We are truly in the middle of the next Disney renaissance. Disney animation has hit another home run with their latest feature, ‘Moana’. This story continues their long legacy of being fun for the whole family, with state of the art animation, catchy songs, timeless messages, and characters that audiences will love. This new adventure directed by John Musker and Ron Clements (The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Hercules, Treasure Planet) subverts other aspects of the genre focuses on the past of the Pacific Islander culture while still being a movie for everyone to enjoy.
In Moana, the egotistical demi-god Maui (Dwayne Johnson) had stolen the life-giving heart of the sea with devastating consequences. The courageous titular character (Auli’i Cravalho) then must leave her safe island home for the first time in order to convince Maui to be a hero and help restore life to the world. They go an adventure across the ocean helping each other achieve their potential while encountering dangers along the way. The plot is solely driven by the two lead characters and their individual missions, which keeps the movie very focused without any distracting or downright unnecessary side plots. The movie also boasts a refreshing lack of any love interest for Moana (the kid with stylish dance moves does not count). The plot and setting are both also deeply rooted in the Pacific Islander culture in far more ways than ‘Lilo and Stitch’ ever did.
The major cast is rather small in this movie. I’d be surprised if anyone going in knew of more than 4 actors in the cast. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson headlines as Maui. He is arrogant and very self-centered, but also comedic and heroic. You can tell that Johnson had a blast playing this animated character, and I’d love to hear his voice in other animated movies in the future. Maui is now my favorite male Disney character since Genie (Maui’s mini tattoo self is also a surprisingly entertaining character). The 15 year old new actress Auli’i Cravalho delivers a praiseworthy performance as Moana, especially when stacked next to her superstar costar. The writers and actors work together to make these characters into understandable and relatable people whose decisions and personalities are believable (even for a demi-god and island princess). The voice work from support cast including Flight of the Concord’s Jemaine Clement, Attack of the Clone’s Tamuera Morrison, Firefly’s Alan Tudyk, and Rachel House help to fill out the cast with a range of strong and talented voices.
Disney’s animation team has always been top notch. Here we see effects for water that look overly realistic, lush island vistas, action filled sequences with mythical creatures. All of these show the skill of their craft and make this a film that pops with color and stunning imagery when seen on the big screen.
The songs are destined to become new favorites for those who have grown up loving Disney songs (but, really, who hasn’t?). These are written by Broadway’s “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda. We have a typical-way-of-life-on-the-island song, a grand declaration from Moana pursuing her destiny, Samoan style introduction to the ancestors, a villain’s bragging song, and (my personal favorite) Maui’s show stopping introduction. Mark Mancina accompanies this with a colorful orchestral score that keeps pace with the beats of the story.
‘Moana’ addresses several important morals. There is a constant difference of opinions between Maui and Moana about non-belief and divine aid which is weaved into the story without ever being preachy. It is curious how the demi-god is the one who has lost his belief and needs a mortal to bolster his spirits. Moana herself is another classic example of destiny and the necessity to reach for one’s potential, while also realizing one’s need for outside help. She also respects her people’s tradition and cultures while being able to how to advance their society and life style.
Disney has always provided perfect family entertainment and, though it may not be groundbreaking or fresh, Moana is yet another one for people to enjoy for years to come. It is bold, adventurous, fun filled, lyrical, gorgeous, and timeless. It’s easy to see that Disney’s flagship animation studio may have even surpassed their recent work from the beloved Pixar studio. Moana is a joyful delight that is the perfect getaway for families this holiday season.
John Musker & Ron Clements animated adventure MOANA stars Auli’i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Jemaine Clement, Tamuera Morrison, Rachel House, & Alan Tudyk and is out in theaters November 23rd, 2016.
PG – 1hr 43min.