Wish for something more; break free of your restraints; traverse the world discovering adventure; take on a variety of perilous dangers; defeat evil; discover your true potential. Disney Animation Studios has been crafting these types of stories for decades, so much so that they’ve become archetypal. From The Princess and the Frog to Tangled to Frozen, the prestigious film studio is more than adept at taking a clichéd plot and putting such a twist on it that you simply become enthralled with all the visual splendor and loveable characters that occupy it.
Summary: (No spoilers)
From a young age, the free-spirited Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) has been enthralled with strange tales of gods and demi-gods. As she dreams of sailing beyond her comfortable island home, her father, the chief, demands she learn the duties as caretaker of her people. Her grandmother, on the other hand, encourages her to pursue her more ambitious endeavors.
But when all the fish disappear from the lagoons and the coconuts turn to dust, Moana journeys across the sea to find the demi-god Maui (Dwayne Johnson—–The Fast and the Furious, San Andreas) who will reverse the peril he has brought on the world.
Also starring: Rachel House, Temuera Morrison, Jemaine Clement, Nicole Scherzinger, and Alan Tudyk
If you’ve enjoyed Disney’s modern take on female royalty—-where princesses of immaculate hair and flawless character have been replaced by young women prone to emotional duress but containing strength of will—-then Moana is sure to please. While modern feminism has become far distorted from its original intentions, Disney has always composed themselves with dignity and class when it comes to characters like Brave’s Merida and Frozen’s Anna. This Polynesian princess fits in perfectly with their existing ensemble of soft-but-sturdy female protagonists.
To be completely fair and objective, the story does veer into routine and oftentimes cliché. The previously-mentioned particular aspects of Disney princess flicks are ever present in Moana, to the point where I predicted with exact precision what the final shot of the film would be. However, what’s done to remedy this issue is the creation of an absolutely mesmerizing film in terms of visuals, not to mention endearing characters and delightful sidekicks that only Disney so expertly creates.
Moana is gorgeous, and I do mean gorgeous. Though Disney’s films of old took on a character of their own with their organic hand-drawn animation, this film is testament to what can be accomplished with 3D computer animation. Lush, vivid colors enhance the film’s tropical setting. And the cinematography (especially utilized to maximum potential in a scene towards the film’s end) is an art unto itself.
But a world is only as good as the characters that occupy it. Fortunately, Moana nails this aspect as well. Its title character bears all the grace and charm of Rapunzel and the forthrightness of Merida. Her dilemma between choosing to please her parents but also following her passions is identifiable. Dwayne Johnson’s Maui borders on the egotistical and apathetic at first, but through character exploration we discover his true self. Plus he’s about as charismatic as you would expect a character voiced by The Rock would be. And the role of the silly sidekick is played by the dim-witted and brainless rooster Heihei.
This is also the first musical from Disney since Frozen. With songs written by hit-musical Hamilton composer Lin-Manuel Miranda, Moana’s various musical tunes range from the beautifully arousing to the lightheartedly whimsical—-all composed with exquisite attention to its Polynesian inspiration. While the music may not be of the same caliber as Frozen, I nonetheless sought out the soundtrack immediately, and it will for sure become another enduring Disney musical.
In a nutshell:
Moana is a rousing, inspirational film purely within the vein of past Disney adventures. Though clichéd in narrative, it doesn’t alter the fact that Moana is an often poignant and entirely enjoyable journey that follows a girl whose own passion for something more in life and her love for her family and people resonate deeply within us. Moana is a film that will certainly keep you laughing and may even cause some tearing up of the eyes. Gorgeous, often mesmerizing visuals and a healthy respect for young womens’ potential without becoming a preachy feminist film lend themselves to make a wholly enjoyable and (potentially) classic film.