Disney is at it again.
Moana is a wonderful new animated movie from the House of the Mouse that is simply great entertainment for the entire family.
Moana (the debuting Auli’i Cravalho) is the daughter of the Chief (Temuera Morrison) of an island where the people are happy and isolated. They never go out past the reefs. The tribe’s rules prohibit it. So when the ocean chooses Moana to go on a mission, there is conflict.
See, at one point in the past, demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) stole the heart of the island goddess Te Fiti in an attempt to create more islands. Maui was banished from the island and the legends said that only by bringing Maui back over the seas to return the heart could stop the destructive darkness.
As Moana’s island begins to show signs of decay and loss, she sets out to find the mythological demigod and bring him back to save the world.
Moana has a simple story, but that is not a bad thing. In its simplicity, the story shines. And because of that, Moana is able to take other Disney tropes and shake them up. Moana is not a typical Disney princess (despite the joke later in the film that she is) and she does not require anyone else to save her. I found this female character refreshing and original.
Newcomer Auli’i Cravalho is magnificent in this role. She makes this character her own immediately and she has unbelievable chemistry with the Rock. She was cast as a 14-year old freshman in high school over some serious competition for the role, but it was clear that she showed Disney something special and she truly brought it to Moana.
Speaking of the Rock, his portrayal of Maui was note perfect. I also liked how Maui was basically a likable jerk, which is something that Dwayne Johnson can definitely pull off (if you smell what I’m cooking). I got a little bit of a “Genie from Aladdin” vibe from Maui, but with much more narcissistic tendencies. Maui wanted to be the hero, mainly for the adoration of the crowd, not as much because it is the right thing to do.
The music of Moana is beautiful. The score was written by Mark Mancina and Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote songs with Opetaia Foa’i and Mancina. Auli’i Cravalho’s voice is beautiful and the song performed by The Rock (“You’re Welcome”) is my personal favorite.
I really enjoyed some of the creative secondary characters in this film as well. The Ocean was an actual character that interacted with Moana. The chicken Heihei (Alan Tudyk) who was about as dumb (intelligence wise) as it could be. The villainous Tamatoa (Jemaine Clement) is a giant crab that loved the bright and shiny objects (and sang a great song about it). And the tattoos on the body of Maui are some of the best parts of this film. These tats are basically animated and can interact with Maui and can change depending on what happened. This was genius and a great way to tell the story. These tats could provide the POV of the audience at home when Maui was being too much of a jerk. Tremendously creative.
Of course, the animation of Moana is breath-taking. The shots of Moana and Maui out on the ocean are about as realistic as you are going to find. Disney continues to up their game in the world of animation with each new release.
Moana has so much heart and love that you cannot help but enjoy this film. There are so many things going for it that I have a hard time believing that anyone would not have liked this film.
Now, I was not a fan of the animated short that preceded the movie. Usually these Disney shorts are pretty fun and entertaining, but this one was just a dud.
The Polynesian culture is something that we have never seen on screen before, and this is a huge aspect of the film. I love the lead character of Moana, a heroic female who does not fall into the tropes of Disney princesses. The Rock is always the man. A beautiful looking, sounding and full of fun movie that is charming throughout and, at times, hilariously funny. Sure it may be a simple story of a hero’s journey, but that does not mean it is a bad story. Disney has yet another winner on their hands.