Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Memories of Princess Leia

I had just come out of a screening of La La Land (full review coming January 2) when I got the news that Carrie Fisher had passed away at the age of 60. It was like a kick in the guts, which unclenched when I realized it was the headline we’d been dreading for days after reading she had taken ill.

There was never any doubt in my mind that we’d see her at press junkets and red carpet events for the as-yet-untitled Episode VIII, laughing about what had happened with some wry morsel of self-deprecation and bracing honesty. Moreover, she’d be back because we needed her to be, because Star Wars seems unfathomable without our Princess Leia; lest we forget, she’s on screen a full twenty minutes before the ostensible hero Luke Skywalker. And honestly, after seeing the heist of the Death Star plans in Rogue One, it’s a little impossible to watch the original Star Wars without thinking of Leia as the heir to Jyn Erso’s mantle; who’s the real “new hope” here, the whiny farmboy whose chores stand in the way of his power couplings, or the regal politician turned rebel icon who stares down Darth Vader and lies to his face without breaking a sweat?

In a way, La La Land was a fitting bracer for the latest bit of bad news to come out of 2016. It’s a film that’s very concerned with memory, particularly visual/cinematic memory, and the ways that our filmic minds may be more powerful than reality, more romantically potent, even above and against the objective truth of reality. For most of us, all we have left of Carrie Fisher are her images, and as much of a force (no pun intended) as she was in Hollywood, I suspect that for very many of us she’ll always be Princess – or General – Leia. We might remember her as the M16-toting fiancé of Jake Blues in The Blues Brothers, the flower-child group therapist from Austin Powers, or as her own larger-than-life self as seen in Wishful Drinking.

However, even Carrie Fisher embraced the role that some said typecast her for life. “I got to be the only girl in an all-boy fantasy, and it’s a great role for women,” she told CBC in September. "She’s a very proactive character and gets the job done. So if you’re going to get typecast as something, that might as well be it for me.” To that end, with our filmic memories waxing nostalgic, we present five definitive Princess Leia moments. You might be expecting a Top 10 (and perhaps someday you’ll see it), but for now the occasion demands something special, a little bit unique. So put on the John Williams score and let’s remember the Princess as best we know how.

1. “Only you could be so bold.” I mentioned this moment at the top because it’s a hell of an introduction to Leia, and it tells us everything we need to know about the character. She’s fiercely loyal to her people (both those of Alderaan and those of the Rebel Alliance), and she’s far from cowed by the looming presence of Darth Vader, the scariest force of evil in the galaxy. But Leia, coded as vulnerable by her height and her all-white gown, refuses to bow; instead, she rips off one-liners of her own, later jeering at Grand Moff Tarkin’s “foul stench,” and she refuses to break, even under literal torture.

2. “This is some rescue!” The second act of Star Wars revolves around the effort to rescue Leia from the bowels of the Death Star, but it’s a beautiful treat that the rescue mission completely falls apart until Leia takes charge. Luke, Han, and Chewbacca storm the prison block, but it all goes awry, to which Leia’s reaction is the sly and often-quoted “Aren’t you a little short for a stormtrooper?” She’s facing execution – Tarkin has said as much – but she refuses to be so much as impressed. Then, as the prison break collapses into a firefight, it’s Leia who rescues the rescue, sending them into the garbage chute and toward the Millennium Falcon.

3. “I love you.” “I know.” Leia spends much of The Empire Strikes Back on the run, but she’s always in control of the situation. She rightly assesses the moment to evacuate, she senses something is wrong about the asteroid “cave” in which they land, and she detects Lando’s misdeeds before Han has reason to doubt his old friend. But the one thing Leia misses is her own emotional range; throughout the movie, she’s telling Han Solo one thing while the audience realizes something else altogether – these two crazy kids are in love. Finally, just before it’s too late, she opens up, and while Han gets the iconic rebuttal, Leia flips the script in Return of the Jedi. This time, she’s caught up. She knows.

