TL;DR – A beautiful film from the animation, to the story, to the characters, a must watch this holiday season
Score – 4 out of 5 stars
P.S. There is an after credits scene
Moana is a powerful story which is brilliantly animated, wonderfully acted and tells a great story. All of that would have been enough for me to recommend it to you, but on top of this Disney took a big risk in telling a story from Polynesia a place that rarely gets a look in this modern media landscape yet it is full of fascinating stories. I highly recommend you check Moana out at the movies if you can.
Moana starts with the story of Maui (Dwayne Johnson) a demigod who can be found throughout Polynesian mythology from New Zealand to Hawaii to French Polynesia and everything in between. In an attempt to harness the power of life from the goddess Te Fiti he steals her heart but instead of having the power over life, Maui is instantly defeated by the lava demon Te Kā and the heart (a small stone) and his magical fishing hook get flung into the ocean separating Maui from his power and releasing death into the ocean from the empty heart of Te Fiti. Or at least that’s the story that Moana’s grandmother Tala (Rachel House) tells to scare the children of the village but it has been 1000 years and surely these are just stories. But it is these stories that drive Moana (Auli’i Cravalho), to see what exists outside the reef that rings her island, however, her father Tui (Temuera Morrison) the chief has banned people leaving the island and the protection of the reef because of the dangers that lurk in the open ocean. This is all a really good set up for the rest of the story, it gives you a glimpse into the power dynamics of the island Moana lives on, it also gives you some of the cultural knowledge you will need to make sense of the story.
It feels both surprising yet also unsurprising that Moana is such a good film, I mean usually when you see eight credited authors (and indeed if you look at the development of Moana you will see that there were more), you film generally ends up being a complete mess. However, Moana bucks that trend by having a beautiful story, that sure is a bit predictable in many respects, but it works. This is because instead of focusing on a large world with multiple moving cogs that you have to keep track of, Moana focuses on one story, the story of Moana focusing on her heart and fixing a wrong that had perpetrated on the world.
When it comes to the cast it was really good to see Disney go for people living in the South Pacific or who have Pacific heritage to tell this to tell this story of the area and boy did they cast some really strong performers. Auli’i Cravalho performance as Moana, is exemplary, especially given she spends most of the film next to ‘I steal every scene I am in’ Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, she brings a warmth to the character that really needed. Dwayne Johnson is amazing as Maui getting that perfect balance between cocky and damaged. Anyone who has seen Hunt for the Wilderpeople knows how strong a performer Rachel House is and in Moana it’s no different, Grandma Tala is at the heart of the movie and Rachel House’s performance nails this. Of course, it was fun to see Jemaine Clement as a murderous crab, who may have the best line of a Disney villain, and it would be remiss of me not to mention Alan Tudyk who plays a rooster, no not a talking rooster, just a normal rooster … well, maybe not normal, but just a rooster. Because this is a Disney animation you know there is going to be many songs, and how did they go, well with you have the combination of Mark Mancina, Lin-Manuel Miranda & Opetaia Foa’i well you are in safe hands.
The one thing I have to mention is the animation, I mean it is just stunning, this was an amazing year for animation with Kung Fu Panda 3 and Zootopia already setting a high bar but Moana meets the competition head-on. I mean look at that water, it is almost photorealistic, and water is one of the hardest things to animate correctly, from this point onwards Moana will be my benchmark I will use for all CGI water. The islands feel beautiful and lived in, and if nothing else are a postcard for why you should visit the South Pacific. It is not just the water, there are so many standout moments, like the starscapes, or the sunsets, or the fluid animations, to the actions which have an almost Mad Max feel to them.
Now Moana is not a perfect film, even when it comes to their depiction of Polynesian culture and mythology, however it is clear that the filmmakers took a long time to consult with a wide range of sources from across the Pacific to help with their depiction and that is something that is quite rare in the film industry.
So, in the end, can I recommend Moana, of course I can, there are so many trash children films dumped on us during the holidays but this is a beautiful film with a strong cast and a good story and is leagues about many of the others you may be subjected to this holiday season. If you liked Moana, we can also recommend Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Directed by – Ron Clements & John Musker
Screenplay by – Jared Bush
Story by – Ron Clements, John Musker, Chris Williams, Don Hall, Pamela Ribon, Aaron Kandell and Jordan Kandell
Music & Songs by – Mark Mancina, Lin-Manuel Miranda & Opetaia Foa’i
Starring – Auli’i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Rachel House, Temuera Morrison, Jemaine Clement, Nicole Scherzinger & Alan Tudyk
Rating – Australia: PG; Canada: PG; NZ: PG; UK: PG; USA: PG