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‘Moana’ Is Basically ‘The Little Mermaid’ In Reverse

moana theory

Time for another Moana theory.

A while back, someone on Tumblr wrote a fan theory about Disney movies (shocker), and it’s actually worth consideration (other shocker). The idea is that Disney’s Moana is almost a perfect inverse of Disney’s The Little Mermaid, and let’s not forget that both films were directed by the same duo: Ron Clements and John Musker.

What do we mean by these two movies being the same, but also not at all? Well, it’s not a perfect theory in practice, but it does say something interesting about how creative teams can recycle old ideas in ways that still feel new. You can watch this entire Little Mermaid / Moana theory as a video on Screen Junkies News, or keep reading to get my personal take.

From the video:

Tumblr user Intergalactic-Ashkenazi noticed something strange about Moana. Basically, it’s the same story as The Little Mermaid, except every detail is flipped.

Now it’s certainly not every detail, but you can easily cherry pick a few compelling examples. And there are enough of them to argue that this Moana theory is at least somewhat intentional.

Moana and Ariel are both daughters of overbearing, powerful leaders.

I almost reacted, “Well, aren’t most Disney princess movies?” But that’s actually not the case when you think about it. Pocahontas comes close, but most other Disney “father characters” that are even around range in personalities from silly (Aladdin) to wise (The Lion King).

The video doesn’t directly mention this, but the immediate “reverse” for King Triton and Chief Tui is that one fears the land and the other fears the sea. Also, one is mortal and the other has a wicked trident.

But where Ariel is a sea-bound princess longing to venture onto land, Moana is a landlocked princess longing to venture on the sea.

Counterpoint: the directors copied their own homework but made enough changes to keep it from looking obvious.

Ariel goes to a “big scary ocean lady” who turns out to be evil.

Turns out? I don’t think anyone expected Ursula to be good, but I guess the point is that to Ariel, she seemed good, which only makes Ariel continue to look like an outright moron. The best inverse is probably how Moana turns out to be a way better protagonist.

While Moana goes to a “big scary land lady” who turns out to be good.

At first, I thought the idea was that Maui is the inverse of Ursula, but instead it’s saying that Te Kā fits the bill, which I think is correct. If you go further with this, you can say that Moana seeks out a man for help finding the female villain, while Ariel seeks out the female villain for help finding a man. Or something.

Both movies have a magical necklace with a spiral engraved on it. In The Little Mermaid it belongs to the villain, while in Moana it belongs to the hero.

This one’s slightly more of a stretch because the whole “reverse” thing seems selective at this point. On the one hand, the spirals on both objects actually seem to be the reverse of each other (different placement and one’s a shell while the other resembles a wave). And one’s a macguffin while the other is more of a “power.” On the other hand…was the “heart” in Moana ever a necklace? And is green the inverse of…yellow?

I’m officially overthinking this.

The Little Mermaid has a “small good crab,” where Moana has a “big evil crab.”

The video of course shows Sebastian from The Little Mermaid side-by-side with Tamatoa, the crab who sings “Shiny.” This matches up perfectly. Moana theory saved.

In [The Little Mermaid] a human sings about eating the crab. While in [Moana] the crab sings about eating a human.

You could also argue that Clements and Musker are big fans of dramatic irony that spans across their movies. Both theories are probably correct, and some good evidence for this one in particular is the fact that Tamatoa actually makes a joke about how a crab described like Sebastian is more likable than him in a scene after the end credits.

Moana returns to her people and leads them to a new life on the sea. Where Ariel leaves her ocean family for a new life on land.

Also, Moana has no love interest. In fact, you can read this easily as a shuffling of tropes just as easily as you would some big conspiracy. Moana’s mentor, Maui, is a god, while Ariel’s mentor, Sebastian, is the crab. Ariel’s father is the god, the Kakamora are…things…and so on.

But perhaps the most important detail…

What? What is it? What is this clincher?!

The Little Mermaid sings on a rock, while in Moana the Rock sings to her.

I’ll admit, I laughed out loud at this, but only after having a miniature personal crisis of faith. And that’s the Little Mermaid is basically the reverse of Moana theory. Chime in with your own examples of how this theory holds up (or doesn’t) in the suggestion box below.


