Moana and the state of modern animation

The animated film Moana is released this week. Moana is the newest release from Disney and is set to be a big hit. The film is set in the Pacific Islands and is about the myths and history of the South Pacific. It is likely to be another success in the field of modern animation, a form which is thriving right now.

The movie is about a young woman named Moana (a name which literally means ‘ocean’) who lives in a village with her family. She is a budding leader and has to go on a journey across the South Pacific in order to save her people. She sets sail upon the ocean and has a lot of adventures along the way. She is joined by a demigod and a rooster and goes on a journey of growth and discovery.

It is a major release and a lot of talent worked on the film. The New Zealand writer Taika Waititi worked on the screenplay along with several others. The Hamilton mastermind L.Manuel Miranda worked on the music, as did the New Zealand songwriter Opetaia Foa’i. The film is directed by Musker and Clements who are known for classics such as The Little Mermaid and Aladdin and who have a strong pedigree.

The film has been hailed as a creative success and has received good reviews. The movie has set out to be as authentic to the culture of the South Pacific as possible and aims to be accurate. The choice of subject has resulted in an original and quite unique film. In a way it is promoting diversity and depicting a different culture which is always a good thing.

Advance tracking has it that the film should be a hit. The film was very successful in advance box office and has topped ticket sales, accumulating $15.7 million in its first day of release. It is projected to make $50 million through the first three days of release, which is a strong showing.

The film is set to come close to or meet the box office performance of Frozen which is one of the biggest films in terms of box office. The likely success of Moana shows a wider trend in the industry, that animation is very successful and is an enduring medium.

Animation both as entertainment and as an art form is in good health. Animated films are popular with audiences and do good returns.

This is a healthy year for animation – Finding Dory was a huge hit this summer and has already made over 1 billion. Dory regained the audience which Finding Nemo enjoyed, even though there was more than a decade between the two films. This is good news for Pixar and Andrew Stanton, who made the movie. Earlier in the year the movie Zootopia was also successful and found a huge audience.

In general, animation has performed very well in recent years. Films such as Frozen have really captured the public imagination and taken off. Frozen was one of those works which caught on and became a phenomenon in popular culture. Everyone has heard of it even people who have no interest in animation. Although a smash hit like Frozen is a one-off and doesn’t come along all that often, there are still a lot of animated films which have been very successful.

The trend is that animation has had a renaissance since the mid-1980s and a lot of fine movies have been made. This trend is continuing with this year’s animation which are solid efforts if not the greatest of all time.

Animation is connecting with audiences because of the creativity which is on display. There is a lot of talent and imagination in modern animation – there are talents like Brad Bird and Pixar and numerous others. A good film starts with the writing and the writing is very strong. They really make an effort with the films and they don’t rush them. These pictures are large endeavours and tend to take several years to develop and animate, which results in good work. The studios have quality control and make a concerted effort to produce the best content.

The films themselves have good storytelling and tackle all kinds of material with their narratives. The plotlines and themes of animation vary widely – they differ in what they concern themselves with and what they feature.  Some of the films are subtle and feature subjects which are quite intelligent and esoteric. A film like Ratatouille isn’t a typical kids’ film, certainly. Equally though, princess films are popular – arguably the most attractive to audiences, as Frozen and Moana show. Both films are about a princess on a quest and appeal to female audiences and young viewers.

There is a lot of variety to the storytelling. The industry encompasses mainstream studios like Disney, Dreamworks, Pixar or arthouse like Studio Ghibli. This has meant that there is a diverse array of films for all tastes. A film like Frozen is more of a classic story archetype which follows traditional forms of narrative. But then there are films like Rango or Ratatouille which are different and offer something new.

The success of animation has gone hand in hand with advances in technology and in animation techniques. Animation in recent years has been computer animated rather than hand drawn and this way of working has become dominant.

Moana is computer animated and uses CGI, and the trend in the industry these days tends to lean towards CGI. Frozen, Inside Out, Shrek, and Ice Age are all CGI movies which employ the technology to a strong extent. These films are profitable which encourages the production of them even though hand-drawn work has its charms. Even though the means of animation has changed, the films have adapted and the industry is flourishing with the new technology.

Animators have been able to experiment and push the form. Rather than retell classic tales they have tried to tell some new stories, and in the process they have created modern classics. They have made new stories such as Inside Out or Up – films which are striking and unique. These titles feel iconic and special in the same way that traditional classics do.

The 2000s decade was arguably a weak era for cinema and film. There were years where animation was better than the actual films which Hollywood was producing. The medium has continued to thrive in this decade. The animated films of 2016 have performed well and have seen that the medium itself is continuing to flourish. The success of Moana should ensure that there will be even more to come in the future

Title image – Moana. Author – Domenico at Flickr.

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