Last year Inside Out blew everyone away with its stunning effects and inventive premise. Then The Good Dinosaur came out in the second half of 2015 and did not live up to the high standards set before it. This year Zootropolis wowed the audience and received praise for its narrative and story elements. Now Moana is stepping into the void left by The Good Dinosaur. Does it fail like last time or does it continue a good year for Disney?
Moana stars Auli’i Cravahlo, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Rachael House and Temuera Morrison and is directed by Ron Clements and John Musker. The film follows Moana (Cravahlo), a chieftains daughter, who must set off across the ocean to find demigod Maui (Johnson) and help recover the “heart of the sea”.
The animation and design, like all Disney films, is superb. The film is set on a chain of Polynesian islands with Moana and Maui sailing between them. The islands look superb with the water being a highlight. I know it sounds odd to praise the water, but it’s one of the hardest things to animate and here it’s almost photorealistic. Polynesian culture has been heavily researched and is used throughout the film with artwork, tattoos, and traditional dances in almost every frame. It’s a setting that’s underused in films (it has only small similarities to Lilo and Stich) and it looks beautiful.
Moana as a Disney “princess” is also quite a developed character. Voiced by newcomer Auli’i Cravahlo (say it how you spell it), she breaks the mould for women in the Disney pantheon despite rehashing elements of Mulan’s and Pocahontas’ character. Moana’s not the omni-competent badass of Brave or the ditzy, naïve damsel of Tangled. She makes mistakes, learns from people around her, and eventually saves the day, with not a prince figure ever gracing the screen to marry her and whisk her off into the sunset. She’s not even a princess, which the film comments upon with a series of meta-jokes. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson does his usual thing as Maui, a demigod who Moana must enlist to help her quest. He’s oafish and workshy, wanting to just rest on his title of demigod rather than do anything heroic. His body is covered in tattoos, some of which come alive and argue with him throughout the film. They soon become a reoccurring sight gag as they run from one side of his body to the other, trying to keep his attention.
The music is a mixed bag. Written by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Opetaia Foa’i (the former of Hamilton fame) some songs are absolute belters while others are forgettable or boring. Moana’s main theme is an excellent powerful ballad in the same vein as “Just Around The Riverbend” or “Let it Go”. It may not reach the huge popularity of Frozen‘s hit wonder, but you will definitely hear it in the coming months. The two final songs are quiet and emotional and give a nice change after the Broadway-style of the others. The rest are not going to be classics in my opinion, with the worst involving a cringe-worthy song by a giant crab. All the songs continue the Polynesian feel with chanting, pipes, and drums backing up the powerful voices and is a refreshing change from Disney’s usual musical tastes.
The only real fault I can find with Moana is the script. The story is a standard Disney adventure, but the interactions between the characters aren’t up to par. With lines like, “I will tell you my story…in song format,” it seems that the script needed to go through a few more rewrites before filming started. Plot points arrive quick and are dismissed even quicker, sometimes just for a one-off joke. Most of it seems a bit rushed.
In the end, Moana is a middle of the road offering. The animation, characters and (half of) the music are well worth the trip to the cinema, but a weak story and script don’t make it any better than passable.
Score: 6/10 Flourishes of brilliance with some minor faults.