Thanks for reading this. To get updates on my theories, books, and giveaways, join my Mailing List.

Or just say hey on Twitter: @JonNegroni


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‘Atomic Blonde’ Looks Great But Pulls Too Many Punches

atomic

Atomic Blonde was directed by David Leitch, the stunt mastermind and co-director of the action-favorite, John Wick. Based on the graphic novel The Coldest City, this is a spy film with all the right moves, but does that hold true for the story itself?

Go on…‘Atomic Blonde’ Looks Great But Pulls Too Many Punches

Christopher Nolan’s ‘Dunkirk’ Is More Survival Epic Than War Movie

dunkirk

Dunkirk was written and directed by Christopher Nolan and is his most recent film since Interstellar. Nolan has tackled a variety of genres to mostly great success; heists, magicians, space, and even comic books. But how does the blockbuster artist fare with historical war fiction?

Most war movies tend to be action movies. Many of the best ones go beyond the typical violence and bloodshed to delve deeper into psychological thriller territory, while others spend their first hour unfortunately delving into needless romantic subplots and love triangles (ahem).

Go on…Christopher Nolan’s ‘Dunkirk’ Is More Survival Epic Than War Movie

‘War For The Planet Of The Apes’ Is Both The Worst And Best Of Its Own Series

war planet apes

War for the Planet of the Apes is the final film of the prequel trilogy based on the 1968 classic Planet of the Apes. Once again, viewers step into director Matt Reeve’s post-apocalyptic version of a world where a micro-colony of hyper-intelligent apes led by the world-weary Caesar must fight for their right to exist against humanity’s last stand.

The central conceit of this prequel trilogy has been to follow the evolving humanity of a brilliantly realized character named Caesar (brought to life by stunning motion capture and played by an Oscar-worthy Andy Serkis).  It’s clear at this point that Caesar is one of the greatest film characters of the 21st Century, born in Rise of the Planet of the Apes and fully realized in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

This new film takes Caesar’s journey to its most desperate state. After two years of evading the last of humanity’s armed forces, Caesar’s nomadic colony of apes are brought to their breaking point when a ruthless colonel (played by Woody Harrelson) finds their hiding place and forces the apes to go on the run. Caesar craves revenge, however, and sets off on a journey with his closest confidants to discover what the humans truly have in store for his apes.

Go on…‘War For The Planet Of The Apes’ Is Both The Worst And Best Of Its Own Series

‘Spider-Man Homecoming’ Isn’t Another Big, Generic Superhero Movie

Spider-Man Homecoming

Spider-Man: Homecoming is the latest standalone superhero film to tackle great power and great responsibility without actually having to mention those famous words. This is Marvel Studios and Sony’s first full-length collaboration on a superhero film, making Homecoming a risky experiment that was clearly worth taking.

Go on…‘Spider-Man Homecoming’ Isn’t Another Big, Generic Superhero Movie

‘Baby Driver’ Fires On More Cylinders Than You May Think

baby driver

Baby Driver is Edgar Wright’s latest love letter to familiar, yet beloved cinema tropes. Now that he’s explored zombies, cop spoofs, and alien invasions, the British writer/director turns his masterful eye toward car chases, bank heists, and even musicals.

The first ten minutes of Baby Driver do well to establish the main beats of the entire film, opening with a stunning car chase through the streets of Atlanta and ending with a scene where the criminals wax poetic on the quirky kid who made it all happen. Though these scenes are somewhat replicated over the course of the film, each one with its own tempo and style of course, none of what happens next feels nearly as formulaic as it probably should.

