Movie Review: Moana

December 14th, 2016

Theatrical poster of the Disney film, Moana


Moana, helmed by Ron Clements and John Musker, is an epic tale of growth and finding one’s way in the world. Clements and Musker, who are responsible for such classics as The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and Hercules, create a tale that easily falls into the familiar tradition of Disney movies, while also adding a number of new elements.

This movie is unprecedented among Disney’s animated films simply in the fact that it features a princess (Moana, the chieftains’ daughter), who is not pining after a prince. In fact, there is no love interest in the movie at all, which finally gives the audience a strong female protagonist who finds her worth in herself, and her people. Moana also does away with the unrealistically dainty proportions of Disney princesses, giving the audience a beautiful young woman with a design that makes her a convincing match to her very physical environment. Another nice aspect of this film is the care that went into crafting the ancestral Polynesian culture in which Moana lives. The filmmakers regularly consulted a collection of anthropologists, linguists, and cultural practitioners from various islands on every aspect of design in the film, lending an au-thenticity to the animation that comes through in the final cut. Adding to that, many of the voice-actors have roots in Oceania themselves, and found that the stories being told in the film mirrored those that they had grown up hearing as children.

That sense of cultural identity certainly comes through in the performances, with newcomer Auli’i Cravalho pulling her weight alongside the always charming Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. The music in the film is befittingly catchy for a Disney film, though perhaps not rising to the heights of 2014’s Frozen—Icertainlyhope none of Moana’s tunes become as dramatically overplayed as “Let It Go”. The musical team behind the movie consists of Mark Mancina (The Lion King, Tarzan), Olivia Foa’i (Te Vaka), and Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton), all of whom deliver a wonderful blend of culture and character building into the films’ soundtrack, while also managing to make it pretty memorable. The animation, however, is arguably the most impressive aspect of the film, showing Disney’s massive strides in this department over the last few years. Visually stunning scenes are littered throughout the film, and even the scenes in between feature an ocean that feels as though one could go for a swim at any time.

Although Moana felt a bit predictable at times, it brought enough new elements into a traditional narrative to produce charming entertainment packed with a strong morals, positive role models, captivating visuals, and musical earworms, all staples of a Disney animated film.

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