Moana and the Future of Disney Villains

tamatoa

I recently saw Moana, and surprise-surprise, it was great. I’m still torn on whether or not it was better than Frozen, but it was definitely a solid film with very little flaws. The thing is though, I’m not here to write a review on this film, I’m more here to discuss its villains. It had two, and only one of them was really a character in the sense that it had a personality and motivations. Right now I wanna talk Tamatoa, who was wonderfully voiced by Jemaine Clements, and what his role in the film was.

Tamatoa is a giant crab monster that’s completely covered in gold and trinkets that he’s collected over centuries. He’s totally self-absorbed and materialistic, and proudly so. His role is to act as a counterpoint to the central theme of the story (finding oneself) and as sort of a parallel to the character of Maui the demigod. They’re both immensely prideful beings who fight the hollowness they feel inside with superficialities, with the difference being that Tamatoa has totally given himself over to that instinct without feeling the inner conflict that Maui does. His role is short, he provides us with an amazing Disney villain song, he’s funny as hell, and he fits the theme of the film… Why wasn’t he the villain of the whole movie?

It’s a question I asked myself over and over throughout after I watched the movie, and I realize the film didn’t really need an overarching villain. I get that many movies are like that, but its the beginning of a troubling trend in Disney animation.After Princess and the Frog, we haven’t had a real bad guy  to anchor a Disney film in a satisfying way. Tangled got the closest, but that villain was woefully underwritten and uninteresting, Frozen did a last minute twist that it honestly could have gone without, and Moana did have an amazing villain, but he wasn’t all that important to the story. Again, this makes certain narrative sense, not constraining yourself to a villain could allow room for the heroes to confront themselves and grow, but I can’t help but feel like something is being lost here.

Scar, Jafar, Ursula, Frollo… these are just some of Disney’s amazing animated villains. All of these characters completely stole their respective films and helped illustrate the themes presented in their films effectively. The concern with having a focus on villains usually stems from fear of the film losing focus on the hero’s journey, or it simply being unnecessary, but people are ignoring that you’re losing out on a villain’s journey as well. You’re losing out on that amazing moment when Scar nearly breaks Simba’s spirit when he returns to Pride Rock, we lose out on that hilariously cruel reprise to “Prince Ali”, we lose Ursula telling us not to underestimate the power of BODY LANGUAGE, we lose that groundbreaking Heaven’s Light/Hellfire scene… there’s just so much to gain from having a hero and a villain progress through a story together that ignoring that option completely can actually hurt a film.

I’m not saying that more Tamatoa was absolutely necessary to Moana. The film we got was great, and his role in the plot was fitting. Hell, maybe trying to shoehorn a bad guy into a movie where he doesn’t belong would have just hurt it in the end. With that said though, I would bet that there is a version of this movie that could have been made where Tamatoa was more of a presence throughout, where it may have actually been even better. Just a thought, because right now, it seems we are heading into troubling times in terms of villainy for future Disney projects. The upcoming Gigantic is set to have a cadre of villains known as the Storm Giants, and I can’t help but feel like these monsters will see their roles severely cut down by the time the final product arrives. I don’t want to be at a place with these films where I’m inclined to assume these sorts of things. I love Disney, and I love good villains, I just want to see them in action again someday in an animated musical.

Quote of the Day:

“Your granny lied!”

– Tamatoa, Moana.

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