MOVIE REVIEW: “Moana” Sails Beautifully Despite Some Stormy Songs & Characters

MOVIE REVIEW: "Moana" Sails Beautifully Despite Some Stormy Songs & Characters
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There was a time where Pixar was king of CGI animated films and Walt Disney Animation Studios took a back seat to the hits that Pixar was pumping out on a yearly basis. As of late, the studios have changed seats. With recent hits such as “Tangled”, “Wreck-It Ralph”, “Frozen” and “Zootopia”, Walt Disney Animation has shown they are a force to be reckoned with. “Moana” is the studio’s 56th animated film for Disney, but does “Moana” deliver or does it sink to the bottom of The Pacific?

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“Moana” comes to us courtesy of the team of legendary Disney directors, Ron Clements and John Musker. Clements and Musker were responsible for the following Disney classics:

  • The Great Mouse Detective (1986)
  • The Little Mermaid (1989)
  • Aladdin (1992)
  • Hercules (1997)
  • Treasure Planet (2002)
  • The Princess and the Frog (2009)

“Moana” is Clements and Musker’s first CGI film for Disney.

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Moana (Auli’l Cravalho) is the daughter of Chief Tui (Temuera Morrison) and is being instructed by her father to become the leader of their tribe.  Moana soon demonstrates that she is a wise and beloved leader. The survival of the tribe is threatened by some plague-like events which forces Moana to make a decision as to whether to disobey her father’s wishes or journey beyond the safe shores of her island home and search for the legendary demigod, Maui (Dwayne Johnson), with hopes that he can save her village from famine and extinction.

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“Moana” is a movie that is bound to be another Disney classic. It is a movie that is fun for the whole family. It has a fairly original story, an enjoyable musical score and it is a visual feast for the eyes. Clements and Musker continue to show that they still have the skills to deliver impressive work blending both story and music together. The voice cast was perfectly cast especially newcomer Auli’l Cravalho, who provides the voice of Moana. I would say that the message for this film is to believe in yourself and that you will find you can do things that even you didn’t believe you were capable of doing, especially if it is for the good of others. And that is a great message to both kids and adults.

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‘The animation in “Moana” is one of the most beautiful films that the Walt Disney Animation Studios has ever made. I noticed a lot of new and innovative techniques displayed in this movie and it’s great to see that the animators are always looking to advance the art of CGI animation instead of rest on their laurels. The colorful tropical setting, the ocean and especially Maui’s hair really stand out.

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You can tell that Disney has been going after both demographics, girls and boys, with having two main characters for each. One being a strong independent princess and the other being a demigod warrior voiced by a wrestler. I feel like the advertising has been pushing Maui on us more than Moana, but make no mistakes, this is Moana’s story and she is great role model for all children, not just girls. She follows in the footsteps as such classic Disney Princesses such as Ariel and Rapunzel by showing strong independence and a thirst for adventure but she also shows so much love for her family similar to Anna and Elsa. Speaking of love, there is no love story. Kind of odd not to have a love story in a Disney princess movie, but it is a nice break too and I thought it made it a better movie.

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The animal sidekicks are great in this movie. We dont see much of Pua The Pig but he is a cute character that both kids and adults will love. Heihei The Rooster has a larger supporting role and steals almost every scene he is in. Both are examples where you dont always need talking animals for comedy to work. I also loved the Kakamora, who were living warrior/pirates coconuts. They definitely could have been Disney’s versions of The Minions but felt they could have used more screen time.

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Now for the negative, and for the most part they are minor.

