2010. The story can be predictable at times, but this doesn’t really matter when the movie provides such enjoyable escapism. The songs are all worth listening to again and again, and the animation is wonderful to look at. It’s also clear that the filmmakers love the Polynesian culture which they are depicting, and the movie succeeds in providing an appealing introduction to Polynesian myths, customs and values. In addition, there are some great characters, and plenty of funny moments, with enough sad and intense scenes to give the film a bit of an edge as well. To conclude, Moana is definitely worth seeing, and deserves a place alongside the past Disney classics.

If You Liked This, See:

The Little Mermaid – Out of all Clements and Musker’s previous Disney films, Moana has the most in common with The Little Mermaid, due to the prominence of the ocean and the basic “follow your dreams” storyline. Although Moana is probably the more sophisticated of the two movies, The Little Mermaid’s songs, animation and characters still hold up today.

True Grit – Clements and Musker have often cited this classic 1969 John Wayne Western as an influence on their movie. This is because the relationship between Moana and Maui is similar to the dynamic between teenager Mattie Ross and washed-up lawman Rooster Cogburn, as Mattie persuades Rooster to bring her father’s killers to justice. If you are into Westerns, True Grit is essential viewing, as is the 2010 remake directed by the Coen Brothers.

Whale Rider – This 2003 film from New Zealand centres around a girl named Pai who wants to prove to her grandfather that she can be a future chieftain of a Maori tribe. Though it shares several themes with Moana, it takes a much more realistic approach, highlighted by its modern-day setting. It is also worth noting that Whale Rider features Gramma Tala herself, Rachel House, in a supporting role.


Saturday, 3 December 2016

15 Plays and Pantomimes to see in London this Christmas

As the Christmas season draws nearer, a number of plays and pantomimes aim to provide family-friendly entertainment . Many of these are adapted from, or inspired by, fairy tales and other classic stories.  This is because these tales are familiar enough to appeal to both adults and children, and provide the escapism which is essential during the cold winter nights. 

Listed below are 15 plays and pantomimes which will be performed in London theatres throughout the month of December. 

(Ends 7th January)

Pantomimes are a major Christmas tradition in Britain. These comedic retellings of classic stories make heavy use of comedy, music, topical references and audience interactions, and have been popular for centuries, assuming their present form during the Victorian era. This year, there are several major pantomimes in the London suburbs alone.

One of these is the version of Aladdin which is being performed at the Lyric Hammersmith. The story is familiar but appealing, as Aladdin, from the poor borough of FulHammerBoosh, falls for Jasmine, the daughter of Emperor One Per Cent. James Doherty plays the classic pantomime dame Widow Twankey (once played on stage by Sir Ian McKellen) and Vikki Stone plays the evil sorcerer, Abanazer. There are numerous references to the political issues which have defined 2016 (such as Brexit), and plenty of the manic energy which defines the pantomime genre. Overall, this version of Aladdin promises to blend its traditional source material with a modern and subversive edge..

(Ends 31st December)

It's widely accepted that villains tend to be the most interesting characters in fairy tales and Disney films, as their uninhibited, flamboyant nature provides an entertaining contrast to the overly idealised protagonists. The important role of villains in making a fairy tale stand out is highlighted in Baddies: The Musical. This tells the story of what happens when The Big Bad Wolf, The Ugly Stepsisters, Captain Hook and Rumpelstiltskin are sent to jail for their scheming ways.

Since Wicked premiered in the West End in 2006, there has been an increasing demand for versions of fairy tales centered around the villains, with the film Maleficent and the TV movie Descendants both enjoying significant success. Baddies: The Musical looks like another creative addition to this growing sub-genre, combining interesting observations about why every fairy tale needs a great villain with plenty of music and comedy. 

(Runs 10th December - 15th January)

At the end of the 19th century, Pantomimes were so popular that the biggest theatres in the West End would put one on during the Christmas season. The tradition of the West End Pantomime is being revived at the London Palladium, which is putting on a version of Cinderella.

Many pantomimes rely on a few celebrity cast members to attract older audiences, but  this production has a particularly star-studded line-up, including Britain's Got Talent judge Amanda Holden (playing The Fairy Godmother), TV Presenter Paul O'Grady (in drag as the Wicked Stepmother), and ventriloquist Paul Zerdin (in the role of Cinderella's friend Buttons). It seems like a larger venue will encourage increased spectacle, colour and audience interaction, and the London Palladium version of Cinderella certainly looks able to take advantage of this. 

