Ron Clements, John Musker / Auli’i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Rachel House, Temuera Morrison, Jemaine Clement, Nicole Scherzinger, Alan Tudyk / Adventure / 2017 / PG / 107mins
Disney continue to impress with their inclusive, 21st century appeal with Moana, an unapologetically Polynesian princess adventure that plays hard on comedy and fantasy alike.
After being chosen by the ocean to return a sacred stone to island goddess Te Fiti as a child, chieftain’s daughter Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) soon learns that she must trust her instincts and travel beyond her island’s reef, beyond the horizon, in search of the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) to save her people. Only with his magical fishhook’s shapeshifting abilities will she be able to defeat the demon lava spirit Te Ka who too desires the stone and control over life itself.
The use of Polynesian mythology and culture that the plot (and cast) are built upon is superbly adapted to the traditional ‘Disney princess’ structure we’re all familiar with. Disney are on form following their racial metaphor Zootropolis, so to have a strong, cultural female lead in Moana and Auli’I Cravalho, plus the lack of an unnecessary love story, was a solid decision.
Despite all this, a promising core plot is let down by some plotholes and major ‘I’m doing this for the sake of finishing the film’ motives. A character returns with little explanation and a weird middle section in the Lalotai (‘monster world’ to you and I) seem bizarre at best. And you know that part of the film about two thirds of the way through where the main character has a sudden crisis and it all gets sentimental? That part dragged on for an ETERNITY.
What is surprising is how funny Moana is. From the timeless slapstick of chicken sidekick Heihei (voiced by the omnipresent Alan Tudyk) to Maui’s sarcastic animated tattoos, there’s something for everyone. Which brings me to the voice casting. The synergy between Cravalho and Johnson is near-perfect – they make for a great actor/character partnership. No one else, save for maybe Rachel House as Gramma Tala, Moana’s grandmother, delivers a convincing and thoughtful character.
The animation is getting ridiculous. If it weren’t for the purposely cartoonish characters, I would get lost between film and reality. Someone has to stop this before things get out of hand.
Final thoughts are on the highlight of any Disney film: the songs. Since Frozen, it’s been a tough ride in this department, and whilst Moana‘s highs are certainly in the same league, there’s not enough of those highs to satisfy your average fan. There’s plenty of music just for the hell of it, it seems.
The bare bones of Moana is typically run-of-the-mill with only the extraneous originality of the culture onscreen to appreciate, but that doesn’t mean you can’t ogle the fantastic animation and mythical world before you. It’s a back-to-basics princess story with a modern twist – or a pretty average film that could have been better – but young fans won’t care.
Film as a Film – 3 / Target Audience – 4 / General Audience – 3
Moana is in cinemas now
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The poster art copyright is believed to belong to the distributor of the film, Walt Disney Animation Studios, the publisher of the film or the graphic artist.