In Ancient Polynesia, when a terrible curse incurred by the Demigod Maui reaches an impetuous Chieftain’s daughter’s island, she answers the Ocean’s call to seek out the Demigod to set things right.
Director: Ron Clements, John Musker
Starring: Auli’i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Alan Tudyk, Rachel House, Temuera Morrison, Jemaine Clement
Rated: PG (peril, some scary images and brief thematic elements)
By Matt Greene
Moana captures all the best of Disney’s classic formula. However, that formula is still a formula, which means it will lose some luster the more it’s implemented. Moana’s big, Broadway-esque songs fit the world perfectly, yet pale in comparison to the likes of Frozen or writer Miranda’s Hamilton. It’s funny, though not their funniest, too often relying on comedy tropes (anachronistic references, silly side characters). However, it’s still worthy of Walt’s vault because of its boisterous adventure, engaging characters, & unique themes.
Moana is the heir-apparent-chief of her Polynesian tribe when the ocean chooses her to find a legendary demi-god, restore balance to the world and save her island. Through many plot contrivances and conveniences (hey, what do you expect? It’s a Disney fantasy), Moana and her crew learn that there is more to this fable than they expected.
While that story is formulaic, the characters are a blast. Johnson is perfect as Maui, and the chemistry between he and Moana is wonderful; like lovingly bickering siblings. Even the ubiquitous, dim-witted animal sidekick (chicken Heihei) was funny enough to tamper my cynicism…or maybe my 3-year-old’s endless laughter softened me.
The real standout here is the animation. Spectacularly beautiful, the attention to little details like the movement of sand and water make the cool character designs and action sequences that much more involving. That aesthetic charm, mixed with tons of fun and a message that believing in others is just as vital as belief in ourselves, pushes this family-fantasy beyond its admitted clichés. Fans of Mickey’s movies, specifically the ones of late, will find plenty to enjoy here.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
By Cole Schneider
Moana the princess is wonderful. Depending on what perspective you want to take, you might say she’s either a less annoying Ariel or a more rebellious Belle. She’s not necessarily a better character than they are, but she’s every bit as full-bodied, and in a nebulous, inescapable way I felt she rang more true than any princess in Disney’s lineage. I’ll leave it up to you whether I speak as a writer too inadequate to describe why or as a man too ignorant to comment on whether a princess indeed rings truth.
After a lengthy first act, the Polynesian-inspired Moana sets sail to save her tribe, seeking out Maui, a vain demi-god (basically a cross between Hercules and The Rock, who voices him) with the potential to restore order to the mythical world. Once the story settles in it becomes a road trip comedy and even if the story itself is too winding, lacks adventure, is a bit bland, and by the end is more than a bit coerced, the platonic relationship between Moana and Maui really is sweet, funny, honest, and a great vehicle for (mostly) subtle explorations of the film’s larger themes—not just gender dynamics (which is thankfully becoming a tired trope), but also cultural dynamics.
“Moana” wears its predecessors proudly, and while it certainly surpasses some, like “Pocahontas”, it also fails to live up to the heights of others, like “Aladdin”. Among Disney’s more recent Renaissance, it continues the pattern of mediocre-good, failing to match the cross-cultural setting of “Big Hero 6” or the lively plot of “Wreck-It Ralph”, yet still ranking alongside them. It seems the truly brilliant “Frozen” was an outlier.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars