Before I get started celebrating this festival of foreign films; I must thank the readers and OneOfUs.net for making Animated Anarchy possible. Keeping this blog updated makes me really happy whenever I publish an article for the world to see. Whether you watch cartoons, anime, or just Disney films…they all matter. The line is constantly being tested as animation as not just a medium for kids, but for everyone. Hell, these last few weeks proves that with the recent release of Sausage Party, so we have that going for us.
I admit ,I haven’t been able to write for this website as much as I’ve wanted to. There’s been a non-stop parade of work, family, and living situations going on for a straight year now, and I’ve been aching for a big change. Thankfully, next month that change will happen, and I’ll be able to dedicate more time to my true passion of writing. So take this early prologue as a rebirth for Animated Anarchy, as critics are already collecting stories for save up for “Best of the Year” binges. Some of the movies we’ll be covering may show up later in future stories. Now onward, to Annecy!
The Annecy International Animation Film Festival is the Cannes of animation; featuring shorts and feature length films showcasing every form of animation from all across the globe. Our special Polish correspondent Maciek Kur goes whenever he can to see what the industry has in store for the rest of the world, leading to some really amazing discoveries. He’ll do a thorough review for each movie and I’ll be adding in commentary along with the accompanying trailers and pictures. You might see some of these lovely films at your home in a few months!
While I like the Annecy International Film Festival for its more “artsy” animated movies, one of the highest point of celebration for all animation lovers at the festival is the presentation by Disney. Not only did they show some early, never before seen footage of their upcoming movies, but they are presented by the directors themselves, and this year we got two legends hosting the presentation, Ron Clements and Jon Musker. These are the men behind such gems as ‘The Little Mermaid,’ ‘Aladdin,’ ‘Hercules’ and ‘The Princess and the Frog.’
‘Moana’ is Clements and Musker’s first CGI film (in fact, their debut movie, ‘The Great Mouse Detective’, is credited for introducing computer animation to the big screen, mainly in the clock tower fight sequence during the film’s climax). For European markets the title was changed to “Vaiana” (the name of the female protagonist), in order to avoid copyright issues. In fact, during the presentation, the directing duo had a bit of a running gag, with Musker correcting Clements every time he called their heroine “Moana,” to the point of Clements jokingly concluding, “It’s a story about identity, because she doesn’t know if she’s Moana or Vaiana!”
Interestingly enough, the presented footage had used the name “Vaiana” in the dub.
As most of you have already seen in the trailers, the story is set in Ancient Oceania, and explores the legends and culture of that time period. The plot is inspired by the traveling tribes who used to navigate from island to island, solely relying on their own instincts and knowledge of the ocean currents. Though many of these tribes discovered and settled on new lands, they mysteriously stopped for almost a thousand years.
During the presentation, we were presented with about 15-20 minutes of footage, some of which was storyboarded or in early rendering with little completed animation.
The next several paragraphs contain some spoilers.
The story follows Moana/Vaiana, a young island girl fascinated with stories of Maui, the shape shifting demigod voiced by Dwayne Johnson. According to the stories told by Moana’s grandmother, Maui once stole a powerful artifact, but was attacked in the middle of the ocean by an gigantic lava entity (imagine a human version of the firebird from ‘Fantasia 2000’), and he lost both his treasure as well as his magic fishhook, which sunk to the bottom of the ocean. As a toddler, Moana literally befriends the Ocean, who in this world is a living being. They don’t give him a “face,” but they give him a personality, which is shown by the way tides and waves move.
As Moana grows older, she still feels a strong spiritual connection with the ocean. However, her father, who’s a chieftan, forbids the people of his island from sailing outside of the reef. One night, Moana’s grandmother takes her to a mysterious cave, where she finds hidden boats, and learns that her people were once great navigators and sailors, which makes her incredibly excited. Sometime after, Moana makes an oath to follow her destiny, and sets out on a quest to find a magical artifact that will prevent a great evil from consuming the land and ocean.
Moana is joined by a roster of comical characters, including a cute piglet named Pua, a clueless rooster named Heihei, and of course, Maui – the demigod with a massive ego and living tattoos (Yaaay! Hand drawn animation!). One particular tattoo, a small, unnamed character serving as Maui’s 2-D animated conscience, was described as Maui’s “Jiminy Cricket.” The character was created by Eric Goldberg, the creator of Genie from Aladdin.
On their quest, Moana and Maui visit the Polynesian underworld, which is set at the bottom of the ocean. One brief piece of concept art also showed them facing a leviathan-sized creature, and another clip featured a fully animated musical number.