Dwayne Johnson does a good job of voicing Maui, but I liked his performance better when he spoke as a more traditional Southern Pacific-an. Dwayne Johnson throws in a lot of his enthusiastic personality, including his “Rock” persona. I am never a fan of American slang and modern phrases ending up in movies that take place in a particular time period and locations outside of the United States. I was thinking of how Andre The Giant in “The Princess Bride” blew away The Rock’s performance. Andre never threw in lines like “body slamming” but would make rhymes about peanuts that made everyone laugh. I felt the directors may have asked Johnson to ad-lib, or maybe it was of his own doing, but it was too much. The Genie in “Aladdin” worked because it was something new and it had Robin Williams just being himself. But what Williams has done has been copied for almost 25 years and it’s getting old. I could do without adding hip stuff to movies that don’t require it. Dwayne Johnson seems like a great guy but he always plays himself in every movie he is in.

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I wasn’t crazy about the character of Maui. He basically was a jerk and an attention freak. And when you get to the end of the movie, you realize that he really messed things up for everyone in this movie, even more-so that you thought. He is a fun character, and at one point you have sympathy for the character, but ….. he is still a jerk. I did research about the mythological character Maui and in Hawaiian mythology he was kind of like Hercules. I wouldn’t call Maui a hero in this movie. Just that his arrogance and conceit caused a lot of people pain. More than half the movie was about Moana trying to convince Maui that only he could save her people after what he did that caused all of the problems that everyone had to begin with. Moana is the real hero of this movie. 

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Also Disney, PLEASE! Lay off the butt and peeing jokes in your movies! You should be better than other animated studios and shouldn’t have to find humor by using toilet humor.

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Going into the movie, I knew that Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote songs for the movie. The only thing that I knew about him was that he wrote the music and starred in the play “Hamilton”. To me, Lin-Manuel Miranda is no Howard Ashman and Alan Menken. The music that they wrote for “The Little Mermaid” and “Beauty And The Beast” were classics. All very memorable and forever in most peoples mind’s when they think of Disney. Most of the songs in “Moana” are either hit or miss and not very memorable. It sounds more like Miranda had a Broadway musical in mind and I know that it will inevitably hit Broadway or a Disney Cruise Ship. At times, I felt his lyrics could have been written by a gradeschooler. I kept guessing what his rhyming lyric was going to be and was usual right. Daughter, let me guess? Water! BINGO. “How Far I Go” is without a doubt the best song from the movie, but I swear they must have played that song at least 4 times during the movie. It’s a great piece but “How Far I Go” is no “Let It Go”.

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Speaking of music, the absolute worst character in the movie had to be Tamatoa (Jemaine Clement). Tamatoa was a giant crab that lived deep in the ocean and had a love for all things shiny. Jemaine Clement sings a song called “Shiny” and it is awful. It has to be one of the worst songs ever made for a Disney movie and again Miranda uses his genius to rhyme such words as “shiny” and “hiney”. Like I said, enough with the butt jokes, Disney. That song and scene totally felt so out of place. It was weird, it was boring and was so not needed. They could have cut that 10 minutes out of the movie and it would have flowed so much better. Definitely skipping that chapter when the movie comes out on Blu-ray.

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My last negative was the pre-movie short, “Inner Workings”. It’s like “Paperman” and “Inside Out” had a baby. An ugly baby. Again, more potty humor of peeing, uninspired animation and a pure ripoff of the two movies I previously mentioned. I was kind of disappointed that “Zootopia” did not have a short before it, but if they were going to make something like this, they were better off. If your running late for “Moana”, you may have actually done yourself a favor.

Image Source: Entertainment Weekly

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I know I listed a lot of negatives but I still really enjoyed “Moana” and I highly recommend it. I actually enjoyed this more than “Frozen” and “Finding Dory” but not as much as “Zootopia”. I believe most Disney fans will really love this film and will look forward to adding this movie to their Disney library. The verdict is still out as to whether this will be a classic or not. Only time will tell. But i think it will. And I hope it will.

I give “Moana” an 8/10.

