Moana: How animated can animation get?

Moana film animation

Watching the latest Disney film Moana, I kept veering off the storyline, engaging as it was. The breath-taking animation made me think, more than once, about how far can visual effects go before they become a trick?

Here’s my question. Animation is (mostly) used to express ideas and worlds, building which in real life is near impossible. But, because you can create whatever you need in animation, how long before you use the tricks of VFX to solve a sagging plot line, or resolve issues through fantastical ways?

You would think this is a weird rant but it is important. One of the cardinal concepts when watching a film is suspension of disbelief. Mostly used by film students, it is also referred to ‘dimaag ghar pe chhod ke jao’ in India.

Basically, it gives the filmmaker the ability to tell extra ordinary stories, and for the audience to enjoy them, while still knowing what’s on screen isn’t real.

Because films employ two opposing forces — making you lose yourself in fantasy, yet employing realism to make you empathize, animation especially is at a cross roads. First, it must humanize characters from strange worlds and lands, giving them enough traits so the little girl in the hall can identify with it.

On the other hand, everytime there’s a dire crisis, out come the VFX guns to make the character friends with the sea, or have a demi god who can turn into a hawk and other animals at will.

It’s a stupid thought, you might say, which attacks the very basis of fantasy, but this has been dealt with very differently so far. The super powers of ‘heroes’ were well established, and they were used at appropriate times in the film.

As a filmgoer, you knew Superman had laser vision which could cut through anything; Spiderman could use his web as a rope. These powers came out at appropriate times, and you expected them. You empathized with the character, and solved the issue at hand, whether saving Lois Lane or the world itself.

Now, because audience attention spans are becoming shorter, film makers just let go on the visual front. There’s almost always non-stop action, and it is usually not a plot point, but showing off their visual effects thinking. No story line thinking. It’s something worth thinking about.

PS: Go watch Moana, especially if you have kids. It’s a visual effects treat.

By Karan Rajpal

Karan Rajpal is a professional marketer who lives for cinema and the written word. He writes brand stories, and daydreams about Bryan Cranston and Christoph Waltz doing a film together. He tweets at @ironymeter and writes at

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