4. Huttslayer. I suspect a generation or two of Star Wars fans remember this moment for a different reason altogether. Carrie Fisher probably sent scores of moviegoers into puberty by donning the metal bikini, but a princess has to have an extensive wardrobe, right? What’s fascinating to me here is that it’s another way Leia flips the script. She steadfastly refuses to be a damsel in distress – recall that it’s all part of the plan – and her looks of disgust and occasional boredom prevent her from serving as eye candy. As ever, Carrie Fisher had the perfect response to the outfit: “Tell them that a giant slug captured me and forced me to wear that stupid outfit, and then I killed him because I didn’t like it. And then I took it off. Backstage.” The Expanded Universe materials have made much of Leia’s reputation as “the Huttslayer” – apparently, it’s a big deal to strangle a reptilian crime slug with the leash with which he would subjugate you. Now that’s a royally badass moment.

5. “Same jacket.” The original script for The Force Awakens called for us to see General Leia fairly early on and throughout the first act of the film. Wisely, though, J.J. Abrams kept her in reserve until we can see her through Han’s eyes for the first time. And boy, does it pack a wallop when she arrives; it’s a moment that always leaves me a little misty-eyed, but as ever Leia deflates the moment by skeptically remarking of Han’s attire, “Same jacket.” Thirty years may have passed, but she’s still the same Leia we left in 1983. The fact that she’s been promoted to general tells us only that the rest of the galaxy has finally caught up with her.

For now, she’s one with the Force, and the Force is with us. We’ll see her again in Episode VIII next December, and the Expanded Universe guarantees Princess Leia will never be too far away; she’s already appeared on Rebels, and she’s the star of the monthly Marvel comic Star Wars (to say nothing of her own miniseries, penned by Mark Waid). What’s your favorite Princess Leia moment? Sound off below.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Fences (2016)

When I saw the trailer for Fences, I immediately thought three things – “I’ve got to read that play,” “I’ve got to see that movie,” and “Denzel ought to win an Oscar just for the trailer alone.” Now that I’ve seen Fences in its entirety, all three were – if I may say so – sage proclamations: August Wilson reminds us why he’s a compelling playwright, the film is worth the price of admission, and it’s going to be a tight race this year as Denzel Washington gives Andrew Garfield a run for his money.

Pulling directorial and performing duty, Denzel Washington stars as Troy Maxson, a Pittsburgh trash collector who missed his shot as a professional baseball player and who fills his Friday afternoons with gab, both self-effacing and self-aware. From the kitchen window overlooking their backyard, Troy’s wife Rose (Viola Davis) watches her larger-than-life husband and tries to make room for herself in the life they have built together.

I have a very short list of actors and directors who are guaranteed winners, always worth the price of admission even if the rest of the film isn’t very good. But Fences is very good, and it’s due almost universally to the powerful lead performances from Washington and Davis. I wouldn’t be surprised or disappointed to see both up for their fair share of awards come Oscar season, and if they take home the trophies, so much the better. It comes as no surprise that Denzel Washington is the very picture of commanding; he’s one of a select few actors who can swing the pendulum from exuberantly gregarious to crushingly emotional without feeling anything but natural, and Troy Maxson is a perfect vehicle for Denzel to show us what he can do. Prone to long monologues, Troy is the consummate stage lead, and a less capable performer could have easily mishandled the complexities with which his character forces us to wrestle. Instead, Denzel is a master craftsman, and his discreet directorial style reminds one of a filmed stage play.