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About the author

Joe Hogarty

Joe moved from New York to Florida back in 1997. He currently resides in St. Petersburg and visits the parks frequently. His first visit to the Magic Kingdom was when he was 8 years old back in 1974. Joe originally originally started as a photographer for WDWNT and is now the host of WDWNT: Nerd Alert, our movie reviewer and reports the news for WDWNT. You can contact Joe through email at [email protected]

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The Truth
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The Truth

Your letting your political bias show in this review.

Brad W
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Brad W

I think you were looking for and pretending to find something that isn’t there. Please feel free to point out where there is any political bias in his review.

Joe Hogarty
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Joe Hogarty

Thanks Brad. I’m not sure what he is referring to either. Could be that I wasnt a big fan of Lin-Manuel Miranda. If the music was great, I would have picked up the soundtrack, but I wasnt feeling it.

To the Truth, I’m just saying, wait till you see the movie. Your opinion may be different then mine but that is all it is, opinion. And so is mine. No political statement here.

If anything I like that they are carrying on the tradition of having empowering and strong female lead characters in their movies.

mark
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mark

absolutely agree. it’s very clear this is a conservative commentary. heck, the author even defends himself by saying “If anything I like that they are carrying on the tradition of having empowering and strong female lead characters in their movies,” as if he deserves a pat on the back for being okay with strong female characters.

Joe Hogarty
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Joe Hogarty

I like strong female characters. It makes me feel good that little girls, and little boys, can see that girls can do anything that boys can do. That they dont have to wait for their prince to come and rescue them. I think your problem with me is that I didn’t like Lin Manuel Miranda’s music. I have news for you, I’m not the only one. Check out other reviews and forums and you will find people saying that the music was the weakest part of this movie. The music is not memorable and the lyrics are bad. And after… Read more »

vincent matthew sexton
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vincent matthew sexton

Isn’t the reason that Walt Disney Animation is better now because John Lasseter is the chief creative officer of both Pixar and Disney Animation? So, the writer failed here in my opinion. Pixar is awesome because of John Lasseter, and now so is WDA, which was not mentioned in the article. The writer failed here. #fail

Joe Hogarty
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Joe Hogarty

Vincent, you are right about Lasseter and he may have heavily influenced WDA. He also was heavily involved with Hayao Miyazaki later works and was producer of many of Studio Ghibli movies. And am thankful that he helped bring those movies to America. I apologize if I didnt mention WDA more in the review. I think they have an awesome team of animators. My point was that Pixar always meant quality and in recent years they havent been as good as they were. I remember a time when Pixar, and it could have been Lasseter saying this, that the reason… Read more »

Scott Dolan
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Scott Dolan

Oh wow, I actually thought Inside Out was far better than advertised. I agree with you about Brave. That was a really underrated/under-appreciated film. Not a classic, by any stretch, but rock solid. Still haven’t seen Finding Dory, but everyone I know that has said it exceeded their expectations. My own are rather low, but I now want to see it due to what everyone else has said.

But Cars 3…hmmmm…I’ll be willing to give it a chance…I guess.

Joe Hogarty
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Joe Hogarty

Hey Scott! I have heard some people say they didnt like Inside Out, but like me, they are extremely rare. I even question my opinion about the movie but I have given that movie several chances and I’m not going to like something just because everyone else does. lol I still like watching Brave. That movie had problems behind the scenes. The original director was either fired or left the project because they didnt like where she was going but they kept some of her movie in there. I think they could have replaced the bear and did some kind… Read more »

ElephantLegSupreme
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ElephantLegSupreme

You only dislike the songs becsuse your a butt-hurt ninties kid who latches onto his precious little kid hood, and sure your not a freaking toddler (with your reasons you might be) but toddlers eat the pee jokes and the fart jokes up, if not then angry birds and the minions movie wouldnt exist. Learn to except change, and the writing genius that is lin manuel miranda. Have a nice day sir! “What a terrible preformance get the hook!”-tamatoa

Joe Hogarty
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Joe Hogarty

Have you even seen the movie? How can you get upset and defensive over something you haven’t even seen yet? Can’t believe you are defending pee and fart jokes.

