Disney’s latest film Moana is one that I’ve been looking forward to for a while. It’s Disney’s first animated musical since their smash hit Frozen back in 2013. The film explores Polynesian culture and creates a brand new hero in the young, Moana. With a year filled with several Disney films that have each proven to be worthy in their own right how does Moana stand among that list? The answer is very high!
The plot of the film revolves around Moana ( Auli’i Cravalho). The young daughter and future chief of the people that live on the island of Motunui must find the powerful shapeshifter and demigod, Maui (Dwayne Johnson) to restore the heart of Tehiti to save the world. This quest is filled with obstacles including convincing the incredibly stubborn Maui. They must work together regardless of their differences to make right what was wrong and bring order back to the world.
The plot of this story reflects the hero’s journey, but instead of focusing on Maui as the hero it puts Moana squarely in that position which is a great change. The story is very simplistic, but that works really well for this film. It follows a fairly straightforward narrative, while making enough unique twists and changes that it is able to balance a classic Disney tone while still maintaining a fresh feeling. In this way it manages to make it feel like a very distinctly Disney film while straying away enough from the norms that it becomes instantly memorable and unique. The implementation of the Polynesian themes is done extremely well. It’s a celebration of the culture and shows the great spirit of the people.
The cast also give outstanding performances voicing the characters. Dwayne Johnson steals the show portraying the stubborn and self-absorbed, Maui. He brings a sense of charm that keeps the character likable consistently throughout the film. He is the perfect choice for the role as well as Auli’i Cravalho, who brings Moana to life. Her portrayal of Moana is one of sincerity, heart, and strength. This was her first role and her talent shines through in spades. In addition to these two Jemaine Clement makes an appearance and he is also noteworthy as Tamatoa.
Seeing as this is a musical it is safe to say that there is always a question as to whether or not the music would be good and to no surprise the music is not only good. It’s great. The music was produced by the team of Lin-Manuel Miranda, Mark Mancina, and Opetaia Foa’i. They worked together to create a blend of Disney quality musical as well as Polynesian sounding music. This combination is reminiscent of what was done on The Lion King, which Mark Mancina also worked on. The lyrics written by Lin-Manuel are all excellent and reflect the musical/hip-hop quality that he brought to the stage in the hit musicals In the Heights and most recently Hamilton. The songs are catchy and are a lot of fun. I’m certain that after hearing the music the soundtrack is going to sell extremely well.
Final Thoughts: The film is a classic example of Disney done right. It took several years to produce and it really does show. It carries the Polynesian culture respectively without being heavy handed with their approach. The characters are memorable, the story is simple but fun, and the music is excellent. There isn’t much I could say that I found to be wrong with the film other than one or two instances of implementation of modern jokes that don’t quite land. Regardless the film is beautifully animated and it’s definitely up there as not only one of the best Disney films of the year, but also one of the best films of the year period. I highly recommend it if you are a fan of Disney.
Final Score: 8.9/10