On the subject of the filmed stage play, this is Denzel’s third directorial outing (following Antwone Fisher and The Great Debaters), and here’s the thing – it’s not all that cinematic. If you’re looking for a Denzel movie with visual flair, you might be better suited to something like John Q or American Gangster. It’s a slightly unusual moviegoing experience, watching something that feels very much like a Broadway drama on film, though it’s not unprecedented. For example, I’m a huge fan of the twin productions of Hamlet starring David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch, which currently only exist for a wide audience in a filmed-stage-play edition. For an audience primed for that – and for an audience who can’t go see the real thing in person (Denzel’s Fences was staged in 2010, while the Hamlets were overseas), it’s the next best thing. And if the only casualty of a filmed Denzel stage play is that it’s a little uncinematic, it’s a sacrifice I’m content to make, because the performances and the characters are so large and powerful that it escapes notice after a few minutes.

About halfway through the film, Rose tells Troy, “I’ve been standing here with you!” reminding him – and us – that this is her life, too, and in the same way Davis pivots the screen’s attention to her. In a film where Denzel Washington is playing such an unreserved character like Troy Maxson, it might be easy to fade into the backdrop, but Davis holds her own and gives a formidable performance, exuding emotion with a fierce glance of the eye or a despairing runny nose. So much of her performance is predicated on silences and pauses, and Davis (who was, in a word, definitive earlier this year in Suicide Squad) very nearly steals the show as the film pivots into its second half with a game-changing revelation about their marriage.

Theatrical in the stage sense of the word, Fences is nevertheless a must-see as 2016 wraps itself up and bends again toward award season. Featuring two lead performances from thespians at the pinnacle of their craft, and with an unexpected range of emotions on display, Fences is a tour de force that does every bit of justice imaginable to the August Wilson playtext.

Fences is rated PG-13 for “thematic elements, language and some suggestive references.” Directed by Denzel Washington. Screenplay by August Wilson from his stage play. Starring Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Stephen Henderson, Jovan Adepo, Russell Hornsby, Mykelti Williamson, and Saniyya Sidney.

That’s going to bring a close to 2016, folks. Over the past twelve months, The Cinema King has brought you 40 movie reviews (with eight installments of “Monday at the Movies,” a series that began in 2012), seven Top 10 lists, one Grand Marvel Rewatch (with a baker's dozen installments), and one Personal Canon (consisting of 65 essential films). What does the future hold? 2017 will see the same great content coming your way, as well as a number of exciting new features. Starting in 2017, you’ll see one of the greatest television shows of all time recapped and reviewed, episode by episode, week by week. You’ll also see the debut of “Ten at a Time,” a series which treads methodically through particularly dense films ten minutes at a time; at that rate, the first such feature should take about four months to get through. You’ll see a number of other surprises coming your way, but we don’t want to pull back the curtain all at once... If you haven’t subscribed, make sure to put your email in the box at the top of the page to guarantee your weekly dose of movie magic. See you next year!

Monday, December 19, 2016

Rogue One (2016)

It’s Disney’s galaxy, folks; we just live in it. But as I’ve said over and over, now is the best time to be alive. We’ve got comic book superheroes on film and television, engaging as ever, and we’ve got a new Star Wars film coming out every year. And if they continue to be as good as Rogue One is, that’s reason enough to hold onto the planet for another rotation around the sun.

As the Empire nears completion of its mammoth Death Star weapon just before the events of the original Star Wars film, a band of Rebels led by Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and his droid co-pilot K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk) seeks out Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), the daughter of the weapon’s chief engineer. While the Death Star’s military director Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) grapples for power by proving the strength of his facility, Jyn bristles at the notion of joining the Rebellion but finds herself drawn into the struggle as she searches for her father.

If you’ve been around this long, you know I’m something of a shill when it comes to the genres I love. It’s not that these movies can do no wrong – I took Suicide Squad to task for biting off more than it could chew and for being “more than a little strangely crafted” – but maybe I’m a little more forgiving just because these are “my” genres, movies that feel made for me. But Rogue One is, I think, a great Star Wars movie that does everything a Star Wars movie ought to do. Since buying Lucasfilm lock, stock, and Greedo-shot-first barrel, Disney has been quite enamored of the Original Trilogy era, setting its television shows, comic books, novels, and now spin-off films in that period. But they’ve been equally keen on butting up against our sense of what Star Wars can be – that is, led by someone who isn’t a whiny blond dude, with next-to-no lightsaber combat.

