2016 will go down as a year when Disney ruled Hollywood. In this year alone, they have released Zootopia, Jungle Book, Finding Dory, Pete’s Dragon, BFG, Civil War, Doctor Strange, Alice Through the Looking Glass and soon Rogue One. Now, not all of these have been absolute hits, but with a major release every other month, they’ve got a hold on the market. Add Moana to the mix and they’re sure to end the year strongly.
Moana (voiced by Auli’i Cravalho) is a young Polynesian girl destined to rule over her small island. Her strict father does his best to make Moana happy with her land-locked destiny, yet she cannot deny the call of the ocean. In time, she is able to explore beyond the reef and find out why her people are no longer the explorers they used to be. Along they way, she runs into a troublesome demigod known as Maui (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), who only seeks to accomplish insurmountable tasks, all in an effort to receive praise.
Moana is a breath of fresh air in the world of animation. Nearly every animated flick this year has been based off a shallow concept, but not much else. Angry Birds, Trolls, Storks, Secret Life of Pets and yes, even Sausage Party have been made to capialize on a singular idea, but have offered little else. Moana’s environments are not only strikingly beautiful to look at, but the characters are fleshed out, each with their own voice. I’m not sure how, but Disney was able to sucker me in to care about a minor character like Moana’s grandma, who provides motivation to Moana to follow her dreams.
I’ve got some good news, depending on your view of it. There is no “Let it Go” on the soundtrack. Sure, that song has its merits and it clearly resonated with millions of people. Yet, for the casual Disney fan, or any parent you ask, there won’t be a single song that is overplayed ad nauseum to the point of sticking #2 pencils in your ears to take away the pain. Instead, the soundtrack is far more balanced, veering closer in quality to Tangled. One aspect it does share with Frozen is the abundance of songs in the first half, but rarely heard in the back end.
There is a fair dose of Phil Collins to Lin Manuel-Miranda’s island themes. But, the strengths are heard when the movie’s personality comes through. Some favorites are Where You Are, How Far I’ll Go, You’re Welcome (sung by Dwayne Johnson) and Shiny (sung by Jemaine Clement).
If I can fault Moana, it’s that the story is rather simple. The wheel-of-morality tale of a young princess denying one destiny to reach her true potential is great. However, the movie becomes an oceanic road trip with an overly-confident demigod, a adventurous princess and a mandatory animal companion. Though, as mentioned, the characters and visuals make you forget that not much has actually happened along the way.
If you have kids, you know you’ll be watching this movie at least 513 times at home. In that case, this has the potential to be one of the least annoying cartoons from this year. Whenever you walk in and out of the room where the kids are watching, you won’t cringe at the loud smart-aleky sidekicks. Instead, you may get involved in the appealing visuals and unknowingly hum the song without feeling like you’re betraying your taste/soul. (The cold doesn’t bother me anyway) Of the Disney/Pixar releases this year, Moana is the clear winner. It doesn’t suddently get incredibly dark, forcing a message like Zootopia. Nor does it rest on its laurels like the lazy Finding Dory. B+
In the height of the remaining European nations’ fight against Nazi Germany, a Canadian intelligence officer (Brad Pitt) takes a position in Casablanca, where he must act as husband to a French spy (Marion Cotillard). During and after their mission, the relationship is tested by the pressures of war.
This is Brad Pitt’s third WWII movie in just 7 years. His first two roles in Inglourious Basterds and Fury were quite similar as Pitt was able to bark commands with impatience. He plays the polar opposite of Lt. Aldo Raines in Allied. His performance as Max Vatan is far more subdued. He is so practiced as a special operative, it’s almost as if he won’t allow himself to emote. It’s hard to tell where Max ends and Pitt’s performance begins. In a way, he seems to be sleepwalking through the role, which requires very little effort on his part until the emotional end.
The heavy lifting is done by Marion Cotillard. Her role as Marianne is the emotional core of Allied. The effortless way she acts in any role makes her stand out in any movie regardless of the quality. Marianne is able to live such a dangerous life behind enemy lines because, as she says, the emotions are always real.
Director Robert Zemeckis has taken a risk by crafting an unconventional WWII movie. There are sparse scenes of gunfights. When they arrive, they’re thrilling, but end abruptly. The focus in Allied in not the familiar action of war movies. Instead, it’s more about the drama that happens at the home when doubts and suspicion are a bigger threat than the bombers that fly overhead at night.
This concept, director and cast should immediately produce a great movie. Sadly, Allied is nothing more than average. There are two full stories within, which makes the long 124 minutes feel even longer. The pacing crawls by, refusing to catch up to the story reveals, which most audiences saw in trailers.
The melodrama created by any suspicion feels like it is wasting the audience’s time to get to the point. Pitt frowns through the entire movie, which is meant to portray his steadiness, but he seems more dead in the eyes, than concerned about his family.
Allied is a movie that hinges on its ending. The good news is that it does finally deliver on its promise of a satisfying ending. However, you’ll have to sit through two hours of sluggish build-up to get there. If you are in need of a great WWII film, take the time to see Hacksaw Ridge. The romance, action and character development are earned. Cotillard deserved better than what Allied delivers. C