Moana (2016)

Disney within Disney

I was expecting a standard, manufactured Disney Princess item. What I encountered was a powerful embodiment of myth in a young woman, with the notable exceptions of the coconut pirate and glittery crab sequences. These were conceived and directed by others. I suppose many commenters will speak to the different appealing techniques used here. I’ll just speak to the visual narrative nesting because I’ve been tracking this from Lassiter’s early work.

The simplest example of this nesting is when two-d hand drawn animation is embedded in the three-d world. I believe that over time, a law of proportional abstraction has developed. When this works, we may see a film that has an inner film of some kind that is more abstract. The cinematic effect is to set the ‘distance’ between us and the main film. That is, we have a sort of quantum imagination where the simplifications we negotiate with a filmmaker are recorded in what he/she shows us as simplifications the movie’s characters make with inner ‘films’. Showing us those inner films is a part of the filmmaker-viewer agreement. We do have that here with the depiction of Te Fiti and especially Te Ka, with the visions Moana has, rendered in decades old conventions.

But something new is here: the story starts with literal story panels in animated tapa cloths that tell the outer story about the gods, demigod and the natural laws we will live in. That inner story is rendered in lovely, textured three-d using the now standard conventions of super-reality to register as real. But inside THAT story is the same two-d conventions in the demigod’s living tattoos. While the 3-d flow moves through the future, the two-d panels not only remind us of the past and the world’s dynamics but directly interact with the characters.

The refreshing novelty here is that the tattoo/tapas cloth effect is used for the reverse purpose. The common distance is maintained, but in this case there are not three layers (our world, the movie, the movie within) but two: our world as the same as Moana’s and the ‘movie’ world as the myth, the tattoo and mystical/god world. I think this is why the movie, the main movie with her life played out in it, seemed so close to me emotionally.

Masters of cinematic engineering.

Posted in 2017

Ted’s Evaluation — 4 of 3: Every cineliterate person should experience this.


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