See It Instead: Moana.
We gave Disney’s Moana a thumbs up, now we share three similar films for you to enjoy.
Sometimes a movie comes along and makes you aware of an itch you never knew you had. Perhaps a review piqued your interest, or you’d rather stay in and pay yourself $10 for a small popcorn and watch a movie on the cheap. Perhaps you’re valiantly struggling through your queue on Netflix or Amazon Prime, and need a wise, cultured voice to direct you to where the real movie viewing gold is hiding amidst the resurrected TV series and the crappy, no good, terrible movies about zombie animals (still hate you Zoombies). Well, look no further. See It Instead is here to take today’s new releases and guide you to what you should really be watching.
Moana is a very good Disney movie, but at the end of the day, it IS a Disney movie. While gorgeous, funny, and satisfyingly affirmative in its action (see what I did there?), it follows the basic plot outlines of predecessors like Aladdin, and has a great soundtrack… that sounds very much like other Disney ditties you’ve already played to death in your head. Maybe you’d like to head out to deeper waters with me, and maybe make some new discoveries?
The serious pick: Song of the Sea (2014)
Directed by Tomm Moore and written by Moore and Will Collins, we get the tale of a young boy Ben and his baby sister Saoirse (pronounced like a certain Lannister that likes blowing up holy places as well as her enemies). Ben loves his mum very much and is very much looking forward to being the best big brother ever… until Saoirse’s birth takes his mom from him. Fast forward a few years and we find Ben being very much the worst big brother ever, frustrated that his dad dotes on his sister and still very much longing for his mother. When the worst relative this side of Cruella De’Ville takes Ben and Saoirse away to the city, Ben decides to escape back to his family’s lighthouse island, reluctantly taking Saoirse with him.
Along the journey they are hounded by magical owls and aided by faeries. Why you may ask? Because it turns out Saoirse is a selkie, a mythical being that can change from human to seal, and who is prophesied to save the faeries from the Owl Queen. All she has to do is sing the song of the sea, which is a bit of an issue as Saoirse has never spoken a word in her life.
Neil and Erik had kicked the tires briefly on this animated tale when it was nominated for an academy award, but we never got around to viewing it until recently. It’s quite different from a Disney movie in that the characters behave very much like real people, from Ben’s “no one pays attention to me!” petulance, to the quiet pain of a father recovering from the loss of the love of his life. It takes place in an approximation of the 70’s, perhaps earlier, which gives the film a more Studio Ghibli feel. Much like Miyazaki’s work, the supernatural elements in Song of the Sea coexist with modern mankind. It does however have the Disney feel in its reliance on culture, music, and an adorable character (Saoirse as a seal is ridiculously cute) to push the charm button repeatedly. It’s available right now on Amazon Prime.
The unconventional pick: Eureka Seven (2005)
This anime series centers around young Renton Thurston, the orphaned child of a famous scientist that disappeared mysteriously during a world altering event called the Summer of Love. Humanity lives on a planet similar to Earth after escaping to the stars to save mankind from a depleted world. The planet has two noticeable differences though. One is that this planet has a wave-like energy in the sky called Trapar that mankind uses for daily life, as well as for sailing (and surfing) the sky. The second is that the planet has some sentience, and it regards humanity much like we regard the microbes that live on our skin: it tolerates us, but if we start to mess with it the planet goes into a full-on counterattack. It sends out antibodies/monsters to wipe out population clusters, scabs over the land to prevent mining, and (most importantly,) it sends a being in the form of Eureka and her bodyguard/mecha Nirvash (it’s Japan, it was either going to be a mecha or a Kaiju, pick your poison) to communicate with us. Renton meets Eureka and the fledgling counter-culture movement “Gekkostate” and instantly falls in love with both. We then get one of the best tales of love, loss, adolescence, and rebellion to ever grace TV.
Disney tales are famous for moving things along with song, and in Eureka Seven music is integral to the presentation, but in two very different aspects. The first is that Gekkostate is an amalgamation of GreenPeace (who was a very present thorn in Japan’s side around 2005) and the 60’s hippy counter-culture in the US. As such, music and teenage expressions of identity (loud clothing, junk food, sky surfing… you know, the usual) make up a large part of the character’s world. Secondly, Anime at this time was a booming industry for Japanese Pop bands to get their music heard in the form of the opening and closing animations that accompanied every episode. Eureka Seven is one of the best of that era, with catchy songs ranging from marshmallow pop, funk, rock and even rap. If you’ve never experienced Japanese rap, you really owe it to yourself.
Despite the fantasy setting, the realistic depiction of youth culture, character growth and emotional introspection makes Eureka Seven one of my favorite animes of all time. As Renton grows, he must reconcile his puppy love with the hard work, frustration and heartache that comes from a true relationship. He also must learn to become a responsible adult in a world where mankind is at odds with itself and the planet. It’s a 24 episode run, so it will require some diligence, but is well worth the investment. You could also check out the movie adaptation Eureka Seven: Good Night, Sleep Tight Young Lovers, but it strays from some aspects of the anime and isn’t as strong. Both can be found on CrunchyRoll.
The lighthearted pick: Ponyo (aka. Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea) (2008)
Ponyo nee Brunhilde is a goldfish/girl that lives with her sisters and her father, the magic sea wizard/scientist Fujimoto. Fujimoto has rejected humanity and now lives with his children in a submarine under the sea (Ringo Starr is surprisingly not the voice actor in the English adaptation!) One day Ponyo is caught up by a deep sea trawler and ends up trapped in a bottle on a seashore. There we meet Sosuke, a young boy who rescues her, cutting his hand in the process. Ponyo uses her magic (by way of licking) to heal him, and inadvertently unlocks the ability to use her magic to turn into a girl (in comedically slow fits and bursts). Which is nice because she falls in love with Sosuke and wishes to live with him forever, much to the dismay of Fujimoto. Her transformation causes a magic backlash that threatens to destroy the world, and Ponyo, Sosuke and their respective families must deal with the consequences.
If you are thinking to yourself, this sounds like a Hayao Miyazaki film, you’d be right. Very loosely based on The Little Mermaid, Ponyo is a delightful hodgepodge that is more in line with his lighter works like My Neighbor Totoro rather than his more serious work like Mononoke Hime or Nausicaa and the Valley of the Wind. Whether in English (with a fantastic cast including Liam Neeson and Betty White) or the original Japanese, Ponyo is a charming tale of innocent love. It’s not currently streaming on any service that I am aware of, but you can pick up the DVD or Blu-Ray versions for a song (of the sea, tee hee) over at Amazon.