How Far I’ll Go is a great song and will probably win an Accademy Award. I liked the song You’re Welcome too. Shiny is a horrible song and feels so out of place in the movie. The rest of the songs are luke warm at best. How many writing geniuses rhyme shiny with hiney?

Ryan
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Ryan

I’m with you. My wife and I are music fanatics. We absolutely love music of all kinds and love Disney soundtracks. Walking out of this movie though, we both mentioned how disappointed we were with the songs. They really left us wanting more. And yes, “Shiny” is the worst song ever. It was totally jarring because it was so weird and for us, it pulled us out of the movie. It just didn’t fit. That whole sequence should have been left on the cutting room floor. Just awful. Now I must admit, How Far Will I Go is growing on… Read more »

Andie Senkewicz
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Andie Senkewicz

Shiny is an important song in the movie. It’s where Maui changes how he views Moana. It NEEDS to be there. And it shouldn’t be jarring unless you were only looking for upbeat cheery songs. The reason it is good is because it’s the anti-lesson for the movie. Tamatoa sings about how you shouldn’t follow your heart or be yourself, you should only worry about what you look like and that’s why he is perfect. Saying it doesn’t fit is like saying that Poor Unfortunate Souls isn’t fitting or any other villain song. They teach the same lesson, “Do what… Read more »

Gil
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Gil

Kinda feel like the “toilet humor” thing is nitpicking. Humor is subjective, yes, but using that type of humor doesn’t make something low brow, or diminish it’s quality. It just means you didn’t like it. Also, Tamatoa was my favorite character in the movie. Shining was my favorite song too, I think he was pretty menacing. He was picking apart the hero’s both physically and mentally, breaking them down. Just my opinion though

Victoria Leigh
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Victoria Leigh

Sorry, I’m a little late to this thread, but I’d love to throw my two cents in on “Shiny” as contrary to many, it makes the list of my top 3 favorite songs on the soundtrack. Yes, lyrically speaking, the song is a bit uninspired. HOWEVER, I feel that it works within the movie on a few subconscious levels. 1. All of the other songs in the movie are sung by characters within the general culture of the south Pacific islands. They’re intended to have that sort of “laid back” vibe to them, and carry the culture within both the… Read more »

Kitty
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Kitty

Also, it was a nod to the late, great Bowie.

Amy
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Amy

I actually enjoyed inner workings and thought it was very clever. To each their own.

Joe Hogarty
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Joe Hogarty

Amy, I know a lot of people who liked Inner Workings. But like you said, to each their own. Just my opinion, doesn’t mean I’m right. I liked Piper that was shown before Finding Dory a lot better. Thanks for being nice. :)

Amy
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Amy

Aww you’re welcome! I liked piper too. I like them all. I very much admire the talents of all of these writers and artists.

Jim
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Jim

Just saw Moana. Beautiful animation. Strong lead character both in design and voice talent. Liked the story. Loathed the contemporazation of Maui. Annoyed me to no end. I am a fan of Lin-Manuel Miranda but this is not his best work. Maybe two decent songs in the film. The rest are trite. Wait for the DVD.

Joe Hogarty
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Joe Hogarty

Thought I wrote this for a second. lol Glad someone else saw what I saw.

melissareyes
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melissareyes

Wow, strongly disagree with your assessment of Shiny. That song is the perfect blend of Jemaine’s comedic genius and Bowie-style glam rock. That song was so wonderfully weird, campy and over the top that it worked for me. Definitely belonged in a movie with murderous coconut pirates.

Derek Smithers
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Derek Smithers

We agree. We were laughing out loud to the lyrics (although I’ll admit the “shiny” and “hiney” thing is a bit sophomoric). Our favorite song was definitely “You’re Welcome”. Fit perfectly with Maui’s “full of himself” persona.

