Stars: Auli’I Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Rachel House, Temuera Morrison, Jemaine Clement, Nicole Scherzinger, Alan Tudyk, Oscar Kightley | Written by Jared Bush, Ron Clements | Directed by Ron Clements, Don Hall
Moana is Disney’s latest animated film and may end up being the most original and best animated film that Disney has released in years. Disney used folklore from the Polynesian culture and based on this film, Disney should start using more culture folklore in the future to guide their films.
Moana tells the story of Moana Waialiki, voiced by the amazing newcomer Auli’I Cravalho, a sixteen-year-old daughter of Chief Tui Waialiki (Temuera Morrison) who dreams of venturing out on her own and away from her mystical island in Polynesia but is forbidden based on tales told of unknown dangers in the ocean. When the ocean (yes, the ocean is literally a character) and Moana’s grandmother (Rachel House) encourage Moana to search out her destiny as the “Chosen One” to save their dying island from an ancient curse, Moana must find the demi-god Maui (Dwayne Johnson) to help her on her journey to destroy the lava witch and restore life to the islands.
If this all sounds odd, amazing, weird and completely different from anything Disney has ever done before, it’s because it is and it’s wonderful.
- Moana. Moana is not only a strong lead character but she defies the typical “rebellious girl” character that can be easily inserted in animated films. Moana respects her family and is overall a good daughter but is just curious about the world outside her island. There is no major rift between her and parents and that is actually nice change of pace from most films. To top it off, the kids will fall in love with Moana’s strength and character and come next Halloween, a lot of little Moana’s will be ringing people’s doorbells.
- The Supporting Cast. A large amount of praise should be given to the writers for allowing Moana’s whole family to be given enough time to connect to the audience and actually feel like real characters in this world. Moana’s father and grandmother go above the typical “protective dad” and “crazy grandma” stereotypes and present a family that actually loves each other and not just there for a point of conflict. Maui, a cross between Hercules and Stich, could have been a one-note sidekick but the writers gave him depth with a sad but compelling backstory and all the while still allowing Moana to be the real star of the film. Even nature, from the islands to the ocean, is a character in this film and the beautiful animation allows all of it to feel alive in the film.
- The Songs. Written by Opetaia Foa’i, Mark Mancina, and Lin-Manuel Miranda (yes from Hamilton), the songs capture the uniqueness of the Polynesian folklore and even advances the storyline, something that can’t be said for musical numbers in all animated films. The songwriters deliver on each individual song, except for the Tamatoa song which I’ll explain later, and the soundtrack, with a whopping 40 songs, will be playing in every minivan this winter.
- The Story. The Moana story is unique and is similar to the style of the Lilo and Stich film in which it’s not a “typical” Disney script. The animation is beautiful and brings the story to life and the Polynesian feel to the film makes the audience feel they are part of this world. The story does not take any easy ways out and the best part? No love interest for Moana. For once, twice if you count Frozen, the female lead can stand on her own merits and overcome any obstacles thrown at her without having the storybook romance of a prince as a subplot. Maui does help Moana succeed but in the end but Maui is no more than a friend and Moana is shown as a true strong hero.
- Tamatoa. Moana and Maui’s first big test in teamwork is retrieving Maui’s magical fish hook from the 50-foot crab, Tamatoa (Jermaine Clement) that has an affliction to stealing anything that is shiny. The only cringe-worthy song of the film is sung by Tamatoa and a five minute song feels like double that amount of time. The positive part of seeing Tamatoa is Moana and Maui’s voyage into the Realm of Monsters, one in which I wish the filmmakers would have spent more time in, but unfortunately we get a prolonged fight with the only clichéd villain in the film.
- Hei Hei. Yes the main character has an animal sidekick (two if you count the barely visible pig) and it’s an annoying rooster. Hei Hei (Alan Tudyk) is not a bad animal sidekick and he does produce some humorous jokes but a little of Hei Hei can go a long way. Hei Hei does not fall into the “Bad” category only because the kids in the audience loved him and laughed every time he appeared on the screen but the adults may grow tired of the character by the end of the film.
Final Grade: A- (Amazing)
Moana is one of the great Disney animated films of all time and that isn’t overselling it. From the animation to the songs to the characters to the fun story, Moana is a gem to watch and a great time for the whole family. Disney could have relied on their old formula of the typical princess story ideas but they didn’t and in changing things up, Disney made one of the best films of the year.