I actually haven’t seen most of Disney’s recent animated output. There’s probably no doubt most of these efforts are great but I’ve just never got round to seeing these movies. While Frozen wasn’t the best animated film I’ve ever seen, I will admit that Moana – a film where the title character is a village chief’s daughter on an island in Polynesia, and based on its mythology – is better.
Directors John Musker and Ron Clements give most of this film’s cast of characters cracking personalities, making them both human and relatable. You can really tell that they think the same way we do and understand what they say since we would say the same thing if we were in their positions. Musker and Clements also take a rise out of other Disney fare with the odd jab here and there like they did with Aladdin and Hercules plus they definitely know how to deliver comedy. In substance, this is a story where the main protagonist goes to collect somebody then returns home. I’ve read in some reviews that there’s a bit of True Grit in Moana’s plot which I do understand since the girl searches for Maui, a demigod with a magical fishhook, to save her loved ones like Mattie Ross when she was looking for Rooster Cogburn for that same reason (Maui also shares some characteristics with John Wayne’s greedy sheriff). But if you mix it with Wonder Woman and Cast Away, you get something that’s quite different. What’s more, although this may change the way kids see coconuts forever, there’s an entirely unexpected and rather surprising eye-opener during a confrontation with a character you might believe is the antagonist at the end. Moana sure ain’t your typical Disney movie.
Moana herself is a charming and good-hearted heroine. She’s also pretty hot plus Auli’i Cravalho does some fabulous voice-over work and singing given that this is her first film role. However, I wouldn’t put her up there with either Princess Jasmine or Esmeralda from The Hunchback of Notre Dame as I personally found her to be a bit of a whinger. But that’s really a fault with the script as some of the lines are a little lacklustre (Moana keeps repeating words her grandmother taught her at one stage to a point where it gets a little wearisome). I did care for her as well although the moments where she displays her agility are a bit “yeah, right!”
Maui, voiced by Dwayne Johnson a.k.a. The Rock, is also great both as a character and travelling companion on Moana’s mission. Action movie stars like Mel Gibson, Sly Stallone, Vin Diesel, Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson have provided their voices for animated characters in the past, two great examples being Mel voicing Rocky the Rooster from Chicken Run and Diesel as The Iron Giant. Johnson has certainly done his job here especially as he sings one of the film’s musical numbers. What’s more, he can sing unlike Pierce Brosnan and Russell Crowe.
Nearly all the characters are a joy. I say nearly because I personally found Heihei, a brainless chicken which a lot of people find funny, just irritating. I thought Pua, a cute little pig, was a better animal character but this poor porker sadly doesn’t get to travel with Moana despite there being a reason for him not joining her. You may find Heihei, this annoying bird-brain, completely hilarious but I’m not a fan of his.
But the rest of them shine like Moana’s parents Sina and Tui, voiced by Nicole Scherzinger and Temuera Morrison along with her grandmamma Tala (Rachel House) who’s a bit bonkers and Jermaine Clement’s giant crab Tamatoa who has a thing for treasure. Tui, to me, is like King Triton but more calm, collected and tolerable unlike Ariel’s pops. I found one scene where Sina tells Moana that she won’t achieve her goals to be a little tough to watch since I haven’t done what I hope to do in life yet but I’ll keep my fingers crossed that I will make it happen. Other than that, they are all very endearing thanks to how they’re written and their voice-actors.
Finally, the songs written by Opetaia Foa’i, Mark Mancina as well as the creator of Hamilton and Jack from Mary Poppins Returns himself Lin-Manuel Miranda have their own magic as well and they are definitely brought to life by the voice-cast. The likes of Where You Are, You’re Welcome, which might teach kids a few manners, and Shiny are bouncy and upbeat, We Know the Way is just as lively and gets you pumped while How Far I’ll Go and I Am Moana (Song of the Ancestors) is beautiful and uplifting even for those who lack courage. If only the sweet Know Who You Are wasn’t sung to a hot-tempered fiery creature, a scene I found to be a tad silly and would have been better with spoken dialogue rather than sung.
As a whole, Moana is one of the best Disney films I’ve seen in a very long time. Despite its flaws, it is brilliantly imaginative and the animation is something to behold. It contains a bunch of memorable and sometimes moving songs as well as some very amiable characters, the message about going out there to prove yourself is delivered really well plus this tale is one-of-a-kind which is saying something since this is from a studio that can tell the same story on the odd occasion. This movie is not only a feast for the eyes, one of which you will see in both awe and wonder, but it really touches both the heart and soul.