As of late, Disney has been busy reworking its old classics, producing new and enchanting live versions that capture all the magic all over again (next year, we’ll see Beauty and the Beast, in what I already know will be one of the best films of 2017). However, they’ve also been hard at work on a new animated picture, and so it is that Moana arrives in the cinemas. It’s a great picture, fun for all and a musical adventure that is as strong as some of their best work.
Many years ago, the demi-god Maui (Dwayne Johnson) stole the heart of Te Fiti, an island goddess, and unleashed a curse across the land. A millennium later in Ancient Polynesia, on an island run by a Chieftain and his impetuous daughter Moana (Auli’i Cravalho), the curse strikes. In order to save her island and her people, Moana takes to the sea to prove herself a master wayfarer and fulfil her ancestors’ unfinished quest – finding the heart and restoring it to the goddess. Along the way, she forms a partnership with Maui, and the two unlikely companions traverse the ocean on an action-packed voyage fraught with danger.
Before we get to Moana, let’s start with the customary short – we begin with Inner Workings, which does for the heart and bladder what Inside Out did for the emotions. Paul is heading off to work, but his brain and his heart have different ideas on what his day should be like. It’s a nice little picture, and quite funny in the brain’s obsession with death, and it makes a nice entrée for the main picture. (I also encourage you to stick around during the credits for a nice little Easter egg, but I’ll say no more.)
Moana is Disney returning to its traditional roots, bringing alive the cultural story it is animating but ensuring a thoroughly modern touch, and it will live on as many Disney films before. It’s packed full of charm, an abundance of which comes from its two lead characters. Newcomer Cravalho (an authentic Hawaiian actress) brings an enthusiasm and a vulnerability to her vocal performance that makes her an easy focal character, and she works wonderfully with Johnson – he brings all of his swagger (almost he is equally as good in the dramatic moments) and steals the show (well, almost – his hand-animated tattoos are a real highlight).
He notably excels in his opening number, ‘You’re Welcome,’ a fast-paced tribute to himself that is fantastic (if you’re (explicably) not going to watch the film, look it up – you won’t regret it). The movie combines the talents of Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda, Disney regular Mark Mancina and Pacific singer Opetaia Foa’i to create a wonderfully eclectic song score that retains the strong cultural influence of the area and the classical Disney style – this is strong music that conjures up a feeling of location (and, you’ll be pleased to hear, it lacks a horrific earworm like Frozen). My only criticism is a glam rock-disco number in the middle that adds nothing and is so out-of-place with the rest of the film that it really brings you out of it.
I must also note the quality of the animation – we’ve seen a number of films that take place in or around water, but I don’t think it’s ever been as stunningly realised as it is here. The story necessitates that the ocean is a character in its own right, and this film is a triumph in the animation stakes (watch out for, inexplicably, a reference to Mad Max: Fury Road, of all things). Moana really is a beautiful picture and, if the animators continue to push themselves as they have done, I look forward to seeing what’s going to come next.
Moana ticks all of the Disney boxes – it is fun and stunningly animated, packed with enjoyable music and heartfelt for all. Coupled with Zootropolis, this has been a standout year for the House of Mouse, both in terms of narrative possibility and animation quality. I could tell you about its cultural importance, but what matters most is that it is an enormously entertaining picture, and I recommend it. To quote Maui, ‘you’re welcome.’
Director: Ron Clements, Don Hall
Cast: Auli’i Cravalho (Moana), Dwayne Johnson (Maui), Rachel House (Gramma Tala), Temuera Morrison (Chief Tui), Jemaine Clement (Tamatoa), Nicole Scherzinger (Sina)
Running Time: 103 Mins