Bought the soundtrack
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Bought the soundtrack

Shiny was an excellent song. Ursula meets Bowie. I didn’t like that this articles author takes a swipe at hiney/shiney (low hanging fruit rhyme) but doesn’t give credit to the more creative and intelligent humor and rhymes in the same song. Common! demigod/decupod was brilliant!

Amanda reno
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Amanda reno

You are so off! Shiny is an amazing bowie tribute and that short before moana made me cry..it was beautiful! Moana was so good! Kicked finding dory’s ass! We all loved it and my daughter is already singing all the songs around the house…

phx1sjc
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phx1sjc

Completely agree about the Tamatoa / crab scene and “Shiny” song. It was horrible and so misplaced. I wish it was completely removed from the movie. The rest was fantastic!

Bought the soundtrack
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Bought the soundtrack

Do you also want to cut poor unfortunate souls form little mermaid?

Joe Hogarty
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Joe Hogarty

My review is just opinion and how I felt. I was on a panel for the Toys For Tots Marathon and 2 people on the show also saw Moana this weekend and agreed with everything I said. So I’m not alone. Shiny feels so out of place in that movie. Both that song and that scene. I think the song would have worked in another movie, just not Moana. I liked the movie, just didnt love it.

Bought the soundtrack
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Bought the soundtrack

Shiny should be a tonal shift as it occurs in the realm of monsters and so thematically breaks from the culturally rooted sound of the rest of the film. It is definitely an out there song, but has complexity that bears up very well to repeat listening. I suppose it’s easy to get distracted by the potty humor (hiney/shiny) and miss the complex rhythm and rhyming of accurate mythological and scientific terms (demigod/decapod)

Kristen Beckwith
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Kristen Beckwith

I loved Shiny. The Realm of Monsters was supposed to be a weird place, and it’s a weird funky song for a weird funky character. I loved how Jemaine sang it like “Bowie’s In Space” from the Conchords show. I guess some people like it and some don’t. Doesn’t mean it doesn’t belong, just means different people have different opinions.

Jennifer Bell
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Jennifer Bell

Shiny was the perfect Bowie homage. My girls have no idea who David Bowie or Flight of the Concords are, but that was the song they cam out if the theater singing. That scene and no other part of this happily love interestless disney mocie will be skipped in our house! Bought the soundtrack in the theater while the credits were rolling!

Joan
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Joan

To each their own, I guess, but I really liked ‘Shiny’. It was weird as fuck and reminded me not only of Bowie, but Rocky Horror Picture Show, too. And I enjoyed the surreal imagery of the scene, since most of the movie looked beautiful, yes, but pretty tame.

Ohrlynow?
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Ohrlynow?

LMM has said on record that he wrote the song shortly after Bowie’s death.
The concept of traveling to the underworld/land of monsters where nothing as it is in the realm of the humans as a story telling device is about as old as the oldest of our surviving human stories. As is the concept of an evil character covering treasure before all else.
Excellently executed, in my own subjective opinion.

Ohrlynow
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Ohrlynow

It’s interesting that you think that movie actors have control over the lines they say. That and your personal bias shining through make you seem like a bit of a hiney yourself, to be honest ;)
Subjective movie review is subjective!

Laura
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Laura

Worst review of Moana I’ve read to date. Tamatoa was one of the best characters and “Shiny” was absolutely brilliant. If you did your research you would know that the song, character, and the actor belonged there as much as Maui himself. I won’t bother educating you, take the time to google yourself. Disney made extremely smart (some of their best ever) decisions with this movie in cooperation with the Oceanic Trust. My entire family loved it, and the depth of the movie has been on forefront of our conversations for days. This movie differs from most Disney movies in… Read more »

BOB
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BOB

HATER ALERT!

