Moana took me back to when I was six years old again. Allow me to present some context.
In 1991, I saw Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and it was the first step in my developing love of movies. The animation, the emotional resonance of the story, the music and the characters opened my eyes to the idea that animation is not just kids stuff. These aren’t kids movies. They are films same as anything else. Disney’s newest animated staple reignited that fire and put my film loving mind in a space I hadn’t been in quite a while.
Moana is the 56th Disney animated feature. It is directed by veteran directors John Musker and Ron Clements. The duo is responsible for bringing us classics such as The Little Mermaid, Aladdin and The Princess and the Frog. The film stars the voices of Auli’i Cravalho and Dwayne Johnson.
Moana tells the story of Moana Waialiki. She’s is the daughter and heir of a chief on the Polynesian island of Motunui. After the island’s resources begin to become scarce and die, Moana resolves to sail to the island of Te Fiti to save her people. However to do so, she needs to find the demigod Maui who may or may not have something to do with what has happened. The two embark on adventure that will take them across the world in Lord of the Rings fashion, however that reference does not make Moana by any means a carbon copy.
Moana contains many elements that make it a great film for me. One of those elements is its 2 main characters. Moana is a proactive individual who is automatically willing to cross the seas to save her island and her people. Newcomer Auli’i Cravalho brings eagerness, heart and compassion to Moana. Maui on the other hand is a demigod who as we see has his heart in the right place, even if he does come off as pompous. Dwayne Johnson just continues to prove that he is a movie star and embues Maui with humor and sensitivity once we learn more of his backstory.
Another element I loved is the animation style. I’ll be honest, I miss 2D animation being the prominent style for animated films. The leap to 3D is what moved me away from Disney animation for a period of time despite how much I wanted to see it. Moana’s style while 3D, feels like an 2D film in how the characters move and speak.
The last element I loved about Moana was it’s music. Both score and lyrics. Cravalho has a powerful voice that lets you feel Moana’s passion and you just let it bring a smile to your face. The biggest surprise to me was Johnson who I never knew could sing. I didn’t follow wresting much so if he has before, it’s new to me. Lin-Manuel Miranda, along with veteran composure Mark Mancina and Te Vaka member Opetaia Foa’i capture the essence of the Polynesian culture. If I had one complaint, there is one song that I would have cut, but other than that, it’s superb. After taking this musical adventure, we’ll all want to see how far we’ll go.
Moana is a grand adventure that continues Disney’s animated success. It’s beautiful, fun, touching and thrilling. It has two main characters you love to watch and is backed by great visuals and fantastic music. It felt like the 90s again for me.
Final Rating (5/5) With the exception of one song I would have cut, Moana works well from beginning to end. A great lead character, supporting character, setting, visuals and music make this one of 2016’s best films. Animated or not.