Rogue One is both of those things, and more, depicting the run-up to A New Hope in a way that will forever color the way we look at the original film (answering in the process a question fans have had for about forty years in the process). But it does so in a way that deepens our understanding of the Star Wars mythos – at least, the post-Disney purge canon. Rogue One unites disparate elements from the Prequels, the Original Trilogy, Clone Wars and Rebels, from tie-in books like James Luceno’s Catalyst to what I’m pretty sure are a few weapons from the Lego Star Wars video games. We even, finally, get references to the mysterious Whills, referenced in early drafts of the screenplay and novelization to Star Wars. All of this, thankfully, is never beholden to an audience’s preexisting knowledge, serving instead like bonus frequencies on the electromagnetic spectrum for those of us who have eyes trained to see them.

Because at its core, Rogue One is a film about a girl, her father, and the galaxy that finds itself depending quite unexpectedly on them. If you always thought the galaxy revolved around the Skywalkers, Rogue One asks you to look again; there’s only one Skywalker here, but as I predicted last week he’s treated like an ominous specter at the periphery of this story, the armor-plated embodiment of fury waiting for an excuse to unleash his hate. By and large, though, Rogue One is more interested in its scrappy band of Rebels, new characters all, some of whom are bound to become new fan favorites. K-2SO’s deadpan cynicism recalls a kind of killer Baymax, while the warrior duo of Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen, my personal fave) and Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen) shed light on the Force from the vantage point of someone who isn’t a Jedi.

Amid all the fresh new characters who I’d gladly follow into spin-offs of their own, though, Rogue One is thoroughly Felicity Jones’s show. Although some have drawn superficial lines between Jyn Erso and Daisy Ridley’s Rey, Jones does a fabulous job differentiating her character from the one found in The Force Awakens. There’s an unexpected emotional depth to Jyn, which Jones lets us see Jyn has repressed for so very long. She lets it burble over every so often, to great effect, and we never have a hard time believing that the tough persona she puts on in front of the other Rebels is just a defensive mechanism.

On the subject of the film’s villains, I will say that my first impression of Orson Krennic is that he’s a little undercooked. I have the disadvantage of having read the prequel novel before the film, so I know him a little better than most filmgoers, but his motivations and rank in the Empire might have been made clearer. Mendelsohn does a good job turning Krennic into a snarling power-hungry Imperial middleman, but as it is, Krennic takes a backseat to the Empire at large. Here the Empire is a giant and well-oiled machine, whose hold over the galaxy is more intimidating than any one figure could be. Then again, how daunting can an Imperial be in a film with Darth Vader? As the trailers have hinted, Krennic has a very memorable scene with Vader which puts Krennic in perspective relative to the Imperial machine he serves. Still, there’s a more personal story to be told, considering Krennic’s long history with the Erso family.

It wouldn’t be a Cinema King review without a wild comparison or two, and so I offer that Rogue One is very much akin to Captain America: The First Avenger. We knew where both films would end up – Darth Vader tells us as much in Star Wars, while we knew Cap was going to end up on ice, only to be thawed out in time for The Avengers. But just because the ending is a foregone conclusion, an accidental spoiler forty years in the making, that doesn’t mean we can’t have fun along the way, in a movie that feels more heartfelt than you might expect, given that at least a few of our heroes might have a tragic fate bearing down on them. There’s room for a few surprises along the way, but more importantly Rogue One clicks up with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice in its personification of the quintessentially human emotion of hope. Both films, even as things look quite grim, find room for optimism, for persistence in the face of adversity because “men are still good” and “rebellions are built on hope.” It’s always darkest before the dawn, we recall from an earlier Batman film, but the dawn – or in this case, the new hope – is coming.

