We’re getting closer to the end of 2016, and the past few weeks have seen some heavy-hitters land in theatres. And it seems like Disney has thrown their hat into the ring with the release of “Moana”, with the hope to keep their unstoppable success in animation going. Can they keep the train a’ rolling?
The story is set within Polynesian culture, with the main character Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) next in line to become the Chief of the island. She has forever been drawn to the ocean, but her father (Temuera Morrison) forbidding anyone to sail beyond the reefs. But with the crops failing and fish supplies vanishing, Moana takes the decision to set out and save her island from destruction. She must convince the Demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) to return the jewel which he had stolen a thousand years ago, and bring life back to the islands and seas.
So even though this has the female protagonist leaving hope to find her true self (a theme almost every Disney film holds), the fact she takes it as a decision for her people and their future is a bit more refreshing. She is ready to take on the responsibility, and not necessarily forced into it. She’s a leader, and not just the Queen or princess. It is an important aspect that helps you to side with her from an early stage.
The same goes for the setting, which instead of being some fairytale land, is completely immersed in Polynesian mythology and culture. The resulting visuals are astoundingly beautiful, reflecting a very ancient people so well. Hand-in-hand with this are the blue waters and tropical location, which you can’t help but get swallowed up by. Everything looks gorgeous, from the crafts and little huts, to the swelling seas, and tattoos which depict all aspects of life. It is all as much a selling point for the film as the story or characters themselves, giving this tale a unique, and sublime backdrop.
Moving to the characters, Moana is very likeable. Head-strong and pretty quick-tempered, but also decisive and fearless. She is ready to take on the dangers that lie before her without having to rest upon the shoulders of others as much as previous female protagonists we have seen before have. It makes her decision to leave a bit more interesting, because the reasons for her to stay are perfectly acceptable. But when the threats become too foreboding to ignore, she leaves. And although she isn’t fully prepared for what’s ahead of her, she never stops trying. The voice actress was a perfect choice for this role, she brings so much energy and commitment to this. She was just superb, don’t be surprised to see her become a big name in Hollywood after this.
The second character of Maui makes for a great accompaniment to Moana. He is if anything even more head-strong due to his pride, charismatic, and doesn’t really give much fucks about the goal of the mission. Dwayne Johnson is on top form here. (no really, he is really good!) It just felt like he was having the time of his life acting out the lines and little jokes, and even his song came off great as well. There’s no need to speak of his skills in a secondary frame of mind, he is what Maui work so well in the film.
Other roles performed by the likes of Jermaine Clement and Rachel House, help to make what is quite a small cast, fill up the large scope of the story with ease. They’re all memorable and entertaining, with Rachel as Moana’s grandmother holding a role that appears to be small at first, but is significant in the grand scheme of things.
And did I mention that the music is incredible? Some of the best that Disney has put into one of their major releases in a very long time. “Frozen” can go bite the dust, I don’t think there’s any song in here that doesn’t fell well written or well performed. They provide a voice to the visuals, as the majority feel connected to the location and people within it.
Lastly, there the dumbest, stupidest, most ridiculous animal sidekick of all time in the form of a chicken. And not in a bad way, he was fucking hilarious with how completely dim-witted he was. It is such a small comedic element to include, but oh my God…. that chicken. You’ll know what I mean when you see this, he was absurdly funny to watch.
But sure, the majority of Disney films work well, despite many similarities in their themes and story arcs. So what is it about this that makes it truly stand out from the crowd? Well, things such as the setting certainly make their stamp on keeping this feeling fresh. But maybe it is the fact that so many of the elements are on par, and interesting right from the start to the end is what stands out. Most other releases would have a field that lets the side down, be it the comedy, or setting. But here…. it all works.
If you were to pose me the request for issues that did arise, they’re very small. Such as, I don’t think they gave reason to why Maui was known as a Trixster? He’s given that merit, but it doesn’t exactly show up as being important. Also, the final threat gives a bit of tension to the scene, but wasn’t as cool a design, especially in contrast with everything else we had seen. And the Spirit World could have been shown for longer. But I mean come on, they’re tiny faults based on my opinion, not cracks in the bedrock of the story.
This movie was close to two hours long, and I felt none of that time passing at all. I was too entertained by everything on the screen, and marvelled by the stunning visuals. That in itself is a watermark of quality. This year’s best animated film seemed to have already been won by “Kubo and the Two Strings”, but “Moana” has become a very close contender. I loved the songs, I loved the setting, the blend of gorgeous CG and clever 2D animation, the characters, and the humour. This was a return for Disney to being (close) to their top form. Some of their previous attempts haven’t held up as well over time as I had hoped, but I have the feeling that this may be an exception. It is an adventure where the journey is kind over the destination, and you will love every minute of that trip.
Thanks for reading!