Rebel Yell

It's about time to compile the rankings of this year's movies, but it's also a busy time of year for movie-going itself. Despite being swamped with the demands of the holiday season, I somehow managed to go out and snag two more movies for the 2016 list, both of which are about rebellion for a greater cause. The first was the newest animated film from Disney, Moana. Pro-tip: If you're battling the winter chill, go see this movie right away; its depictions of warm, sunny beaches will have you feeling like it's July. At first blush, Moana would seem to be the newest in a long line of Princess Movies. A young girl (Auli'i Cravalho) who will someday be chieftain of her Polynesian island feels the pull of seafaring adventure, but her parents aren't having it. When the island starts to lose its natural resources to an impending curse, Moana sets out anyway (with an animal sidekick in tow, natch) to persuade the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) to restore the islands' natural order.

Disney animation has been on a hot streak lately, and Moana is no exception. There's a lot to love about this movie. The animation is top-notch, which is all the more impressive when you consider how difficult it can be to achieve appealing water effects. The story is extremely respectful to the culture it's depicting. Moana is not only the protagonist, but the full-on heroine of the story, and though she depends on her friends, she is no helpless girl needing rescuing every five minutes. And then there's the music, which I've been full-on, openly singing out loud for a week now. There are a couple of clunky lines, and as with the trolls in Frozen, there's an unnecessary side character with a forgettable mid-movie song, but other than that, Moana is a terrific entry in the franchise.

The short ahead of it, Inner Workings, is fun and clever as well. It's not as sweeping and grand as Paperman was, but a cute running joke about the struggle between what our brains and hearts want for us.

Up next was the first stand-alone Star Wars movie, Rogue One. I went ahead and splurged on an IMAX 3D screening for this one, which turned out to be a good decision. Like the other Star Wars movies, there are expansive scenes, not only in the usual space battles, but on the surfaces of various planets, all of which had wildly varying design. Rogue One tells the story of how the Rebel Alliance transitions from trying to achieve their goals through political maneuvering to straight up military incursions. This movie takes place right before the events of 1977's Star Wars. Felicity Jones plays Jyn Erso, a young woman whose father is a reluctant Imperial scientist in charge of designing the Death Star. He has second thoughts, but rather than openly resisting, which would only lead to his death and slightly stall their plans, he subtly sabotages their efforts by building a flaw into the blueprints (so there's that old plot hole explained away). When Jyn learns of these plans, she and a band of Alliance members who are tired of sitting on their hands team up to steal the plans from the Empire so they can learn how this flaw can be exploited.

For the most part, it fits really well into the Star Wars timeline. Jyn doesn't trust the Alliance any more than she trusts the Empire, and those shades of ever-darkening moral gray in the supposed "good guys" was a bit distracting while I was watching it, but makes more sense the more I think about it. The battle scenes are well-designed and well-edited; though there are several different factions fighting it out, I was never confused about what was going on. That said, there are definite flaws. The late-stage edits are pretty evident. In particular, Forest Whitaker was clearly supposed to have a different arc than what's shown. The use of CGI Peter Cushing was an unwise choice. Overall, though, if all Rogue One set out to do was be a ripping adventure, it very much succeeds.

Moana: A-
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story: B+


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