(Runs 9th December-15th January)

Dick Whittington is a British folk story based on a notable historical figure. In real life, Dick Whittington was a merchant in the late 14th and early 15th centuries, who became Mayor of London three times. His influence and wealth inspired a legend telling the story of how Dick gained his fortune through his tenacity, hard work, and the rat-catching abilities of his cat. 

The pantomime based on the Dick Whittington legend has been performed since the 19th century, and there are several versions being performed in and around London this year. Probably the most notable of these is the one being staged at the New Wimbledon Theatre. The New Wimbledon Theatre version of Dick Whittington features Strictly Come Dancing judge Arlene Phillips as Dick's fairy godmother, Fairy Bowbells, with actor and TV presenter Matthew Kelly and comedian Tim Vine playing side characters. The popularity of Dick Whittington as a pantomime subject is testament to the genre's status as a primarily British form of theatre.

(Ends 22nd January)

The Little Match Girl is based on the Hans Christian Andersen story about a girl freezing to death on the streets during New Years Eve. In spite of the miserable subject matter, Andersen's signature beautiful writing has made it into a very popular Christmas story. As the source material is too short for a 100-minute play, director Emma Rice and writer Joel Horwood have decided to add other fairy tales to get the play to full-length, using The Little Match Girl as a frame story.

The "Happier Tales" which are incorporated into the storyline are three of Andersen's best-loved tales - The Emperor's New ClothesThe Princess and the Pea, and Thumbelina. In addition, Ole Shuteye, a character from a fairy tale Andersen wrote in 1842, is used as a narrator. The play is darker than most Christmas theatre (It's recommended for ages 9 and over), but it looks like it has the creativity and imagination needed to be essential family viewing. 

(Runs 30th December - 22nd January)

This take on Alice in Wonderland comes from ZooNation, a troupe blending Hip-Hop dance and theatre. The artistic director, Katy Prince, has teamed up with Josh Cohen and DJ Walde to provide a unique spin on the tale set in a lunatic asylum. In The Mad Hatter's Tea Party, a psychiatrist called Ernest comes to investigate the inhabitants of the Institution for Extremely Normal Behaviour, all of whom claim that they are from Wonderland. He attempts to investigate their eccentricities, but soon finds himself realising that "all the best people are bonkers". 

The Mad Hatter's Tea Party features unconventional takes of the classic characters from the source material, including the White Rabbit, the Cheshire Cat, and Alice herself. All of them get incredible dance sequences which show off their energy and agility. There are also plenty of songs, and the score incorporates a wide range of musical styles. With its bright, exuberant approach, The Mad Hatters Tea Party is going to capture the uninhibited insanity of Lewis Carroll's classic tale. 

(Runs 14th December- 17th January)

Adapted from E. T.A Hoffmann's 1816 story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, the classic Christmas ballet The Nutcracker first premiered in Russia in 1892. Famed for Tchaikovsky's score, it has become so iconic that there are not one, but two versions of it being performed in London this year.

The English National Ballet's version of The Nutcracker sets the tale in Edwardian London. However, the basic story, about Clara and the Nutcracker Doll which comes to life on Christmas Eve and takes her on a wonderful journey, remains unchanged. Last year, a total of 73,000 people went to see the English National Ballet version of The Nutcracker, and it will probably be just as popular this year.  

(Ends 12th January)

The second major version of The Nutcracker in London this Christmas is from the Royal Ballet. It is a revival of the classic 1984 version by the famed choreographer Peter Wright, and the ballet is returning to the Royal Opera House to celebrate his 90th birthday.

Wright's version of The Nutcracker is renowned for its attempts to be as faithful to the original 1892 production as possible. The choreography aims to replicate the work of the ballet's original choreographer, Lev Ivanov, and the sets, designed by Julia Trevelyan Oman, are inspired by Christmas images from the first half of the 19th century. The Royal Ballet's version of The Nutcracker looks like a beautiful, charming production which even those who aren't interested in ballet will enjoy. 

