The story of Moana focuses on a young girl who is heir to the chief of a Polynesian tribe and who is chosen by the spirit of the sea to reunite an ancient relic with its goddess owner and save her people from a darkness that is spreading across the land. Although the story is solid, it’s the characters and themes present in Moana that really elevate it to one of Disney’s best animated offerings in recent years. Featuring a talented cast including newcomer Auli’i Cravalho and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson alongside music written partly by Lin-Manuel Miranda, (best known as the creator of the musical Hamilton) Moana succeeds on many different levels and is fun to watch for kids and adults alike.
The most striking and pleasing aspect of the film is its protagonist Moana, who stands out as a Disney female lead with more agency, personality and diversity than characters of the past. She rarely needs saving even though the film features a powerful, shape-shifting demi-god named Maui voiced by The Rock. At her most desperate moment, it’s Moana’s family and her ancestors’ legacy represented by her grandmother that points her in the right direction. Her journey takes her across the sea beyond the protective reach of her father as she strikes out on her own path. Moana is strengthened as a character by this act and in doing so also endears the audience towards her mission aided by the fact that she is such a positive and determined person.
There’s some great casting at work in this film with Cravalho filling every sentence of Moana’s with enthusiasm and personality while The Rock is entertaining and amusing as Maui, the demi-god who has an ego as big as his biceps. The interactions between the two is always fun to watch and its nice to see Moana more than proving herself as an equal to Maui who’s mistake at the beginning of the film is the crux of the plot. Moana has plenty of funny lines and moments including Heihei, a chicken that stows away on Moana’s boat and who is completely moronic to everyone’s bewilderment. In fact, the film relies a little too heavily on the same jokes in particular when it comes to Heihei and could have done with a few more different avenues for comic relief.
The film also embraces diverse themes with the Polynesian culture being a focus of the film. This aspect of the film shines throughout but especially when Moana is imagining her ancestors who used to be voyagers before the darkness started spreading through the lands. This is cool to see on the big screen for a mainstream film as it offers something different and is true to the character of the film. The music is another positive element paying homage to music from that part of the world and with plenty of catchy tunes sprinkled throughout..
Overall, Moana stands as another example of the resurgence of Disney’s animation studio after the likes of Frozen, Big Hero 6 and Zootopia. The film really shines when it focuses on its endearing protagonist and highlights the Polynesian culture through beautifully animated sequences or the film’s excellent musical numbers. Although not all of the jokes hit the right note, Moana is certainly worth your time.