“Moana” directed by Ron Clements and John Musker is the latest animated musical film produced by Disney. The movie centres around a young daughter of a chief of a Polynesian tribe by the name of Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) who against the wishes of her father Chief Tui Waialiki (Temura Morrison), ventures out beyond her island to reunite a mystical relic given by her grandmother Tala Waialiki(Rachel House) to the goddess Te Fiti. Accompanying her is the the reluctant shape-shifting demi-god Maui (Dwayne Johnson) and her pet rooster Heihei (Alan Tudyk) where together, they face the trials of a fantastical sea-faring journey such as sentient coconut pirates named Kakamora and giant talking undersea crabs like Tamatoa (Jemaine Clement) in order to restore natural balance for Moana’s island home of Motunui which was plagued by non-viable food sources.
For the most part, the story and characters were following typical Disney film territory retreading familiar story beats and tropes for an easily digestible two hour movie suited for families with young children. Themes such as forging your own pathway against familial wishes are nothing new for these type of Disney animated movies as many times during the movie, I have found myself reminded of movies such as Brave and Frozen as well as most famously The Little Mermaid also directed by Ron Clements and John Musker thirty years earlier. Where this film succeeds and what carries the film’s weight is the dynamic between Moana and Maui.
Both Moana and Maui present a subversive and funny relationship throughout the film’s duration. The humour doesn’t go overboard (no pun intended) and made itself entertaining enough for children and adults to enjoy. Kids especially young girls can also walk away with another strong female role model to the roster as Moana presents herself as a capable, determined leading hero that’s out to save her people who could stand her ground with super-powered folk and deities. It’s an entertaining subversion as you now have the plucky teenager who usually falls into the sidekick category paired with the superhero-type in Maui.
What also makes this film stand out from the other Disney films is the use of the Pacific Islander-inspired music. This brilliantly diversifies itself from other Disney films that usually set itself in a European setting. Notable examples include “We Know the Way” as well as “You’re Welcome” which humourously showcases Dwayne Johnson’s vocal skills. However “Shiny” sung by Jemaine Clement did not grab me as much as I would have liked enhancing my disliking for how the character of Tamatoa was handled. “How Far I’ll Go” sung by Auli’i Cravalho enhances the amount of retreading into familiar territory this movie sails toward. It tries to push itself as the next “Let It Go” but it sadly capsizes (once again puns aren’t intended).
Another triumph this film achieves would be the gorgeous detail that was placed into the animation and visual effects. Last year, Disney released “The Good Dinosaur” which one of the boasting features was the immensely detailed animation which adds a lot of environmental realism. This continues to do so within this movie. Great detail was placed into the environmental surroundings whether it would be Moana’s island home of Motunui or the ocean itself or with the goddess of Te Fiti.
Overall, while I found Moana to be overly familiar in some aspects, there’s enough there for the movie to stand on its own legs and sail itself forward with families and different audiences. If I were to add anything to the movie, I would add more scenes involving her family and the rest of her island tribe at her home to give much needed character development and stakes to her quest in more than just a dream sequence.