Moana Review: Familiar and New At the Same Time

Moana One Sheet

I think most of us can rattle of our top 5 Disney animated movies. Some go back to childhood – The Rescuers, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh – while others are played on a loop in our minds from the many times our kids ask to watch it. I grew up in the 70s and 80s but had to wait until I was in college for the first big modern hit, The Little Mermaid, swim into my memory. While it may not make it into your all-time top 5, Moana is sure to become a classic.

This week we welcome another strong young woman in the ever-expanding lineup of princesses, Moana Waialiki (voiced by Hawaiian actress Auli’i Cravalho). We know she’s a princess because her back-story tells us so. But even if we’re not convinced, her soon-to-be friend, Maui (voice by Dwayne Johnson) clearly points out, “If you wear a dress and have an animal sidekick, you’re a princess.” Hard to argue with that!

Academy Award-winning writer/director and New Zealand native Taika Waititi wrote Moana’s original script and the movie was directed by Disney veterans John Musker and Ron Clements, Moana is the first “Disney princess” movie not to give the leading lady a love interest. Compared to the now-classic modern Disney princess movies – The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Pocahantas, Brave, and Frozen – Moana’s story joins that of warrior princess Mulan’s where it’s girl versus the world to save her family.

While her father, the chief, is in the movie, early on we get a strong sense that women are well-respected in her Polynesian culture. Moana’s grandmother is the chief storyteller in the beginning and sets the stage for the journey Moana will take. We learn about the disgraced demi-god Maui and are given an idea of how he will be part of her journey, but it’s not until Moana meets him that we’re treated to his humor. It was Maui, whose actions set the course for putting Moana’s people in peril, the set the stage for Moana’s grand adventure.

Moana HeiHei

Years prior, Maui took a mystical stone, “the heart of Te Fiti”, that causes Moana to set out on this open-ocean adventure. Like Pocahontas, Moana has two animal friends. However, only one, Heihei the clueless rooster, joins her on the water even though he should have stayed on the island. Nonetheless, he provides for comic relief among the few moments of tension.

While Moana means ‘ocean’ in Maori (the Polynesian people of New Zealand), Maui will likely evoke a sense of Hawaii among most moviegoers. A bit stereotypical, Maui is a large, hulking figure who knows the history of their ancestors, is covered in tattoos, and can shape-shift through the magical powers of his giant fish-hook sword alternative.

Moana and Maui

The plot is relatively simple – girl defies her father and sets out on an adventure to save her people and in the process makes a friend and defeats the enemy – but we’re taken along in a way that keeps you engaged and brings you back when you’re starting to feel like it’s becoming trite. Moana and Maui have to work together, but there is no romance that is brewing. Both are strong and have an appreciation of each other that does not need to be woven together with a love story.

Instead, the two join forces to return the stone so Maui can continue his journey through life and Moana and her people can, once again, live freely as their ancestors once did.

It wouldn’t be a Disney movie without great music, right? It’s the songs that keep us connected (along with all the merchandise!) to the movie. Moana doesn’t disappoint, but it’s no Frozen. With music by the renown Disney music writer Mark Mancina, we’re treated to a soundtrack that includes the lead singer of a South Pacific fusion band, Opetaia Foa’i, and Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda. While you may not think the music would hold together with such an eclectic group, it’s that diversity that keeps you wondering what’s coming next.

The movie is adorable and I’m sure will be a big hit. Will it be “the next Frozen”, I highly doubt it. Will it make you want to plan your next trip to Disney’s Aulani Resort on O’ahu? I wouldn’t be surprised. I anticipate an interest in all-things Hawai’i from this movie. Partly because of the island-theme, but also because Moana and her people are portrayed with such authenticity and depth it’s hard not to love them and want to feel that spirit.

My first impression of the movie was that it felt like Brave meets Hamilton with a musical interlude by Flight of the Conchords. If you don’t know Flight of the Conchords you might not get my description, but I throw them in because of the giant crab (voice by Jemaine Clement of FotC) scene. Nonetheless, I stick by that characterization. I use Brave instead of Mulan, mainly because Brave is more recent, but it easily could be Mulan meets Hamilton with a musical interlude by FotC. I say this not as a slight to the movie. However, in the first few minutes of the movie the song(s) take on a very Hamilton-esque cadence and feel that Baby Girl whispered that the songs seemed really familiar but she couldn’t place it. That’s when I whispered back ‘Hamilton’.

