And along comes an arbitrary Disney Princess movie. If you’ve seen Frozen, Tangled or the innumerable amount of classic Disney films you have a good understanding of what to expect. Heart, songs, adventure. And Moana is exactly that.
Moana (2016) is a CGI Disney animated adventure/musical film directed and written by too many people to list (just know its the usual Disney crew). It stars newcomer Auli’i Cravalho as the titular protagonist, a headstrong and eager young woman who acts as the chief of a small island village in ancient Polynesia. When her village is threatened by a mysterious rot that is slowly starving them, the sea ‘chooses’ her to find the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) and restore the goddess’ Te Fiti’s heart in order to save the world.
As I said, this is the typical highly enjoyable Disney adventure. Songs, sidekicks and all that. But credit it where it’s due, its done very well. The first act is a little overlong, but outside of that this is a wonderfully animated, imaginative and exciting journy across the sea that’s sure to be a crowd pleaser. It likely won’t hit Frozen success (even if its hell of a lot better), but will go down as another notch in modern Disney animation’s favour. Even if it doesn’t hold candle to the other Disney animated film this year.
The songs are on par with the adventure too. While it doesn’t quite capitalise on the islander influence in the way I hoped it would, there’s still plenty of distinctly pleasant ballads present. And beware. A couple may become the next ‘Let it Go’ so grab your fill and enjoy it before its bastardised by over-exposure. The songs are written by Opetaia Foa’i, Mark Mancina, and Lin-Manuel Miranda, who have plenty of experience, both with Disney movies and broadway musicals (Lin-Manuel Miranda with Hamilton in particular) and it shines.
And the performances too! The two leads of Moana and Maui are both interesting and well fleshed out characters, both with wonderful actors breathing life into them. Auli’i Cravalho was chosen specifically for this role and is a true newcomer (her IMDB literally only lists Moana) and is utterly perfect. The casting director deserves medals. In the same vein is Dwayne ‘don’t call me the rock’ Johnson who also perfectly embodies his character. The man is walking charisma which bursts onto the screen through the prideful but insecure demigod who’s sure to be a favourite. And special mention to the animal sidekick/comic relief Heihei voiced by Alan Tudyk. I would have loved to see that recording session, as it just would’ve been Wash from Firefly making clucking noises into a microphone, as he just plays a chicken. A very stupid (but also amusing) chicken. Good on ya Tudyk.
Overall, Moana isn’t going to set the world on fire, but is still a wonderfully entertaining adventure from Disney animation. Don’t expect anything thoughtful like Zootopia, but go in hoping for two hours of very solid family entertainment and you won’t be disappointed.
General Audiences: Recommended
Film Buffs: Recommended
Kids: Highly Recommended