Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) is the daughter of her tribe chief but also the heir, who will someday rule. Descending from a bloodline of explorers, she sets off on a quest to a fabled island with the legendary demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson). On their journey, they come to blows with the treacherous oceans and its contents; all while they learn about the terrors of the world, the powers of perseverance in the face of adversity. Moana is a curious teenager and she sets out on perilous mission to save her people from impending doom. Maui’s job is to help her become a master way-finder. On the whimsical waves of Polynesia, Moana fulfils a generations old quest and finds her hearts desire, her identity.
In 2009, we were at a dawn of a new era in terms of Disney princess. This started with Tiana in the wonderful Princess and the Frog, inspired the Grimm tale, the Frog Prince. Since then, we’ve had Brave, Frozen and Tangled among others. Now we have Moana and I was glad to be fortunate enough to acquire tickets to the Cineworld Unlimited Screening. I really loved Moana; not only because it had the very familiar feelgood factors that we have grown to love from Disney, but because of everything else as well. From the great voice performances to mind-blowing animation to the very Oscar worthy original song.
Moana is a princess even if she says she’s not. But what’s more she’s a highly relatable teenager. She’s curious and puts her nose where it doesn’t belong. Plus, she’s an eccentric young woman who wants to break free from her traditional father who has a set way of doing things. She wants to explore and go out into the world, seeing its horrors and delights for herself. Maui (Johnson) is awesome. He’s ostentatious and likes the sound of his own voice. Boy, he can talk, and loves attention. He’s big, strong and can shapeshift into lots of different animals. Quite frankly, Maui is Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson playing himself in a children’s movie and he freaking rocks…bad pun, I know.
It wouldn’t be a Disney musical without one or two musical numbers now would it? I very much enjoyed the songs in Moana. One of my reviewer friends thought it was cringe worthy but it’s a kids’ musical. Cringe and kid’s musical normally come hand-in-hand. In my opinion, Moana has some of the best written songs since Elton John did the Lion King. The music throughout Moana is phenomenal and I can attest to the fact that we’ll be hearing “How Far I’ll Go” over the next few months to the point that it may even make “Let It Go” seem tolerable to those who didn’t like Frozen. And unto the Frozen haters, I say cover your ears because you’re in for a ride.
For me, Moana’s plot was structurally sound. She sails on a journey to return the heart of Ti-Fiti in order to prevent the natural environment’s corruption that is killing the nearby islands. The story is simple and does the job. Unlike Zootropilis, there aren’t any underlying mindblowing subtexts to knock the adults watching offguard. Moana is a children’s movie that revolves around Polynesian culture and traditions. It’s nothing more than that and it doesn’t pretend to be. Disney has a knack for having plots of “prince saves damsel” storylines but they acquitted that company typecast with Frozen, Brave and now with Moana.
There wasn’t even a prince in Moana, only a demigod. But the presence of this deity didn’t become a form of patriarchal dominance, muscles and masculinity aside. Let’s be honest, many of his jokes were cheesy but it was a good kind of cheesy and they sound great on screen. And this is down to Dwayne Johnson absolutely nailing his voice performance as: shapeshifter, demigod of the wind and sea and hero of man, or just Maui, if you like. He grows on you as a character and has every bit of Johnson’ personality. You can tell he put his soul into the part and enjoyed it. He grew on me with each scene and has a great rapport with Moana. I could watch their shenanigans for eternity.
If you don’t have any prior knowledge about Disney animated features, you need to know that a lot of them have animal companions as supporting characters. In this case it was a lame chicken who in all honesty was a bit dim. The chicken on the boat has some of the best scenes and they’re very funny with excellent comedic timing. They are so funny that I fear that it has the potential to become a running gag of amusing GIFs and memes. Disney have deep pockets and they use their deep pockets to create stunningly beautiful animated flicks. No words can describe good the Moana’s animation is.
Moana had a ridiculous amount of writers including Thor: Ragnarök director Taikia Waititi (The Hunt For The Wilderpeople). The number of writers working together creatively shows us the true meaning of unity, and out of this collaboration came a Disney film filled with: mythology, history and cultural brilliance. People often give the directors most of the credit and when the writer(s)’ names are mentioned, numerous people are none the wiser. We don’t hear of the writers, unless they are the director as well or if we make an effort to go through a Google search. My sincere applause goes to the writing team for creating such a simplistically brilliant story.
Overall, this movie was everything I expected it to be and more. This will become a Disney classic in the years to come. Maybe not as big as say, Jungle Book or Lion King but it’s a grand feat nonetheless. This is the film of The Fall season and I wouldn’t be surprised if it gets a couple of nods for original song and animated feature at the Oscars 2017.