Moana Review: A Well-Crafted Animated Ode to Polynesian Culture.
Disney’s Moana is inspired by the folklore found throughout the Pacific Islands. The story focuses on a 16-year-old girl named Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) who has been chosen by the ocean to save her people. Moana’s father, Chief Tui (Temuera Morrison) is against anyone going beyond the reef especially his daughter. However, Gramma Tala (Rachel House) pushes Moana to follow her calling and to embrace the sea. She tells Moana about the island’s history and how a Demi-god named Maui (Dwayne Johnson) stole the heart of Te Fiti that as a result put a curse on their island and it’s people. Moana sets out to find Maui to help her save the island which she calls home.
2016 has been the year of Disney. I am blown away by this studio and how every release in 2016 has ranged from decent to terrific. Regardless of the few box office hiccups along the way, Disney hasn’t disappointed me once in 2016, and that is something that cannot be said about any other studio this year. Needless to say, Moana is another great entry in Disney’s 2016 record book. It is a film that will educate audiences about Polynesian culture while entertaining them at the same time.
Moana is a film that has been five years in the making and one that exhibits a lot of heart and attention to detail. You can honestly feel the love that everyone had for this film while watching it. The animation is amazing with vibrant colors and precise detail that is just remarkable throughout. The concept of making the ocean into a character just felt right in telling this story. The background story about Moana’s family and her culture is so well defined within the film’s plot. The explanation of wayfinding and how the people of the Pacific Islands communicate with the ocean is so well-executed within the story.
The character of Moana is one of which the people of the Pacific Islands can be proud. Moana is a strong young woman who is determined to help her people while also finding herself along the way. This is the type of “Disney Princess” that young girls need to see on the big screen. They need inspirational characters who aren’t afraid of the great unknown and take chances in order to discover who they are. Moana loves her family, but she pushes herself to follow her calling. It is so refreshing to see an animated film that isn’t afraid to educate young women on what it means to be independent.
Dwayne Johnson’s Maui is a well-rounded character that tends to be a bit self-righteous. Just like Moana, Maui needs to figure things out and learn from his mistakes. Maui has a lot of growing up to do in his own way, and with the help of Moana, he too grows as a person. I think Dwayne Johnson was great as Maui. He added a lot of comedic elements to the story and shared wonderful chemistry with Cravalho. However, I do wish that Maui was a little bit more subdued at times. I know that he is supposed to be big and boisterous but there were a few moments where I wish he toned it down a bit.
The entire supporting voice cast was terrific but Rachel House’s Gramma Tala definitely stood out the most. Having a character like Tala really added a whole another layer to the story. In so many films, we see the grandmother or grandfather as the wise old people and while Tala is shown in that way, she was also the voice of reason that Moana needed. Gramma Tala opens the film but is also the driven force behind Moana and her actions.
There have been so many beautiful animated films this year that I find it difficult to pick which was the best in terms of animation. I will say, however, that I absolutely adored the animation in this film especially the sequence where Maui was singing “You’re Welcome” and with the combined 3D and 2D animation. That scene along with several of the water scenes was just stunning to look at and was even more remarkable when watching the film in 3D. It is very rare that I usually recommend seeing a film in 3D but with how stunning the animation is throughout this film, I highly recommend chalking out a few extra bucks to see it in that format.
Last but certainly not least is the music by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Opetaia Foa’i, and Mark Mancina. The soundtrack is phenomenal with songs that entertain, educate, and empower. The song “How Far I’ll Go” is without a doubt the soundtrack’s highlight. The song is just beautiful while managing to be so inspirational. It will more than likely be nominated for Best Song come award season. The song Shiny sung by Tamatoa (Jemaine Clement) brings back memories of classic Disney musical numbers and is delightfully fun.
At risk of sounding cliché, it is hard to not say that Moana is another instant animated classic. The film has rich storytelling, likable characters, terrific music, and plays homage to many of the classic Disney films that generations have grown up on and love. The film honors culture and will make those of Polynesian decent proud. I love that the character of Moana is a great role model and the film is an inspirational tale for young women. We need more films like this that aren’t afraid to make the lead character a woman without a love story to connect it.
Scott “Movie Man” Menzel’s final rating for Moana is a 8 out of 10.