In life we all look to fulfill a calling, achieve a goal, make our dreams come true. However as anyone has come to know it is not always easy. Sometimes you have to leave behind what you know and risk a safe and secure life to become what you believe you can be. Disney’s newest story, Moana¸ tackles these challenges with emotion and truth that resonates through the entire film.
The story begins with the tale of Maui, a demi-god, who steals the mystical heart of Te Fiti to give to humanity as a gift. However as Maui (Dwayne Johnson) would attempt to escape he would be thwarted by the monster Te Ka where the heart of Te Fiti, and Maui’s magical hook would be lost to the ocean. Our story then kicks off a millennium later with a young girl named, as you might have guessed, Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) who is chosen by the ocean to receive the heart and return it to its rightful place. However Moana’s overprotective father, and village chief, Tui (Temuera Morrison) insists that Moana doesn’t need anything more than what she already has on her island. From that point we watch Moana grow into a 16 year old girl who has to decide between following her calling and saving her island, or staying with her people.
Visually this is the best looking Disney film to date by far
The story is an emotional roller coaster ride that will have you laughing hysterically and fighting back tears in equal measure. The journey and challenges Moana undergoes throughout the course of the film are evocative and inspirational. I found myself multiple times throughout the film having to catch myself from crying from the emotional resonance of this film. On a similar note I would also find myself wiping away tears from the comedy gold which is consistent throughout the film. That along with the well written and interesting story, which contains one of the best Disney revelations to date, makes for a deeply engrossing adventure. The only complaint of which I can make is around the midpoint of the film when you meet the giant crab Tamatoa (Jemaine Clement) the entire sequence, while being excellent and arguably one of the most memorable and important scenes, feels slightly out of rhythm with the rest of the film.
The story itself is filled with a number of well written and believable characters. This includes Moana herself who’s inspiring and entertaining, wit and dedication, despite her relative inexperience, is played excellently by first time actress Auli’I Cravalho. Director and writer Ron Clements truly did an excellent job depicting Moana as not just another Disney Princess, which they make direct mention of in the film. She is not another female heroine who’s there to spew exposition. Instead, she is the lead of this film and it shows. Throughout the entire film she carries her own weight, never being the damsel in distress and never giving up despite the odds. Alongside her is the macho boastful demi-god Maui himself, who’s showboating stubbornness and surprising depth are played to a T by none other than the great Dwayne Johnson. The two actors play excellently together with their entertaining banter and wit permeating through the film, while also feeling real and believable in their more serious scenes.
Alongside them is Moana’s pet chick Heihei, played by Alan Tudyk, who is simultaneously one of the most entertaining, and this is a quote from director Rom Clements, “the dumbest character in the history of Disney animation” which is absolutely accurate. Filling out the rest of the cast is Temuera Morrison and Nicole Scherzinger as Moana’s father and mother respectively, who both perform their roles very well despite their comparably small screen time. Rachel House does an excellent job throughout the film as Moana’s grandmother; being a voice of both inspiration and understanding throughout the film. Jemaine Clement records a memorable performance as the evil and egotistical giant crab Tamatoa who is entirely obsessed with treasure and nothing else.
The story is an emotional roller coaster ride that will have you laughing hysterically and fighting back tears in equal measures
As a musical Moana also knocks it out of the park with the songs written by Opetaia Foa’I (Singer and songwriter for Oceanic music group Te Vaka), Mark Mancina (Training Day, Tarzan, and Brother Bear), and Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton) with Macina also writing the score. The songs themselves are excellent; both being enjoyable from a performance aspect and deepening the story and characters alongside them. Notable performances would be “Where you are” which features Moana, her grandmother, mother, and father (who is performed by other Hamilton star Christopher Jackson) which sets the stages for understanding Moana, her family, and her internal struggle between family and destiny. “We Know The Way” is an excellent theme song for the movie with performances from Lin-Manuel Miranda and Opetaia Foa’i who mix English and Tokelauan with ease. Other standouts would be Maui’s “You’re Welcome” which once again proves Dwayne Johnson can do anything, the powerful and inspiring “I am Moana”, and finally the very David Bowie inspired “Shiny”. The score is very fitting with the use of not only guitar and strings but with the use of Polynesian vocals and percussion, bamboo woodwinds, and Tyka drums all of which successfully add immersion to the film. My only complaint would be that the number of vocal tracks is short and often feels like it goes by too quickly, which is honestly more of a compliment on how good the tracks are.
Visually this is the best looking Disney film to date by far. The art style is beautiful and easily recognizable and the detail is stunning. The portrayal of water and its affects are absolutely stellar especially with how it interacts with character’s physiques and hair. This along with the ending set pieces which are stunning make Moana just that much better. So in short; animation majors eat your heart out.
This isn’t a love story. This isn’t a princess story. This is a grand journey across the ocean full of emotion and power that will leave you inspired and ready to see how far you’ll go.
At the end of the day Moana is truly a stand out film for Disney. It is not only powerful and grand in scale, but inspiring and resonant as well. It is a story about knowing who you are and believing in yourself despite anything that stands in your way. It contains one of, if not, the best female lead character in Disney’s history who is confident, relatable, and inspiring to anyone who’s ever dreamed before. This isn’t a love story. This isn’t a princess story. This is a grand journey across the ocean full of emotion and power that will leave you inspired and ready to see how far you’ll go.