Mini movie reviews: Moana and A United Kingdom

Out now, and out tomorrow, in South African cinemas, are animated adventure Moana and real-life romance A United Kingdom. They're just two of December’s big movie releases. But are they worth a few hours of precious vacation time?

Moana (3D) – Mixes up the Disney Princess formula with mostly success

Even though Big Hero 6 and Zootopia have both released since Frozen; the latest from Disney Animation Studios, Moana, is receiving the most comparisons to the smash hit 2013 release. It makes sense. Both movies are musical adventures with distinct geographic settings. And in both, a princess must venture forth from the safety of her kingdom to save her people.

Honestly, I still think I prefer Frozen’s story more, but Moana delivers many pleasures: lush Pacific Island and oceanic animation, catchy songs, some touching moments and very strong vocal performances.

For the record, Moana has the restless title character (voiced by newcomer Auli'i Cravalho), defying the wishes of her chieftain father, and sailing away from her island home. She has been chosen by the Ocean to restore the stone heart of a creation goddess. This will, in turn, save Moana's island from a spreading decay. In addition to facing monsters and other villainous threats, Moana has to enlist the help of heroic demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson), who triggered the chaos in the first place.

In the Plus column, Moana features a refreshing change in location and cultural depiction for Disney, and Johnson is perfect. The title character, though, I found frequently irritating - like the sassy leads of so many live-action Disney Channel shows, and an extended mid-section with a comical villain seems present only for the sake of shoehorning more levity in the film.

Moana is a worthy addition to the Disney Animation Pantheon, but a strong strain of plot derivativity keeps it from being a masterpiece.

7.5 out of 10.

A United Kingdom – A little-known love story inspires hope these holidays

A United Kingdom is unlikely to set the box office alight, but this feel-good love story offers something for "adult" audiences left cold by all the animated movies and fantasy action that dominates the festive season cinema schedule.

Based on a surprising slice of real-life history, A United Kingdom centres on the interracial romance between the king of Bechuanaland – the future independent Botswana – Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo) and British office worker Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike). It should be a simple case of a young couple following their hearts and happily living their lives together. However, it’s the 1940s, and their personal relationship triggers all sorts of political complication for England, Bechuanaland and its South African neighbour, where Apartheid is taking hold.

A lot of A United Kingdom is simply people talking – or, more specifically, threatening Seretse and Ruth in unpleasant meetings. Adrenalin junkies with a lust for action are likely to find the movie dull. However, for more patient viewers, A United Kingdom offers a thoughtful and moving love story. It also doubles as an inspiring underdog tale about individuals fighting a mammoth, callous political machine.

The movie’s success hinges on the performances of Oyelowo and Pike, and they portray the Khamas with sensitivity and sincerity. They win over characters onscreen, just as they win over the audience. It’s hard not to end A United Kingdom with a smile on your face, and maybe a little knot in your throat.

7 out of 10.


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