We have had a busy weekend, friends! Very busy. But part of that busyness has been going to the movies, which as if to make up for the lack of movies I’ve seen recently we did not once but twice! We saw Moana and Rogue One, which are two films that have very little in common but it doesn’t matter they’re both well-done films.
First of all, about Moana. This movie is, of course, a Disney movie, and a story told by primarily white people about a non-white culture that is a mishmash of a variety of Pasifika languages, cultures, and stories. There’s been a lot of discussion from Pasifika and Hawaiian writers about the movie, and I encourage you to go looking for some of them. Here are a few, and there are more, I’m sure, that you should seek out and read. I definitely see where they’re coming from, as a Chinese person who grew up with one version of the Legend of Mulan as well as the Disney version (which is, of course, hilariously watered-down and edited for the white moviegoing public). So it is important to keep that in mind as you watch; many of the mythological elements are severely edited or made up, and Maui as a character is very different from the figure present in many Pasifika stories. (And, notably, there has been discussion about the problems inherent with not giving a female lead of color a love interest, since this ties into problematic ideas about women of color and romance.)
Which does not make it a bad movie. It’s a beautiful movie, very well-told and compelling, and Moana is a great character. She’s resourceful, smart, and passionate, and the story definitely lets her shine. Maui is…also there. Personally, I found him mildly amusing at best and an annoying hindrance to the plot at worst, but, again, it’s part of the Disney package. And really, despite the above parenthetical, it is something of a relief that the teenage girl and the thousand-year-old demigod don’t even have what could be viewed as a spark of romance between them. Especially because that could have easily fallen into the trope of the nice girl changing a stubborn man with love, which is annoying. As is they were buddies and helped each other along without fear of kissing, and that was good.
There is also a “twist” ending, which Disney seems to be particularly enamored of right now, and which I am fine with, because they keep doing it in interesting ways, at least. In this case, it does have to do with the villain, and you can probably figure it out if you’re thinking about it during the movie – but I wasn’t, so it came as a surprise to me. It also means that the conclusion of the story is non-violent, which I really liked. (There are some really good action scenes and there is a scene where Moana and Maui have to fight a bunch of sentient coconuts called Kakamora – incidentally, the Kakamora are mythical beings, but they seem to not actually be coconuts, just very small people-shaped beings – that hilariously reminded us of Mad Max: Fury Road.)
The music is different in style from other Disney soundtracks, even though you can pretty well point out the “I Want” song, “I Am” song, villain song, etc. Lin-Manuel Miranda composed the majority of the lyrics and music for the songs, and you can definitely tell. I think maybe this soundtrack will be overlooked for not having either a love song or a crowd-pleaser like “Let It Go,” which is a pity, because I think it’s really good. “We Know the Way” is written partially in Tokelauan, from Tokelau, a tiny territory of New Zealand. Musician Opetaia Foa‘i helped Miranda and composer Mark Mencina write, as Tokelauan is in his native language, and while as of this writing there doesn’t seem to be an official translation, here is a rough idea based on the similar Maori and Samoan languages. This one is, I think, the standout song of the piece. (Although, shoutout to Jemaine Clement for having what is possibly the silliest villain song in any animated movie since “Gaston.”) Sixteen-year-old star Auli’i Cravalho also does her own singing, and sounds amazing.
And now, Rogue One! First of all, I can’t stress enough that this is a war movie. Heavy on the war. There is one scene in it that one of my friends said feels sort of like someone said “no one will know it’s a Star Wars movie unless we put a lightsaber in it!” But most of it isn’t about the big characters, the ones we know and the ones who are Force users. Most of it is about the little people in war, who do all the heavy work. You need to go into this movie with that mindset or you will be very sad.
Which is not to say this movie is all doom and gloom. Some very cool things happen!
- The new characters are all interesting and likeable (to varying degrees and depending on who you are, but still) and the movie does a good job of showing you who they are despite the movie being pretty crowded.
- Personally, two of my favorites were Chirrut (Donnie Yen) and Baze (Jiang Wen), who are both guardians of the remnants of a Jedi holy city, and who are both very gay. I called this months ago from a single clip in a trailer, and I am pleased to report that I was totally right and they are definitely gay and most likely exes who reconcile during the movie. Of course, because it is Disney, they aren’t explicitly gay, but they’re gay though. This is also cool because they are both Chinese dudes, but that means I expect fandom to ignore them.
- My other favorite was Bodhi (Riz Ahmed), who is an ex-Imperial pilot who defects. He is a cinnamon roll and I love him. He just wants to help! (In case you’re not familiar with the term “cinnamon roll,” it basically means a character who is really sweet and adorable and deserves nice things.) I also read someone point out earlier that he is the only character who never kills anyone, and that he is the first character in a blockbuster movie played by a Pakistani actor who is not a terrorist, which is cool.
- This is Star Wars. There are moments that are very “nudge-nudge we are Star Wars” and that’s okay. On one hand, it’s nice because it helps fill in some gaps; on the other hand, it’s nice because it’s comfortingly familiar. Ah, yes, this is Star Wars!
- I also expect that the loudly crying white manbabies in our theater are going to be a staple of crowds for this movie, worldwide. We were lucky enough to not hear the exact content of their ever-present grumbling, but grumble they did, and loud enough that it was markedly rude. While the grumbling loudly is bad, and very annoying, it is pleasant to bathe in these manbabies’ tears.
–your fangirl heroines.