And for moviegoers, it isn’t all that essential to hope that the Star Wars franchise continues to thrive under the gloved thumb of the Mouse. Mickey’s two-for-two. The Force is truly with us.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is rated PG-13 for extended sequences of sci-fi violence and action. Directed by Gareth Edwards. Written by Chris Weitz & Tony Gilroy and John Knoll & Gary Whitta. Starring Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Alan Tudyk, Donnie Yen, Wen Jiang, Forest Whitaker, Riz Ahmed, Mads Mikkelsen, and James Earl Jones.

Monday, December 12, 2016

The Top 10 Things I’m Looking Forward to in Rogue One

2016 has been a pretty good year so far for us moviegoers, and it’s about to go out with a bang. We still have a few flicks that yours truly is looking forward to seeing: Martin Scorsese’s long-awaited Silence, classic Hollywood romance La La Land, Passengers, Assassins Creed, and Denzel Washington’s adaptation of Fences.

But Disney has seen to it that we won’t get to the end of the calendar year without talking about Star Wars. This Friday sees the release of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, a mid-pre-sequel situated some time after Revenge of the Sith but just before A New Hope, in which the construction of the Death Star nears completion as a band of Rebels seek to steal the plans and look for a vulnerability.

Episode VIII, it’s not, but as much as I’m dying to return to that hilltop to see what Rey and Luke will say to each other, there’s plenty about which to be excited for Rogue One. And so, in the tradition of last year’s post to a similar point, here’s my “Top 10 Things I’m Looking Forward to in Rogue One.”

10. Politics in a galaxy far, far away. As much as we’re all wearied by the proceedings of Election 2016 and any number of high-stakes electoral proceedings this year, Lucasfilm’s Creative Executive Pablo Hidalgo pointed to the above scene aboard the Death Star in A New Hope as key to Rogue One. As rich as the clip is in terms of Star Wars lore, one major plot point is that the Emperor has only just gotten around to disbanding the Senate, meaning it’s open season in Rogue One. Will this film’s events be the ones that push Palpatine to finally erase the last pretenses of democracy in his Empire?

9. And speaking of politicians... You won’t see Donald and Hillary in Rogue One (thank the maker), but you’ll see a few familiar faces from the Prequel Trilogy – Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits) and Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly). The Force Awakens largely steered clear of the still-radioactive prequels, but Rogue One seems to be embracing the parts that worked, namely the good casting in Revenge of the Sith. And with Bail Organa in tow, can a certain cinnamon-bunned princess or her prissy goldenrod protocol droid be far behind...?

8. Ground combat. The Force Awakens delivered on its aerial dogfights (and how) with hotshot pilot Poe Dameron leading Resistance forces, but we haven’t really seen sustained fighting on the ground in the Star Wars universe since The Empire Strikes Back – and we all remember how well that worked out for the Rebels. (And no, the Ewok ambushes don’t quite count.) With Rogue One said to inhabit a kind of WWII vibe, seeing ground assault troops and the AT-ATs glimpsed in the movie’s trailers, this could get ugly in a very beautiful kind of way.

7. Snarky droid. K-2SO looks to be a mean and sassy droid, comfortable with deadpan assertions of impending doom and honest appraisals of nihilistic futility. He’s voiced by Alan Tudyk, who (if you only know him as Wash from Firefly) has quietly become one of Disney’s premier voiceover artists with memorable turns in Wreck-it Ralph, Frozen, Zootopia, and even as the demented chicken Heihei in Moana. If all goes well, Tudyk could turn K-2SO into a wry reflection of C-3PO.

6. Inside baseball. Even though Rogue One is something of a standalone film, it’s almost a guarantee that the filmmakers will draw connections both forward and back. There’s the return of the Prequel faces (see #9) and at least one major character from the Original Trilogy (read on...), but with storytelling being a unified venture at Lucasfilm across film, television, and publishing, I wonder what other familiar faces we might see. Does the appearance of Saw Gerrera from The Clone Wars suggest we’ll touch base with something from Star Wars Rebels, which is set in roughly the same time period and also deals indirectly with the construction of the Death Star? Will we foreshadow some famous faces, the longest shot being Alden Ehrenreich’s young Han Solo? Or will Rogue One stake out its own territory, leaving these toys in the box for appearances in future comics, novels, and films?

