Moana is the latest film from Disney animation. Set in ancient Polynesia, a young chieftains daughter, named Moana, is raised on stories of the Demi-god Maui and how he stole a life giving stone which was then lost to the sea, causing a darkness to spread across the world. When the supposed legend turns out to be true as the darkness reaches Moana’s Island, the Ocean chooses Moana as its champion, and she must decide whether to go and find Moui and make him correct his mistake, or stay with her tribe as the future chieftain. It is an exciting musical adventure filled with magic, beauty and heart. I didn’t know what to think going in because I wasn’t the biggest fan of Frozen (2013) and have preferred Disney animation’s none-musical films, like Zootopia (2016) and Wreck-It Ralph (2012}, but I ended up having a lot of fun with this one. It felt like it belonged alongside the classic Disney musicals of the 90s, such as Aladdin (1992) and Lion King (1994). Moana stars newcomer Auli’i Cravalho and Dwayne Johnson, and is directed and written by John Musker and Ron Clements, the team behind The Little Mermaid (1989), Aladdin and Hercules (1997).
Right from the start the absolutely stunning animation made this film stick out to me. It looks utterly beautiful and very impressive, with painstaking detail put into the each blade of grass or grain of sand. The water effects are especially impressive throughout the film, being clear and shimmering and actually looking more beautiful than real water. The visual style of the film only increases its beauty, as the film is very bright and all the colours are stunningly vibrant, even the darker greys and blacks are enhanced so the contrast is striking! This really enhances the tropical feeling of the film, as the brightness brings a warm atmosphere that makes you feel like you are on holiday in paradise. The visuals, which go perfectly with the overall joyous tone of the film, and the top notch quality of the animation will make this film a wonder on the eyes to anyone.
Thankfully the film doesn’t rely on good looks alone, as the story itself is one I found fresh, engaging and fun. It doesn’t focus on subtext and messages like Zootopia does, but then it wasn’t trying to and it didn’t need to. It is simply an adventure story and it brings the feeling of an adventure perfectly. The obstacles are imaginative and the characters are very likeable so we care what happens to them. It doesn’t have any sort of romantic subplot, which is novel for a Disney film. I also liked that Moana is a strong female lead that actually starts the film strong. She does grow and change through the story, but she is a good role model right from the start and she only gets better.
These characters are sold with terrific performances from Cravalho (Moana) and Johnson (Maui). Dwayne Johnson’s portrayal of Maui was definitely one of the standout things in this film. He brings the charm and charisma that we’ve come to expect from him, along with great comedic timing. Maui has an arrogance about him that should make him annoying, but Johnson manages to make him loveable despite this. He brings a lot of the comedy through his acting, but also through the moving tattoos that cover Maui’s body (which, interestingly, are hand-drawn rather than computer animated like the rest of the film). Maui’s personal journey and growth is also very interesting, and Johnson brings the seriousness in these moments, making Maui a well-rounded character. Cravalho is also full of energy and fun, and I am sure this will be the start of a very successful career for her. She managed to hold her own alongside Dwayne Johnson without being overshadowed which is very impressive. A lot of the comedy is brought through Moana’s animal sidekick, a brain dead Chicken named Heihei, who was very funny and wasn’t overused so I didn’t end up finding him annoying.
Finally, the songs and music of this film brought the whole experience home for me. The songs are catchy and upbeat, (I downloaded the soundtrack immediately after seeing it) and are sung beautifully, Cravalho’s voice is especially outstanding. A lot of the songs were very chorus heavy as well, using deep harmonies in an African style which was gorgeous to listen to and made the soundtrack feel different to others.
Moana is a visually superb film with an entertaining story and loveable characters. It was funny and engaging and is a great film for all ages. Every aspect of the film complimented each other, forming a well-rounded and highly enjoyable film that I’d recommend to anyone.
P.S The short before the film, ‘Inner Workings,’ was also highly enjoyable, I’d forgotten Disney tend to do shorts as well now, so it was a nice surprise. Still not as good as the Disney short ‘Feast’ though, which is my all-time favourite animated short.