Go see the movie! It’s a sweet story (just know there are very few slightly scary parts), there’s a connected plot, and just when you think it could start to get boring you’re jolted back with a song or humorous exchange between the characters. Plus the music! It’s beautiful music and well thought out. It might not replace “Let it Go”, but there is hope.

Moana is rated PG
Run time: 1 hour 53 minutes
In theaters: Nov. 23, 2016

Images: ©2016 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

Sara

Alice Through the Looking Glass is Over the Top but Still Entertaining

Alice Through The Looking Glass PosterPhoto Credit: Disney

You cannot change the past. It always was. It always will be.
Although I dare say, you might learn something from it. ~ Time

Alice Through the Looking Glass (PG) is this summer’s sequel to Tim Burton’s 2010 colorful and spectacular remake of Louis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland”. With all the familiar inhabitants of Wonderland (or Underland if you’re a local), we see the calm and thoughtful White Queen, Mirana, (Anne Hathaway), the perpetually infuriated Red Queen, Iracebeth, (Helena Bonham Carter), the childlike Hatter (Johnny Depp), the morphing Cheshire Cat (voiced by Stephen Fry), and the caterpillar which became a butterfly in the 2010 movie (voiced by the late Alan Rickman), Alice (Mia Wasikowska) returns to help her friend Hatter find his family, who he thinks may still be alive.

During Alice’s adventure, we’re introduced to Time (played by Sacha Baron Cohen). A steampunk character who controls time, he brings a great deal of humor to a movie that could have been too uptight. Since Hatter does not have as big a role, it was nice to have another character bring a few laughs even if they were puns that seemed to try too hard. In her reprised role as the Red Queen, Carter gives the villainess a humanity and history that seems to soften her. As the quasi-girlfriend of Time, Red Queen allows us to see her history and understand why she also wants to go back in time.

Alice plays two storylines, with her life in London not really getting enough treatment to make us care. And while I have never seen Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, I’m not sure there really is a need to understand that story to appreciate this new adventure. We know Alice is now a sea captain and while she was gone her mother made poor financial decisions. While this story gives us something to start with since Alice lives in our world, I think it’s there solely to connect to the end since Alice can’t stay in Wonderland forever so we need to know what she’s going to do.

Nonetheless, even with the bumpy plot, the visuals and pace keep you engaged. Part live action and part computer animation, Alice Through the Looking Glass is a feast for the eyes. Whether it’s the adorable robot-like helpers in the lair of Time, the heart-shaped world of the Red Queen, or the colorful Wonderland there’s always something to catch your attention. You can’t help but love the little soldiers working for Time. And, Time, himself, while dressed in black, has a colorful personality that keeps you hoping for the best.

I can see the movie getting mixed reviews. If you’re a Tim Burton fan you’ll love the movie. If you’re a purist when it comes to the retelling of classics, you’ll likely hate it. The movie bears little resemblance to Carroll’s novel, other than the characters. I think teens will enjoy the movie because it incorporates familiar characters and is entertaining. From a music perspective, there’s Pink with ‘Just Like Fire’, which just about everyone will love. And, of course, the fantastic Danny Elfman, adds the additional musical dimension to the show to keep you connected.

Overall, Alice Through the Looking Glass is a good movie. Not a great movie and not better than Burton’s Alice. It’s entertaining, visually appealing, funny, and, overall, a lovely story. It’s a nice way to step away from reality for a moment, enjoy a colorful film, and be entertained for about two hours. Oscar worthy, I doubt. Unless you’re talking about the makeup and costumes, those are pretty spectacular.

Sara

The Avengers: Age of Ultron Review – Sometimes You Just Want To See Things Blow Up

 Age of Ultron ReviewImage Courtesy: Marvel Studios

Guest Post by CycleGuy who attended the screening as a member of the press! 

Hi There!, My lovely wife has decided to let ME talk about The Avengers: Age of Ultron. Sara asked me if I would be interested in attending the screening and was really surprised when I told her yes.  We’ve been married over 20 years and she knows that before all the movies or TV shows I watched as a kid,  I was a comic book boy.  You know, the one that would go to the grocery store with his mom (in the ’70s) and run to see what comic books were in the magazine aisle and actually read a few before she screamed at me for once again just being a boy.

My favorite Marvel comic was Thor. How could you not like a dude with a magic hammer!  I actually had over 20 Thor comics, a few Captain America and, of course, some Black Widow comics (because she was totally my type at that age, “tragically dark”).  I would still have those comic books but my mother threw them away when we moved in 10th grade. No, I’m still bitter. OK, yes I am!