5. Director Krennic. Now, I haven’t finished reading the prequel novel Catalyst just yet, but from what I’ve read Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) is going to be a compelling new kind of Imperial. Less a believer in the Emperor’s endgame and more a relentless opportunist with a disdain for his fellow Imperials, Krennic promises to be vastly different from the cold and calculating Tarkin (who’s rumored to appear, as well). How precisely he fits in – or doesn’t – with Imperial hierarchy ought to be fascinating stuff. And let’s face it, this is a guy who looks ready-made to be Force-choked for his failures. (Remember, he’s not at the table in A New Hope.)

4. I have a bad feeling about this... With the persistent refrain that this film ends about ten minutes before A New Hope, we can’t help but wonder how many of these characters are going to make it out alive. It’s a big galaxy, and there’s plenty of room for them to hide out to explain their absence in the Original Trilogy, but I can’t believe that the Imperials make it all the way to the Tantive IV without making sure that the plans could only be in Leia’s hands: all of which doesn’t bode well for our scrappy band of rebels.

3. One “Rogue” in particular. We’re getting a real motley crew for Rogue One, but the standout role looks to be that of protagonist Jyn Erso. She’s going to be a different breed of Star Wars heroine, more cynical a Rebel than Princess Leia, tougher than Rey, and with more family baggage than Padmé Amidala. Plus we have an Oscar nominee in Felicity Jones, so the character is in good hands, ready for a journey of galactic proportions.

2. Michael Giacchino’s score. The Clone Wars and The Holiday Special don’t count – this is the first Star Wars film not scored by the maestro himself, John Williams. But Michael Giacchino is just about the best possible successor I could imagine; his work relies on motifs and melodies in a very Star Wars-ian way, and he’s already followed in Williams’s footsteps on Jurassic World. Giacchino has proven himself versatile and gifted, and while I’m excited any time I see Giacchino’s name on a score, Rogue One compounds my interest. How much will he borrow from Williams’s operatic book of themes, and how much will he innovate? Will we see his trademark puns on the soundtrack titles?

1. Hcho-peh... hcho-peh... hcho-peh. You might not recognize it when I type it out, but you’ll know it when you hear it – Rogue One is bringing back the heavy-breathing, black-clad Dark Lord of the Sith himself, Darth Vader. While it remains to be seen whether he’ll be seeking the Rebel base, hunting down the stolen Death Star plans, or both, the original Man in Black is back. Here’s hoping director Gareth Edwards treats Vader like he depicted Godzilla – sparingly, obliquely, and terrifyingly powerful.

How about it, folks? What are you most excited to see in Rogue One? We’ll see you back here next week for a look at Rogue One. Until then, may the Force be with you.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Moana (2016)

While Disney is remaking and reinscribing their classic animated fare with varying degrees of success (from Maleficent to The Jungle Book, the results have been a mixed bag), they’re simultaneously churning out what can best be described as revisionist fairy tales in which Disney can be seen to rewrite its gender politics vis-à-vis the “happily-ever-after through true love” narrative. (Zootopia might even fit in here, though from here Big Hero 6 seems to fit better with the Marvel movies.) Moana certainly fits in the latter camp beside Tangled and Frozen, and while I wasn’t as bowled over by Moana as I was by Frozen, Moana is still a fine offering.

Fueled by a longing to take to the seas, young Moana (newcomer Aul’i Cravalho) bristles against her father’s insistence that she stick to her island roots and prepare to lead her people as their chief. But with the gentle encouragement of her grandmother, Moana discovers another destiny, one that leads her to the exiled demigod Maui (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) and his own begrudging quest for restitution.

