Directed by Ron Clements, Don Hall
Starring Auli’i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Rachel House
When her island is threatened by an encroaching darkness, Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) must go against her father’s (the chieftain) wishes and voyage onto the open sea in search of the demigod Maui (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson). For only the trickster shape-changing hero can undo the wrong that he committed ages ago, and return the heart of Te Fiti to the island goddess to restore balance. All that stands in their way, are pirate hoards, giant monsters, and the fact that Maui is no longer the great hero he claims to be.
There is such a long history of quality with Disney animated films, that you are judging any new film against a back catalogue of greats. In many ways Moana feels like classic Disney, rather than a Disney classic. Its songs aren’t so catchy you find yourself humming them as you leave the theatre. Its characters aren’t so recognisable you want to rush out and buy a mug with them on it. Its story isn’t so compelling that you want to remain in your seat and watch the film again.
In short it’s not this year’s Frozen, so we are not going to be haunted by children singing one of its catchy numbers on constant repetition. Which is both a blessing and a curse, depending on your point of view.
Yet there is something about Moana, that days latter you do find yourself humming one of The Rock’s numbers. The animation is breath taking, presenting a bright palate of vibrant colours, that really lifts the technical bar for water effects, luminescence and lush jungle foliage. The adversarial relationship between Moana and Maui, plays out very well, and Johnson’s and Cravalho’s banter finds the mark. It may not radically break from the standard Disney Princess on a mission format, but it does what it does well.
Depending on what side of the coin you come down on as far as Disney cultural appropriation versus diverse cultural representation, Moana also delivers a rich cultural setting that is different from what we often see on the screen. Here Polynesian heritage and myths take pride of place, providing a fertile background for story telling.
Although the wind might briefly dip out of the sails in the third act, for the most part Moana stays its course. A solid film that’s only real fault is that it is exactly what you would expect from the studio it is released from. By comparison to it’s stable mates, Moana is average, but that still puts it well above the rest.