But I digress.  The Avengers: Age of Ultron  is the sequel to 2012’s The Avengers  and has been eagerly awaited by fans who love this series.   This movie features Captain America (Chris Evans), Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Hawkeye, Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), War Machine (Jeremy Renner), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), and, of course, Ultron (voiced by James Spader).  For fans of the series it does not disappoint.  Staying true to all of the characters’ stories this movie is non-stop action from the first frame.

But what about those of us who’ve only seen a few of the movies?   Although the Marvel franchise has made $7.1 Billion since 2008, some of us have not been able to watch every single installment.  I would say The Avengers: Age of Ultron  can stand on its own as a movie.  It is a complete roller coaster of action for the audience. The plot is what you expect from a Joss Whedon movie.

It’s not just about good versus evil, it’s about shades of gray which makes the character interplay interesting and thoughtful.   It actually tackles the topic of artificial intelligence and preys on one of humanities greatest fear, the Hal 9000 fear! It also introduced two new characters, Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) with super-human abilities that offer some great twists in the movie.

But let’s be clear: Yes, the world has to be saved from an evil plot and the antagonist is scary and maniacal.  Also Tony Stark is arrogant, Thor is still incredibly handsome, Hulk is still conflicted, Captain America wants to go home, Black Widow IS still tragically dark and Hawkeye is the everyman.  The action is over-the-top with guns blazing, shields flying, hammers pounding, arrows exploding, and robots getting destroyed.  But man, it is very cool how they blow stuff up, destroy buildings, and crush cars — all while trying to make sure innocents do not get hurt. If you want to suspend reality for a few hours and enjoy a good comic book with some popcorn and an Icee, this is for you!

I would not suggest it for kids under 8 or 10 depending on a kid’s sensitivity.  But I would suggest it to fans of the series and to people like me who love a good comic book story. It was a fun way to spend 2 hours!

This might help you get in the mood to go see the movie.

Opens in the US May 1, 2015
Rated PG-13
Run Time: 2 hours, 22 minutes

Sara

Disney’s Frozen Movie Review

 Disney Frozen Poster

Disney’s Frozen movie

As we left the screening of Disney’s Frozen, BabyGirl was telling me what she liked most about the movie. And then she said “It was a very formula Disney movie”. Can’t argue with her, as Disney’s adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen is a very formula movie. Done in typical Disney style, it’s a storyline we’re familiar with and visuals we’ve come to expect. But it’s so beautifully done! And the introductory short, Disney’s Get A Horse, harkens back to Steamboat Willy and pairs it with modern animation to make it both current and nostalgic that even young kids who have no idea how Mickey Mouse first became real will love it.

In the fictional town of Arendelle, a young princess named Elsa is found to have special powers. In one moment her life is changed when those powers injure her sister Anna. Being a Disney film, her parents, the king and queen, don’t feature heavily in the movie (sorry, won’t spoil this part for you). The story focuses on the relationship between the sisters.

While we’re often given stories of true love, this one presents itself with a slight twist (again, won’t spoil it for you). This movie has wonderful music, as both Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel voice the sisters Anna and Elsa, respectively. The animators created both princesses to be flawless in looks and movement, but didn’t forget that this is supposed to be a comedy.

Yes, this is a comedy. So while there are a few dramatic moments in the movie, we’re treated to a story where the two main characters, Anna and her new friend Kristoff (played by Jonathan Groff) are given dialogue that keeps you entertained. Kristoff’s best friend, his reindeer Sven, is given a wonderful personality that is keeps the story moving.

Stealing the show, though, is Olaf, a snowman created by Elsa early in the movie and voiced by Josh Gad. If you’re familiar with Disney movies, let’s just say Olaf and Donkey from Shrek would battle it out for the best lines. Olaf will likely emerge as the favorite character from the movie. To create Olaf, Disney had to first create new software so it can create an animated character that could do what the character was imagined to do.

The new software created wasn’t limited to Olaf. Animators wanted to improve on the braids they’d created in Tangled and Rapunzel so Frozen’s creative team set to work developing a computer program that would allow them to create realistic hair for Elsa. It paid off, because the realism greatly adds to the movie’s flow and helps to make you feel more connected to her as a person and not just a caricature.