Another clip showcased the Kakamora, a group of anthropomorphic-coconut pirates. Complete with tiny hands and feet (somewhat reminiscent of the trolls from “Frozen”), the Kakamora draw expressions on themselves and have personalities similar to that of the Minions from ‘Despicable Me’ and the Ewoks from ‘Return of the Jedi.’ Along with sailing large ships, the Kakamora’s society was said to be influenced by films like ‘Waterworld’ and ‘Mad Max.’
End of spoilers.
Some might accuse Moana’s storyline of being simplistic, if not a bit generic, as it features yet another free-spirited heroine who defies the wishes of her farther to go off an adventure for a magical McGuffin. However, I think Moana gets a bit of a pass for now because of its focus on Oceanic mythology and legends, which is unfamiliar to most audiences.
Probably the biggest disappointment of the presentation is that they didn’t shown more of Moana/Vaiana herself. Other than the sequence of her as a toddler, a few brief interactions with Maui, and a handful of action set-pieces, there were few scenes highlighting her personality. The directors mainly described her as a “badass,” and I have a feeling that people who had “problems” with Rey in ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ will have the same complaints about Moana’s character. Personally, I think it’s great that we’re seeing more strong female characters in animation and film. After decades of animated female characters being reduced to damsels in distress and love interests, it’s a welcome and long overdue change.
For now, I hope they won’t only focus on making Moana look cool, but actually giver her some depth. The charm of some of the recent Disney princesses like Anna, Rapunzel or Tiana, is that they could not only get silly, but also have their own flaws that they had overcome. This in turn makes them more fun and interesting to watch, and more importantly, relatable.
Another great part of the Disney presentation was the “Inner Workings” short, which was introducde by its director and writer, Leo Matsuda, who later talked about the production and evolution of the concept of his short film.
The short has a similar premise to Inside Out, only in place of emotions, we get to literally see what is going on inside the hero’s body. The brain, heart, lungs, muscles and yes, even the bladder, are all represented by comical characters. The story follows a day in the life of an Asian-American office worker named Paul, who is struggling between his very disciplined nature, and the simple urges to just have some fun. During his misadventures, we constantly see the reactions of his body parts and internal organs.
A lot of people I talked with after the presentation really enjoyed the short, and some even heaped more praise upon it than ‘Moana.’ Admittedly, it’s one of funniest cartoons producded by Disney in a very long time, and that even includes the number of shorts produced by Disney coveted animation studio, Pixar. I was shocked it was only seven minutes long, as it expels dozens of jokes in only a few minutes, and a fair bit of the best gags were more adult than Disney’s usual brand of animated humor.
On top of that, the visual stylings of the short were incredible, and had an impressive amount of “blink and you miss it” details. It wasn’t just the standard Disney CGI human designs, but much more stylized characters designs, including odd proportions like overly square heads, ragdoll bodies and comically ample curves. Additionally, the short also had a wonderfully memorable score.
Though only a seven minutes long, “Inner Workings” is really worth seeing on the big screen, and Matsuda is quickly proving himself as one of Disney’s most exciting new talents.
I’m going gaga for Moana’s upcoming release. The Princess and the Frog is my personal favorite Disney flick, and Lilo & Stitch comes in around third. Clements and Musker just achieve a perfect balance between the songs, character development, and brilliant scenes evolved from elegant ideas. I really like that this film is covering Polynesean culture, because it’s something Americans don’t know much about, if at all. Animation is a great way to open our culture up to new mythologies, whether it be from Song of the Sea or The Secret of Kells.
You could critique Disney for taking the Pixar route by making a road-trip movie, but this movie makes an exception traveling by sea. Since the filmmakers made a point to say Moana WILL NOT have a love story, I feel confident that it’ll avoid many of the obvious tropes that would normally be done in this scenario. Seriously, if you think about how many cartoons have a buddy and/or romance subplot, your head will spin. I don’t think we have to fear either about Moana herself being a “Mary-Sue,” even by Force Awakens-standards; hard to be overpowered around a shape-shifting demigod.
Moana has an incredible cast covering every aspect of the film. Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda worked on the songs featuring an Oceanic music group, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson gets to bring his natural charm to a real Disney character, and genius Taika Waititi (What We Do In The Shadows, Hunt For The Wilderpeople) touched up the screenplay. Auli’i Cravalho is using this starring vehicle as her breakout performance, but she brings a lot of energy and wit to both these trailers.
Although there are some detractors against Disney’s current slate of CGI, the company is truly in the middle of another Renaissance. Zootopia is unquestionably the best animated film of the year already, but if they can make another film that incredible? They will remain kings of the mountain for easily another decade. Needless to say, I can’t wait to watch the movie. Inner Workings as well, as the shorts including during this new golden age have been marvelous in their own right.
And I hope you all come back tomorrow for more of our animated film coverage from the Annecy Animation Film Festival!