Directors: Ron Clements & John Musker (co-directed by Don Hall and Chris Williams)
Writer: Jared Bush
Cast: Auli’I Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Rachel House, Temuera Morrison, Alan Tudyk, Nicole Scherzinger, and Jemaine Clement
Synopsis: In Ancient Polynesia, when a terrible curse incurred by Maui reaches an impetuous Chieftain’s daughter’s island, she answers the Ocean’s call to seek out the demigod to set things right.
*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*
Disney Animation is having a pretty great record recently. They’ve had smash hits in Wreck-It Ralph, Big Hero 6, Zootopia, and of course the big one, Frozen. However, Moana feels completely different from all those films, and that is what makes the film work. Enriched with the culture behind it, and it’s great soundtrack, Moana is one of those films I think people will be talking about for a while.
Moana follows Moana, voiced by newcomer Auli’i Cravalho, is an adventurous teenager who has always been connected to venture into the ocean, but is forbidden by her father Chief Tui (Morrison), who instead wants Moana to lead the village. However, when an old darkness begins to take over the island, Moana sees this as her opportunity to finally get off the island and save her people, but she’ll need the help of the demigod Maui (voiced by Dwayne Johnson).
The film starts off by telling us a tale of Maui, and what essentially becomes the adventurous tale of finding and returning the heart of Te Fiti, a god amongst the Polynesian people. The tale is a great jumping in point for people not familiar with the Polynesian culture – of course it’s not all of the history – but it certainly makes you understand Moana, and why she has an adventurous spirit. The other nice thing that the film does is we get to spend a great deal of time with Moana and the people of the island. So you can understand when Moana leaves, it’s not only a big deal for her, but also for the people of the island.
Moana herself is a good character. She’s strong-minded and has a good sense of herself, but also naïve when it comes to certain things, which makes her a good character to follow. When it comes to Maui, well, there’s a reason they got The Rock to do the voice for the demigod. Johnson brings his huge and charismatic personality to Maui, and essentially feels like an extension to Johnson himself. But, like Moana, is a flawed hero himself and needs Moana as much as Moana needs him. The pairing of the two, and the voice actors of Cravalho and Johnson, is great to watch and hearing them go back-and-forth with each other would usually be a highlight, but does help.
The film is pretty much Moana and Johnson, but Rachel House plays an important role in the film and an important character in Moana’s life in her Gramma Tala, Disney go-to now Alan Tudyk does some voice work for Hei Hei, a brainless rooster who is sure to be a fan-favorite amongst youngsters, and the water, yes, the ocean is a character in itself that helps Moana on some occasion, although I kind of wished they would have used it more, but that’s just me being nitpicky. Finally, Jemaine Clement pops in as Tamatoa, a large crab that brings one of the more light-hearted songs of the film that makes sense for his character. Another potential fan-favorite set of characters are the Kakamora, which are coconut pirates – yes, coconut pirates – who are part of a action scene that is very Mad Max: Fury Road inspired.
The highlight of the film here is the music. Each song is catchy, highly entertaining, plays a role in the scene, and more importantly, beautifully done. I have no doubt you’ll be singing or humming these songs when you leave the theater or blast them on your drive home. The music also brings home many themes for not just the characters singing them, but also for the adventure themselves. They’re rather moving songs that even I’ll admit, had me on the verge of tears.
All in all, Moana is another great addition of the Disney Animation category. Filled with rich visuals, history and music, time will tell how audiences treat Moana, but it is definitely worth your time. Does it fall into familiar territory sometimes? Sure, but it has enough to separate itself from the pack.
4.5 out of 5