March Madness 3: The Disney Quarterfinals Pt. 1

Once again, the opinions are mine and all four of these movies are excellent.  As we get into the nitty-gritty, I found myself needing to write more to justify my choices.  They were not easy choices.

Bracket

Lion King vs. The Princess and the Frog

As I have said before, The Lion King is an epic Shakespearean story about a son having to figure out how he can fit in his father’s footsteps. It is basically a take on Hamlet mixed with some African-styled folklore thrown in. Jonathan Taylor Thomas and Matthew Broderick play the main character as he goes from childhood to adulthood and tries to figure things out. The highlight of the film is the music by Hans Zimmer and Elton John, the latter of which departed a bit from his on-stage style to create a mix of musical-style songs, easy listening, and one big epic song. The animation is beautiful and colorful and definitely inspired legions of other animated projects as well as a brilliantly-staged musical. A tip of the hat must also go to the memorable comic relief roles of Nathan Lane, Ernie Sabella, Rowan Atkinson, and Whoopi Goldberg. When it comes to villains, it is hard to beat Jeremy Irons as Scar. However, the story is a little too simple to win this fight as Simba does not really go on much of a journey on screen. He spends years not growing up and then rides to the rescue in the third act. I love the movie but it wraps up a little too neatly. It also tends to treat female characters more like props.

The Princess and the Frog is a lovable romp through the jazz-infused swamps and city of New Orleans. As I mentioned in the first part, there is a song by Jazz legend Dr. John. The rest of the music explores different niches of genre as it touches on different cultures in the Louisiana area. Overall, I like more songs out of this movie more. The funny thing is that they were all written by Randy Newman of all people who really stepped up his game on this one, I guess. It also felt like Princess had more story and more character development. The movie is about working hard for the good things in your life but it is also about opening your heart and letting other people help. It is about creating a good work/life balance. Tiana is such a good character that Anikka Noni Rose brings to life. She is an easy protagonist to connect to and empathize for but also realize that she is not seeing the whole picture. Many people feel that her choice at the end goes against feminist principles but it is not a weakness to accept help to get you that last bit across the finish line. On top of that, there is a great villain in Dr. Facillier who uses interesting applications of magic to do all sorts of things. He also felt a little more of a rounded character than Scar.

Lead Character: Simba’s fear turned to courage at the midnight hour loses to Princess Tiana’s journey of self-discovery

Supporting Characters: The Lion King’s goofy (but lovable) side characters lose to Princess’ hopes and dreams of their own who are also fun in their own right.

Music: Elton John did a really great job but ultimately he loses out to Dr. John and Randy Newman’s jazz/blues sampler platter.

Story: A voodoo magic plot that also involves class warfare wins over a simpler version of Hamlet with lions.

Animation: After rewatching some scenes Princess is a clear winner here as the movie actually uses several different 2D animation styles for different sequences.

Winner: The Princess and the Frog

Tangled vs. Moana

Tangled is a girl-positive version of the Rapunzel tale. Instead of depicting a story where a man must climb a tower to save a poor girl held captive, we instead get the story of a woman who uses that intervention to escape on her own. A sheltered girl goes out in the world to discover what it might hold for her. The way that Rapunzel is depicted is similar to Kimmy Schmidt as she uses her optimism as her armor in life. This is one of the earliest movies that I can remember that flipped the paradigm of the damsel in distress well. The male lead is charming and capable but Rapunzel’s skills and personality are more suited for the tasks they face. The villain is one of Disney’s most insidious villains as she tends to use psychological techniques even more than magic. It is kind of refreshing to have a villain who the main character loves even until the end of the movie. Sadly, there are not a lot of secondary characters since the two sidekicks are non-talking animals but there are some fun comic relief thugs at one point. Since they were able to hire Mandy Moore as Rapunzel, they also got a fairly accomplished pop star and subsequently went for a poppy feel for some of the music and then went with standard musical stuff for the rest. The animation is very fluid and I especially like how Rapunzel’s hair acts.

Moana is the runaway sensation about a young girl’s obsession with the sea that leads to her trying to save her people. This was Disney’s third real attempt at depicting a culture beyond something vaguely European or modern American. They failed with Pocahontas but they succeeded with Mulan. Now they decided to try and tackle a combination of various island cultures (Hawaiian, Samoan, New Zealand, etc.) that all share a common link. They were able to create a story that required the main character to fix the world both physically and emotionally. The movie is literally and figuratively a journey for everyone involved and there is so much character growth to be had. Of course, the heart of the film is newcomer Auli’i Cravalho whose voice is full of so much soul and spirit. Combined with the animator’s skills, she brought that character to life. Her journey is very emotional and easy to cheer on especially because there is no love story to distract from it. Of course, the big story here is that Lin-Manuel Miranda composed and wrote a lot of the music but he it is not often publicized that he was joined by Mark Mancina and Opetaia Foa’i. The songs flow so well and the composed score adds to every moment. Finally, the secondary characters are all great. Chief among them is Dwayne Johnson doing what may be one of his most charming performances. There is also a whole cast of characters, each of which is a rounded character. The journey in Moana is just stronger as proved by the fact that I almost cry every time I hear “There You Are’.

Lead Character: This is a close one. Both Moana and Rapunzel are positive people who are trying to follow their dream. Moana wins by having a clear goal and I just love her determination and charm more.

Supporting Characters: Eugene is a fun thief but he, Maximus, Pascal, and the bar patrons lose to Maui, Grandma, Hei Hei, Grandma, and Tamatoa.

Music: Lin-Manuel and his crew win by making me cry even though Mandy Moore has a really good voice.

Story: Moana’s journey of self-discovery and world-saving happens without a love story which beats a very good but very simple adventure story.

Animation: Both are done with beautiful 3D animation but Moana is a little more fluid. It is also literally more fluid with some of the best-animated water that I have ever seen.

Winner: Moana

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