Baby (played by a stoic Ansel Elgort) is a professional getaway driver for a rotating cartel of manic criminals led by “Doc” (played by a fatherly Kevin Spacey). Due to a car accident from his childhood, Baby has tinnitus, which he drowns out with two earphones and a collection of iPods featuring his favorite music (or Wright’s favorites, we should say). For that reason, the action and even much of the downtime in Baby Driver is choreographed to a wide variety of catchy tunes. Think Guardians of the Galaxy with a bit more of a jukebox feel and the same mother/father issues.

baby driver

Unlike Star-Lord or maybe Burt Reynolds, Baby himself doesn’t talk much, instead opting for the music he chooses to lend context to every scene. It’s a fairly original method for us to get inside Baby’s head without the need of traditional prestige acting. This is fairly important in the second act, when the film turns to its romantic B-side and devotes a large chunk of time to better developing who Baby really is as he connects with Debora (played by an enigmatic Lily James). The relationship itself is equal parts La La Land and just about anything by Wes Anderson, which works well because of how the couple bonds over their love of music, as well as a balancing out of their core strengths as people.

For some viewers, this will be considered the weakest part of the film until it bounces back into the thrilling action, but it’s key to remember that the development in this act (and indeed, this is a five-act story instead of a three-act one, further leaning into the musical aspects) is crucial to setting the exact stakes for a more bombastic and staccato second half.

Baby Driver is a delight across the board and an inventive achievement in stunt-work, editing, frame-by-frame storytelling, and simple taste. It can be easy to resort to the typical “style over substance” complaint, which is usually earned. But here, style is a deliberate function of the plot, just as in Wright’s other triumphant films.

baby driver

On the surface, the story itself is quite simple, which feels more like a saving grace than otherwise. Despite its straightforward characterization, much of the film plays out differently than one might expect. Granted, you’ll see certain twists coming a mile away, but Wright knows this and instead employs unpredictable reactions to keep the story moving.

What pushes Baby Driver above the fold, truly, is the stealth humanization of Baby as a character. Wright pulls off a subtle trick with making the audience believe anything can happen with this character by frequently using his quiet strength to extract wild personalities from the various criminals who want to “get” Baby.

Many scenes allow seemingly cut-and-dry characters played by the likes of Jon Bernthal, Jamie Foxx, Eiza González, and Jon Hamm to project their own personalities and motivations onto this getaway driver they don’t know what to do with. It happens enough times to lure the audience into doing the same thing, and by the end of Baby Driver, there’s a poignant question still lingering around who this character really is and what has made him tick all along.

Certain aspects of Baby Driver aren’t very original, but the movie itself truly is, and it’s a masterwork by one of the most talented directors and writers working today. It’s the kind of film made possible by the fact that auteur directors with the right vision can drift circles around the usual blockbusters.

Grade: A

Extra Credits:

  • I didn’t have time to get to it, but Jon Hamm is one of the film’s best surprises. He’s a fantastic mirror image of the Baby character who erupts into one of the year’s standout characters.
  • Despite the strong parallels to Guardians of the Galaxy, it’s important to point out that Wright has been wanting to make this movie since before he made Shaun of the Dead. In fact, the very premise of an action movie set to choreographed music was used in a music video he directed for Mint Royale years ago. Considering Wright’s relationship with Marvel (ending due to creative differences over Ant-Man), it seems somewhat likely that Guardians could have been directly inspired by an early version of Baby Driver.
  • Despite being a British director, Edgar Wright gets American culture better than many other American directors. This was also his first movie shot in the US.
  • Speaking of which, the choice to use Atlanta as a backdrop instead of LA gets to the root of why Baby Driver feels so remarkably fresh in spite of its clear connections to older films (they even filmed part of the movie in the same area as Fried Green Tomatoes, for example).
  • According to Wright, all of the car chase scenes used practical effects. All of them.
  • My favorite easter egg contains a slight spoiler, so I’ll just say that a very important “number” in the film refers to the release date of The Driver, which is perhaps this film’s most direct influence. Look out for 1978.

Thanks for reading this. To get updates on my theories, books, and giveaways, join my Mailing List.

Or just say hey on Twitter: @JonNegroni


2017 Movie Power Rankings

2017 Movie Rankings

It took a while, but I’m finally ready to unveil my movie power rankings for 2017, which will be updated as I continue to watch more films throughout the year. With this list, you can briefly glimpse my favorite movies of any given year and how they compare.

Below are my rankings so far, with some of them linked to either a written review or Cinemaholics podcast episode.

Go on…2017 Movie Power Rankings

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