How Far She’ll Go
Moana is the latest animated adventure film from Walt Disney Animation Studios, and is directed by Ron Clements and John Musker, who might as well be legends for previously working together on Disney classics such as Aladdin and the Little Mermaid. Moana (voiced by newcomer Auli’I Cravalho) is the daughter of a chief in the Polynesian islands, and has an undying love of the ocean. Despite this, Moana’s father forbids her from ever going ‘beyond the reef’, out into the ocean. But when a dark blight starts taking over her island and its resources, Moana is forced to embark on a voyage across the sea to find Maui (voiced by Dwayne Johnson), a demigod who is her only hope of helping to save the island from an impending darkness.
If Frozen and Big Hero 6 are anything to go by, then it’s safe to say that Walt Disney Animation Studios have turned out nothing but quality films in recent years, that have not only flexed the studio’s muscles during awards season, but have also solidified themselves in world culture (think how many Baymax pillows or Elsa & Anna costumes that’ve been sold). And with the critical and box-office success of Zootopia earlier this year, it seems that WDAS is heading for another mega-successful year. And with the star power of Dwayne Johnson and songwriter Lin-Manuel Miranda, it seems inevitable that Moana would only be an addition to Disney’s ever-growing list of hits…right?
Without a doubt, Moana is one of the most charming, beautiful and powerful animated films of 2016, if not the most. From the opening frame to the end credits, one can’t help but marvel at the insanely high level of detail that went into not only the computer animation, but the hand-drawn animation featured in Maui’s tattoos. The characters, islands, and above all, the ocean are so well-rendered, it’s almost as if you can feel the elegant texture of the seawater as it flows in its rich hues across the screen. Though it may remind some audiences of the Little Mermaid and Lilo and Stitch, Moana has enough ingenuity and spunk to stand on its own. The story may follow some of the old ‘hero’s journey’ tropes, but with its unique setting and masterful execution this is easily overlooked. And despite some uneven story elements in the second act of the film, I walked out of the theater with a huge smile, wanting to go straight home to stream the soon-to-be classic soundtrack.
We Know the Way
Despite the beautiful animation being a major highlight, many would argue that the film’s biggest strength is its music. Lin-Manuel Miranda, who also wrote the music for America’s hottest broadway show, Hamilton, pulls off a soundtrack that not only takes inspiration from the region’s indigenous beats, but is also full of catchy tunes, including ‘How Far I’ll Go’, which is almost destined to be the next ‘Let it Go’ (minus John Travolta at the Oscars, hopefully). The song is performed to perfection by Auli’I Cravalho, who also oozes charisma in her first feature film, hopefully launching her to even greater things in the future. Also surprising is Dwayne Johnson’s Maui, whose larger-than-life personality is eclipsed only by a memorable solo, which is sure to make audiences go: ‘Who knew the Rock could sing!?’. The dynamic between Maui and Moana really is the backbone of the story, and thankfully both voices deliver to exceed expectations, a product of Clements and Musker’s experienced directing. In fact, a recent review by ScreenJunkies even compared the Maui-Moana relationship to that of Aladdin and Robin William’s iconic Genie, but only time will tell if that comparison will stand.
A Bit Too Shiny?
So many things went right for Moana that it seems almost criminal to point out any issues with the film. For most of the film, the focus and direction is razor sharp, but the immersion into this beautiful world was temporarily derailed in the second act by a song (and character) that I felt was out of place, so much so that I was taken out of the movie. The scene in question was slightly reminiscent of the Little Mermaid’s ‘Poor Unfortunate Souls’ number, but despite involving a completely different character, lacked the bite and intensity of Ursula. The film is also rather long at 1 hour and 53 minutes, but this was in all honesty more of a strength as I wanted to see more stunning views of the deep blue sea and its inhabiting islands.
A small bump in the second act (only this humble writer’s opinion) wasn’t near enough to draw attention away from the film as a whole, as the third act soon gets Moana back on track and its ending delivers in buckets. Moana is a film for the family, a film for lovers of Disney animation and of film in general. Its emotional scene execution and goosebump-inducing music make it well-worth the admission price. Moana is another notch on Disney’s widening belt of confident, heartwarming and truly unique movies. While it’s still in theaters, this is definitely a recommended watch for anyone who values strong characters and character development, fantastic visuals and an overall great time at the cinema.
Overall score: 8.4/10