Wednesday, November 23, 2016
Moana is your typical Disney Princess animated feature set around the coming of age story of its heroine. Our title character is Moana (Auli'i Cravalho), the daughter of a Polynesian chieftain (Temuera Morrison) who is drawn to the ocean despite her father's strict rules about never journeying farther than the reef. However, circumstances force Moana to defy her father's wishes and go in search of the legendary demi-god Maui (Dwayne "It's Okay to Call Me The Rock Again" Johnson) whose help she will need to save her home from a decay that began centuries ago because of the god's rash actions.
The Princess and the Frog, Mulan, and Pocahontas, Disney doesn't stray too far from its comfort zone here. We get a couple cute animal sidekicks, some big musical numbers, and a hero's journey. (Although the film lacks a true Disney villain.) However, with the number of these the studio has churned out over the years it knows how to hit the right notes. It's also worth noting this is the first time since Aladdin where Disney has embraced a larger-than-life sidekick voiced by such a strong personality.
In what's been a rather lackluster year in animation, Moana is a solid entry that will give everything you expect (although not much more). The script is a bit uneven in spots, and struggles with pacing before getting Moana in the water and on her journey to find Maui. There is one sequence the felt rather awkward, and out of place, involving Jemaine Clement as the giant crab Tamatoa whose character (and musical number) are completely superfluous to the rest of the plot. It may not be one of Disney's best, but provides a fun, and at times touching, story for all ages.
At a time when Americans seem increasingly scared, frustrated, or distrustful of other cultures, it's good to see Disney continue to embrace them. There is certainly a strong Polynesian flavor here, especially in how Moana's journey ends. Moana is a nice addition to the Disney pantheon and a character whose wanderlust to embrace the wider world is worth following. There are also several fun moments for the entire family to enjoy including a group of coconut-wearing mini-pirates, Moana's big music number "How Far I'll Go," a ridiculous chicken, and a demi-god sidekick with an ego nearly as big as his heart.