Joe Hogarty
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Joe Hogarty

I know I was not the only one to dislike that whole Tamatoa scene. A lot of people did not like that scene and felt it was not needed at all. I would have liked it more if the character was more threatening and menacing than vain. Tamatoa was just a dumb and forgettable character. And if you like the song Shiny, enjoy it. But I wont and it doesn’t fit in the movie. I thought the music for Beauty And The Beast was perfect. I was not a fan of Human Again, which was left out for a reason.… Read more »

David
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David

Let me respectfully say that Tamatoa was my favorite part of the entire movie. I have read your critiques, and I understand where you are coming from, but I maintain that his scene was fantastic. The animation, the vocal work, the musicality was absolutely transporting, and I might argue that Tamatoa could have found his way into other parts of the movie, instead of being a “one-off” character, as they say. But darn. It was pretty amazing watching a villainous character blend menace with vanity to that level. It was Ursula accelerated. Some of the rhymes? Easy. Although you are… Read more »

Joe Hogarty
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Joe Hogarty

I can see your side too. I definitely need to see the movie again.

Cant wait to review Rogue One. At least there wont be any music in that one. lol

David
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David

My wife and I were extremely excited for this movie to come out. Animation and storyline was great. Samoan songs were great. But we both left feeling underwhelmed and confused at the other English songs. I feel like Disney thought that they could capitalize on the Hamilton hit and tried to put a square peg in a round hole. Didn’t like the coconut song, you’re welcome, and hated shiny. I’ve never hated a Disney song before. I wished they would have used some local Hawaiian artist like Kolohe Kai (YouTube the song He’eroa by them) and you would understand. I… Read more »

Joe Hogarty
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Joe Hogarty

Trust me, you are not alone. I wont mention any names besides me at WDWNT, but the 3 people on staff that I spoke to who saw the movie agreed with me about the music, and especially Shiny. And I totally agree with you regarding Kolohe Kai. The Rock cant sing and the people in the audio booth used their best magic to make him sound good. Now Auli’i Cravalho could sing! I will admit I was a bit harsh on Miranda but I was expecting a lot more from him. I think How Far I’ll Go is a great… Read more »

Alex
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Alex

Man, really? Shiny, along with some animation bits and moments and a few decent jokes were the only thing I truly enjoyed in this movie. The sappy main song is.. well too sappy generic and unnecessarily repetitive. The story is uninspired, forced, boring and predictable, even if they took a more obscure story than usual. The struggles are eye-popping dumb. I know the lyrics for shiny can sound pandering, but they are clever and for a movie that ponders to children, parents and the times so desperately in search for money, you can forgive a joyous four minutes that do… Read more »

Joe Hogarty
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Joe Hogarty

I like the main song How Far I’ll Go. Maybe it is a bit sappy but I feel it is a very empowering song. Like I said, I never saw Hamilton before and from all of the Tony Awards that it won, I was expecting real genius. I have some friends that have the Hamilton soundtrack without even seeing the play and they love it. Others I know have seen the play and have said, he’s overrated. So this was my first real taste of Miranda’s work. I really should listen to Hamilton on Spotify. We recently put up the… Read more »

Annie
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Annie

I completely disagree with you about “Shiny”. That song is amazing and is totally different than any other Disney song. That whole scene was perfection to my opinion. And Disney uses the butt jokes because kids crack up. That’s about it. I can’t believe anyone would find so much negativity in such a great movie.

Joe Hogarty
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Joe Hogarty

Like I said, I think Disney does not have to use ‘butt” jokes. They can crack kids up in other ways than talking about peeing and whatever else they were doing. But I love Despicable Me and that has fart jokes. I dont know. lol I love animated movies and have seen so many with fart jokes lately that I am like…..enough! Just seems like a quick and easy way to get a laugh.

If you liked the movie, Annie, that’s all that matters. Just pointing out what I liked, and what I didnt like.

Joe
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Joe

Couldn’t disagree more. The song Shiny is my favorite in the score. It’s an awesome homage to Bowie. I thought Miranda’s songs fit Disney like a glove. To each their own I guess.