(Ends 4th February)

The story of Peter Pan began life as a play which premiered in Christmas 1904. Therefore, it can be said that this production is trying to return the classic tale to its roots. It is directed by Sally Cookson, and arrives in London after a successful run in Bristol in 2012. 

Cookson's version of Peter Pan uses a number of creative special effects, with visible wires giving the flying sequences an old-fashioned feel, and a gigantic pirate ship appearing on stage. One of the most unique features of the production is the fact that Peter's arch-enemy, Captain Hook, is now played by a woman (Anna Francolini). The coming-of-age themes which have made Peter Pan such a classic tale are central to this version, which seems like a beautiful and faithful retelling of J.M. Barrie's story.

(Runs 10th December - 15th January)

Children's TV stars Dan and Jeff are well-known amongst theatre fans for shows such as Potted Potter and Potted Sherlock, which condense a large number of stories into a single short comedic play. For Potted Panto, the duo turn their attention to pantomime.

In Potted PantoCinderellaDick WhittingtonAladdinSnow White and Sleeping Beauty being just five of the seven classic pantomimes given an farcical comedic spin in the 80-minute runtime. This requires Dan and Jeff to play a wide variety of characters, although it seems that playing all Seven Dwarves at once is too difficult for even them. This play will be great fun for those who enjoyed Dan and Jeff's previous work, and it promises to provide a unique spin on the famous stories which are being depicted.   

(Runs 6th December - 29th January)

The Red Shoes is an adaptation of the classic 1948 film directed by Michael Powell and Emric Pressburger. It tells the story of Victoria, a ballerina who is playing the lead role in a ballet based on Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale The Red Shoes. Like the protagonist in the fairy tale, Victoria finds herself compelled to dance, which causes her to lose her sanity.   

This version of The Red Shoes is directed and choreographed by Matthew Bourne, famous for his 1995 version of Swan Lake. Ashley Shaw portrays the ill-fated Victoria. The play will incorporate many iconic elements from the original movie, such as Bernard Herrmann's classic score. If you're a ballet fan who wants to see something a little different this Christmas, then The Red Shoes is worth checking out. 

(Ends 8th January)

There are two high-profile versions of Sleeping Beauty being performed in London this Christmas. One of these is a pantomime, which is being performed at the Hackney Empire. The annual pantomimes at Hackney Empire, written and directed by Susie McKenna since 1998, are known for their modern and energetic approach, and it seems like their version of Sleeping Beauty is preserving this.

This pantomime is notable for two reasons. First of all,, like the Lyric Hammersmith version of Aladdin, it makes substantial use of political and cultural references, alluding to subject matter ranging from Brexit and the NHS to The Great British Bake Off and Hamilton. Secondly, it subverts one of the major problems with the source material, by making the normally passive title character into a strong protagonist with no shortage of personality. Pantomimes are often seen as very old-fashioned, but the Hackney Empire version of Sleeping Beauty is perfectly suited to the contemporary tastes. 

(Runs 21st December - 14th March)

70 years ago, the classic ballet Sleeping Beauty was performed by the Royal Ballet for the first time. To mark the anniversary, it is returning to the Royal Opera House, exactly a decade after the previous notable revival. The duo who produced the 2006 version, Monica Mason and Christopher Newton, are also producing this adaptation.

We all know the story of Sleeping Beauty, and the ballet's score (provided by Tchaikovsky) is instantly recognisable (Disney incorporated many of the pieces from it into their 1957 adaptation of the fairy tale). Though Sleeping Beauty is a very long ballet (It's about 3 hours in length, including intervals), the beautiful choreography and music mean that it will provide an enchanting night out.

(Ends 1st January)

Raymond Briggs' 1979 graphic novel  The Snowman is not based on a fairy tale, and its too recent to be considered a "classic" story, but the animated adaptation from 1982 has become so synonymous with Christmas in Britain that I could not resist mentioning it in this article. A theatrical adaptation has been performed at the Peacock Theatre every Christmas since 1997.

The Snowman is always a classic story, due to its wonderful visuals and bittersweet subject matter, and the theatrical adaptation provides some wonderful spectacle. If you want to see iconic moments from the film, such as the  "Walking in the Air" sequence, brought to life in a new way, then you should definitely see this play.