Moana

Moana is an animated family film that promotes working as a team over working alone. It espouses the ideal that people are basically good, and portrays the idea that fears within and without must be faced in order for the individual to grow.

The story used for these messages begins with the demigod called Maui who steals a special jewel from a beautiful island goddess. The goddess turns into a terrible monster and, slowly but surely, sends corruption out into the region’s idyllic island paradise.

Across the ocean on a small island (that looks like a Mauritian holiday resort), a young girl called Moana feels strangely called to the ocean. Moana is the daughter’s chief and every time Moana talks to her father about going to sea he expressly, and fearfully, forbids her. Eventually the goddess’s desecration reaches Moana’s home and, against her father’s wishes, Moana pushes out to sea in a hidden boat.

Moana meets up with the self-absorbed and rather silly Maui and eventually persuades him to return the stolen jewel to the island goddess. This is the only way to reverse the deterioration evident all around them.

Of course it’s no easy task and both Moana and Maui must draw on their inner resources, face their fears and inadequacies, and rise above them to conquer the monster. The animated visuals are lovely, and the story trajectory simple and easy to follow. Moana is a feisty but realistic heroine and is someone young children will want to identify with. The humour that the ridiculous Maui brings to the story is fun to watch.

Moana opens at cinemas in South Africa on Friday 2 December and will be enjoyed by families with schoolgoing children.

Chess Prodigy is Queen of Katwe

Queen of Katwe is a Disney film directed by Mira Nair and based on a true story. The “Disney” logo at the beginning of the film conjured up for me images of a sentimental, happy-ending movie that might potentially slant the “truth” to satisfy its western audience. Well, I certainly did shed some tears. And I felt happy afterwards. And, yes, I am a western audience. But I also think Mira Nair did well to bring to the screen this small, true story about, of all things, the pleasures of chess.

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Madina Nalwanga as Phiona Mutesi in the unusual Disney film. Image source: https://en.chessbase.com/post/chess-movie-queen-of-katwe-is-announced

Queen of Katwe revolves around a struggling family in Uganda, a man who works as mentor to underprivileged children, and the surprising rise of one young girl to chess prodigy. Phiona Mutesi (Madina Nalwanga) and her siblings struggle to survive in the Ugandan city of Katwe. Their mother (Lupita Nyong’o) is a hard-working, no-nonsense, principled woman who teaches her children responsibility and self-pride in the face of great hardship. While selling corn on the chaotic streets of Katwe one day, Phiona follows some other children to a room where “coach” Robert Katende (David Oyelowo) is teaching chess. Poorer than even the poor children in the room, Phiona has no education and yet takes to the game with a natural talent.

The strategies and thought processes that go into the game of chess become a picture in the film for how the players should deal with life. And vice versa; coach Katende actually uses his pupils’ difficult lives to spur them on at play. Coach himself sacrifices his own career as an engineer to mentor the children. This aspect of the story certainly seems credible if the notes and appearance of the real characters at the end of the film are anything to go by.

Lupita Nyong’o is particularly good in her role as mother and some of the children’s parts are delightful to watch. A drawback to the film is its use of the English language with “Ugandan” accents. If it had been filmed in a local language with English subtitles I think it would have seemed more authentic and reached the right audience. Despite this, I enjoyed the unique chess aspect of Queen of Katwe, and how it became an unusual highlight in the lives of struggling people.

Queen of Katwe, which was filmed in South Africa, opens in SA at Ster Kinekor theatres on 14 October 2016.

Saving Mr Banks deeper than a remake of Mary Poppins

Review by Brenda Daniels

I rushed off to the preview of this film thinking it was a remake of Mary Poppins, an alternative take on this well-loved tale, seen from the viewpoint of Mr Banks, the father character in the original story. Well, it was that and it wasn’t.

On the surface, Saving Mr Banks is the story of how Walt Disney eventually obtained the rights during the 1960s to make P L Travers’ book, Mary Poppins, into the Disney musical starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke. Emma Thomson stars as the crusty 60-odd year old Pamela Travers alongside Tom Hanks as Walt Disney.

Travers proves to be a very difficult-to-please woman, and fights with the scriptwriting team at every turn, declaring outright that the film would NOT be a musical nor would there be any animation. Baffled by her demeanour, Disney and his team persist, treating Travers with kindness despite her rancour.

Disney, who had longed to make the film for 20 years, begins to see past the author’s outward resistance to what she really holds dear – the memories of her childhood, and in particular her relationship with her father (finely portrayed by Colin Farrell). And it is this story, woven into the fabric of the book and eventually the Disney film, which forms the underlying one of Saving Mr Banks.

The original Mary Poppins story remains unchanged. Seeing Saving Mr Banks won’t alter that. But attributing elements of the book, and the eventual screenplay to the author’s personal struggle, does give the audience a different view on the story. Saving Mr Banks has depth and sensitivity, is well acted, and gives a plausible explanation for how an author’s personal life can affect her writing.

I loved it.

This British-made film opened at Cinema Nouveau theatres in South Africa on 21 February 2014.

Saving Mr Banks event at Walt Disney studios display picture. Julie Andrews,  Walt Disney and Pamela Travers. (Source: Creative Commons)

Saving Mr Banks event at Walt Disney studios display picture. Julie Andrews, Walt Disney and Pamela Travers. (Source: Creative Commons)