Could not agree more. Though I’d say more like 25-40 years because it’s more like an 1980s Saturday morning cartoon moral, of the kind that continued into the early '90s with Captain Planet and the like but slowly died out with Nickelodeon, Rocko’s Modern Life and so on.
The animation is beautiful, almost too expressive for Disney, the visual design is extremely strong, except, ironically, the dragons, which just all look like what an Eastern dragon would look like in My Little Pony (Sisu basically is an MLP), and the pace of the movie is good.
But the writing? It’s top-to-bottom godawful. It’s so bad that it also doesn’t feel like a Disney movie, but in the opposite direction. I mean, are there badly-written Disney movies? Sure, but they’re not usually as big/important/heralded as this. This is like seriously shit writing. On a bunch of levels.
- Every character has the same “voice”, in the sense that they use the same sort of wording, concepts, and so on. This is a classic flaw of the extremely naive and inexperienced writer who also lacks an ability to understand others. You usually find it in first novels that probably shouldn’t have been published, but some writers manage to be successful despite doing it.
It manifests in a particularly bizarre way in that all the children act and talk exactly like adults, whether they’re literally under 2 (I am not kidding), 9-ish, 12, or whatever. I’ve never seen this before and it’s wild and not at all in a good way.
Given neither of the screenplay’s writers is that inexperienced, it’s hard to understand how this happened, but I suspect you’re right about it being “lightened up” and generally messed-with. The fact that the screenplay as two writers, but the “story” has EIGHT writers on it strongly suggests that.
(The constant aggressive use of modern language, references, and idiom is fine for Disney but it puts in the same sort of category as Hercules - you don’t see this sort of thing in Frozen or Tangled - and cheapens things slightly.)
- The plot fundamentally doesn’t make sense on both macro and micro levels. When the bad guys finally hear what the good guys are doing, what’s their plan? To do exactly the same thing. Literally that’s their plan. Not the evil version of the same thing. Literally the same thing. This is not drama. This is not tension. Another scene has the good guys “rescuing” a bunch of people, who if the good guys fail at their overall mission, will all be much worse off - that scene also has an outright error wherein the people are told to “get to the water” - water which the immediately prior scene established was no longer there!
I’m not talking obscure plot holes here, which a nerd might work out - this is stuff that’s immediately obvious, and whilst I might have missed it at say, eight, I sure as hell wouldn’t have at say, twelve, given how much this stuff is emphasized.
There’s very little drama/tension generally. It’s kind of astonishing. Disney movies and Avatar are both extremely heavy on the drama, generally, and quite effective at it. Here there’s almost none. Maybe two scenes towards the end. The lack of drama makes the movie significantly less effective.
And yes, the biggest killer, as you say, is the moral. It’s fucking NONSENSICAL and bad. Obviously Raya is absolutely not “equally to blame”, she wasn’t the one pointing a loaded crossbow at people, with a finger on the trigger, something you don’t even do unless you intend to kill, it’s just gibberish, and “I didn’t mean for bad things to happen when I did bad things” is the worst fucking defense possible - it’s also a total “cop” defence (“I didn’t want to kill the kid when I pointed the gun at him, and only pulled the trigger because I was scared!”), and a goddamn terrible message to give to kids. And also, is “just trust everyone” (no spoiler given it’s repeated ad nauseum since the start of the movie) really a good message? I mean, the film totally fails to justify it because the plot is so badly concepted that the goal of the bad guys is literally fully identical to the goal of the good guys, and what if it wasn’t? In almost all RL situations, it isn’t. Here it was because self-interest and altruism both pointed to the same actions. You don’t even need trust in that situation.
Also weird that no-one, not even “trusting” Sisu, considered the even more obvious option of just giving all the pieces to Namaari or the Fang leadership in general, because like, obviously they’re going to do the same thing with them… there’s literally only one thing you can do with them! That was literally the first thing that occurred to me when they were going there. Just drop them on the floor and walk away. Again with the probably de-nuanced script - if the pieces could be used “for evil”, it would work, but they can’t be…
I feel like there will be a generation of kids growing up who may love this movie when they’re 8 or whatever, but by the time they’re 14 or more will be completely cynical about it, and able to see through it’s crappy moralizing. This is not going to be a long-term “beloved” Disney movie like Frozen or Beauty and the Beast or whatever.
I should admit that kids are good at detecting dumb/bad morals, anyone who was a kid in the 1980s knows that, because He-Man, Thundercats, TMNT/TMHT (thanks BBFC!), Captain Planet, Dungeons and Dragons, Starcom, MASK, Bravestarr and so on just threw shit-tons of morals at us, many of them absolutely obviously wrong/awful. I literally remember the moment when I was like eight or nine and Starcom “broke me” because I was like “Wait, no, the bad guy is right to say that…” (specifically “If you want something done right, do it yourself.”) and the D&D cartoon is well known for accidentally making Eric, the supposedly “bad” one (allegedly cowardly, rich, and arrogant) actually the voice of reason and frequently the one who saves everyone. So it’s probably not too awful to have terrible/dumb morals I guess.