Overall, Frozen is likely to be one of Disney’s biggest hits. The story, the characters, the imagery they all flow so well and draw you in. You have so much empathy for Elsa you can’t help but love her. Anna’s love for her sister, and everyone she come in contact with, is beautiful and we’re drawn in to her genuine goodness. And it’s a story that doesn’t apologize but instead helps a strong female character come to love her unique powers and in that love realizes that true love is found in your own heart first and isn’t limited to a romantic love.

This isn’t just a movie we’ll see go to DVD or BluRay. I imagine we’ll soon see Disney’s Frozen on Broadway, a la The Lion King, because the music ranks right up there. I’m sure some will disagree with me on this because the music does have a bit of a “high school glee club” feel. But when you have Idina Menzel hitting an out of the park homerun on “Let It Go”, well, really, on every song, and Kristen Bell pulling you in with “Do You Want to Build a Snowman” this isn’t the last we’ll be hearing songs from Frozen.

Is it a must-see? Definitely! Are there some scary parts? Yes, the snow monster is dreadful and a bit too much but it’s short-lived. Will it make you cry? Absolutely, it’s Disney!

 

If you’ve seen the movie but want more, or if you haven’t seen the movie and would like to have some fun before download these free coloring pages from Disney’s Frozen.

You can also play games, download posters and wallpaper directly from the Disney’s Frozen website. And don’t forget to enter the Disney’s Frozen sweepstakes for a chance to win and Adventure’s By Disney trip.

MPAA Rating: PG
Run Time: 102 minutes
Images from Walt Disney Pictures used with permission.

Sara

An Interview With Miss Piggy

The Muppets

To celebrate Fashion Week in New York, Miss Piggy – of Muppets fame – took some time out to answer a few questions. True to her no-holds-barred honesty, Miss Piggy was open with her views on coming back to the big screen, her take on fashion, as well as her multiple Oscar snubs. I’ve loved Miss Piggy since I was a child so this was a phenomenal opportunity to be privy to this interview.

In the upcoming The Muppets movie, scheduled to hit theaters November 23rd, Miss Piggy portrays the plus-size fashion editor of Vogue Paris. According to Miss Piggy, Kermit and the group come to Paris to convince her to return to American and get back with the Muppets to save the day and put on some big show. She would not give away the movie ending, instead saying ‘Go see the movie and find out.’

Here is an excerpt from the recent interview with Miss Piggy. [Note: Due to her strict diva demands, the complete interview was not made available to me.]

Miss Piggy
Famous Interviewer: How does your life differ from the characters you portray on the big screen?

Miss Piggy: In real life, my wardrobe is much, much bigger and more expensive, but I’m a lot like what you see on the big screen. The camera does add a few pounds—when people meet me in person they’re always amazed at how svelte I am. Take my word for it.

FI: What made you agree to star in Disney’s “The Muppets”?

MP: It was written especially for moi. And they said I could keep all the shoes.

FI: You are a fashion icon. What is your secret?

MP: I have a few fashion secrets:

  • Never wear anything that requires a hoist to get into.
  • There is no such thing as too much accessorizing.
  • If it’s expensive, it fits.
  • Style comes in all shapes and sizes. Therefore, the bigger you are, the more style you have.

FI: Are you and Kermit together?Of course we’re together.

MP: In the movie, we seem to be apart, but that’s just for dramatic tension. In real life, we’re fabulously happy and the longest-running interspecies couple in all of Hollywood.

To get a closer look at The Divine Miss P you can check out the array of Miss Piggy videos she has ‘authorized’.

Miss Piggy website image

ABOUT THE MOVIE

On vacation in Los Angeles, Walter, the world’s biggest Muppet fan, his brother Gary (Jason Segel) and Gary’s girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) from Smalltown, USA, discover the nefarious plan of oilman Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) to raze the Muppet Theater and drill for the oil recently discovered beneath the Muppets’ former stomping grounds. To stage a telethon and raise the $10 million needed to save the theater, Walter, Mary and Gary help Kermit reunite the Muppets, who have all gone their separate ways: Fozzie now performs with a Reno casino tribute band called the Moopets, Miss Piggy is a plus-size fashion editor at Vogue Paris, Animal is in a Santa Barbara clinic for anger management, and Gonzo is a high-powered plumbing magnate. With secret, signature, celebrity cameos, Disney’s “The Muppets” hits the big screen Nov. 23, 2011.

Disclosure: I was provided with a copy of the interview with Miss Piggy. I receive PR information from Disney Studios, but am not required to post anything. I was not compensated for this post. All opinions and commentary are mine. I did not meet Miss Piggy, but then again she’s a very busy star and often doesn’t have time for people like me.

Sara