Your mileage, as ever, may vary, but perhaps because the bar has been set so high of late by Disney, Moana did not knock me out. Last month I returned from a few days in Walt Disney World, so maybe it’s the fact that I’d very recently mainlined the magic of the mouse, or perhaps it was the burden of expectation (always a dangerous thing to carry into a movie theater) based on precedent and extant reviews. Heck, maybe I’d been jaded by the dispiriting array of trailers on tap before Moana. Or maybe it’s just that Moana is good but not great. Maybe, in the words of Captain McCluskey, “I’m getting too old for my job... too grouchy.”

I did like it, but the superlatives aren’t there for me to purge like so much ipecac. I enjoyed the soundtrack in the moment, though I didn’t leave the theater humming any of the tunes; I laughed at the jokes, but I can’t say that I could repeat any of them for you. What did impress me mostly began with the letter C – Cravalho, coconuts, the chicken, and a crustacean. And the tattoos.

Time will tell whether Cravalho becomes a major star or not (remember, the voice of Mulan now has a regular spot on Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD), but she acquits herself well in her debut feature in a part that feels written to play to her strengths – her determination, her singing prowess, and her ability to keep pace with the more seasoned voices in the cast. While I never fully dissociated Maui from the man I knew to be voicing him, Cravalho inhabits Moana with aplomb and breathes life into her.

The plot of the film can be loosely described as a Polynesian Odyssey, with a series of episodic adventures along a sea voyage on a mission from the gods. In these adventures, we meet a seafaring band of pirate coconuts (or is that coconut pirates?) who are equal parts adorable and terrifying, a fine feat of visual design and wordless storytelling. Then there’s the mad chicken Heihei (voiced, surprisingly, by the dulcet clucks of Alan Tudyk), who almost steals the show with his dimwitted struts and well-timed mishaps. Rounding out a kind of trinity of fascinating creatures (or, put another way, “fantastic beasts”), we have Jemaine Clement as the klepto crab Tamatoa, who gets a fun musical number in which to express his offbeat sensibility while serving as a kind of Joseph Campbell’s gatekeeper for a literal sword-in-the-stone moment.

Lastly, if I wasn’t knocked out by Maui himself, his tattoos are quite impressive, hand-animated amid the computer cartoonery that is the film’s milieu. Indeed, it’s little surprise that the film’s directors have had a hand in many of Disney’s last twenty years of animated films, especially because Maui’s tattoos recall the Grecian aesthetics of Hercules back in 1997, a film I remember fondly. These semi-sentient tattoos continue the coconuts’ good work of silent storytelling, drawing on the bulging biceps and swirling linework of Hercules to great effect. Maui seems irritated by their rebellious approach to his own self-mythmaking, but it’s an audience delight to see a hole poked in the demigod’s bluster

I have nothing bad to say about Moana, except to say that I have nothing tremendous to say about Moana, which feels a bit like the movie review equivalent of a “first world problem.” Moana is the very model of reliable entertainment, steady on course for Disney, even if the effect is more that of a pleasant dream – left with a good feeling but without the lasting memory that would accompany something a little more substantive.

Moana is rated PG for “peril, some scary images and brief thematic elements.” Directed by Ron Clements and John Musker. Written by Jared Bush, Ron Clements, John Musker, Chris Williams, Don Hall, Pamela Ribon, and Aaron & Jordan Kandell. Songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Opetaia Foa’i. Starring Auli’i Cravalho and Dwayne Johnson.

Bonus review! Moana is preceded by the short film “Inner Workings,” which is very much the half-remembered dream equivalent of the immaculate Inside Out. Here, a man’s internal organs react to the drudgery of office work, the temptations of the beach, and the overwhelming urge to micturate. It’s clever but ephemeral, perhaps hampered by the protagonist’s uncanny resemblance to Carl Fredrickson from Up, and it never arrives at the depth of concept or feeling that Inside Out did. But it’s cute and doesn’t overstay its welcome.