The Lobster will frustrate some and titillate others.
Look at how good the hair looks in Moana. And this is just a screen grab.
As Kristen Page-Kirby with the Washington Post points out, that statement is rooted in a legit critique of Disney’s Princess Industrial Complex, which has long used the term princess to describe all of its central females, even the non-princesses, who, to be fair, usually transcend to princessdom by the end credits via hooking up with a royal dude. Unfortunately, this has long been displayed as the crowning achievement a Disney heroine can achieve.
Disney has been subtly introducing more feminist friendly messages into its princess stories. Take Frozen for instance. I initially objected to bits of the film (reviewed here), but having seen it a jillion times now (thanks, Cassie), I realize how deft it was in dealing with all of this stuff. Anna’s part of the story is largely focused on critiquing the ludicrously flimsy romances that typically define these tales, and Elsa (not a princess, but a queen) has way more pressing things to deal with than whether or not she can find a man.
Moana takes things a step further, giving us not only a rare non-white heroine (she’s Pacific Islander), but also the first Disney princess story with absolutely no romantic interest (yes, I know, Merida from Brave, but that’s Pixar not Disney). Instead, Moana’s whole arc is more of a traditional hero’s journey (save the day by restoring some gem to its proper place), something that seems pretty old hat, until you consider how progressive it is to put a female in this type of story. Moana isn’t finding a man, getting saved by one, or serving his needs; she’s finding herself, fighting her own battles and serving her people. In that respect she’s following in the footsteps of Mulan (another non-white heroine, which is interesting) and, well, no one else (and even Mulan had a love interest, albeit not a prince).
Like many of their recent films, Disney goes for the easy "aww"
with an early kid-centered prologue.
Like Tangled, this is basically a two-hander about a girl and the rapscallion who’s begrudgingly helping her, but Maui is more like a selfish version of Aladdin’s Genie than a love interest. It’s probably more accurate to call him a Jack Sparrow-type. He’s a fun and even complex character, and the film gets a lot of mileage out of a running tattoo gag that reminded me of a similar stylistic Greek chorus from Musker and Clements’ Hercules. Plus, Johnson really livens up the film when he’s around and even delivers with Maui’s big musical number “You Welcome” (which, more than any other song in this thing, even the one Lin-Manuel Miranda actually sings, makes crystal clear that the Hamilton mastermind concocted much of the soundtrack).
The film isn’t perfect. At times, it feels like it takes too long to get where it’s going, but that time is well spent and results in making the leads feel more dimensional than typical Disney creations. Compare it to the tonally similar yet tighter Brave (reviewed here), and it becomes evident how much that time adds narratively. Even if it is a bit overlong, the music is fantastic and the animation is outright dazzling. John Musker and Ron Clements are old hands at all of this, but this is their first go around with CGI, and it’s damn impressive how well they carried this thing off. Look at the way water or hair move in this thing. It’s transfixing.
Plotwise, Moana is as formulaic as The Lobster is unconventional, but both films left strong impression on me. Once I get around to seeing more films from last year, both may not remain in my top 10, but they’ll remain close, because they represent truly worthwhile cinema from 2016.
The Lobster A-, Moana A-