Director: Ron Clements, John Musker
Starring: Auli’i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Temuera Morrison, Rachel House, Jermaine Clement
Running Time: 103mins
Disney have once again managed to hit the high notes with Moana. You always know you are going to get fantastic animation and this is astounding work, the amount of water involved in this film and making it look so great is a feat in itself, but Disney manage to not get bogged down just with the technicalities of amazing animation at the expense of the story or the emotion.
Channeling Polynesian lore we begin with Te Fiti, a goddess who creates life and pulled the islands up out of the sea, herself became an island and has her green heart stone stolen by the demigod Maui who attempts to harness its power to create. However when confronted by Te Kā, a lava god who wants the stone too, the stone gets lost to the ocean as does Maui’s power-giving magical fishhook.
Moana is born and raised on the island of Motunui and their chief, her father Tui, believes that they have everything that they need right there on the island and there is no need to go any further than the reef that surrounds it, indeed it is expressly forbidden to go outside of the reef. Moana is constantly drawn to the sea and longs to explore further afield but is pegged back not only by her father but her responsibility to the island as its future chief. Life for everyone on the island seems perfect until the decay that has been spreading from Te Fiti’s island eventually reaches Motunui and causes a point of crisis; no food on or around the island and not being allowed to venture beyond. All seems hopeless until Moana’s grandmother, Tui’s mother, shows Moana a part of their history that has been hidden from everyone – they aren’t true island dwellers, they are voyagers and their past was defined by their ability to strike out and seek new islands!
For all the beauty on screen it takes quite a while for the appearance of Maui to come round but when it does the level of fun takes a leap up, as does the excitement. Maui has been trapped on a remote island for 1000 years and will do pretty much anything to escape but he hadn’t counted on Moana, and a some assistance from the ocean being so stubborn.
Moana is also a strong, determined, driven young woman and it is great to see for a change. She knows her mind and isn’t a helpless waif, being very self-sufficient and adventurous and does not remain beholden to, or lost without, Maui. Initially she is torn between the two directions that she could follow and that is perfectly translated onto the screen and in the song “How far I’ll Go“; she feels responsibility for her people and her island but also that the way forward, the way to save her people, is to explore further afield, to break the self-imposed rules.
When we meet Maui he is pigheaded, obnoxious and self-centred (as is perfectly encapsulated in his song “You’re Welcome“) but this slowly changes as the two main characters journey ever further together towards their goal: the island of Te Fiti and the returning of the stone. As usual with any Disney film there is an element of growing and learning and a changing of attitudes for the better and it is handled perfectly for them both. It also wouldn’t be a modern Disney piece without some peril or distress and again this is done well (my kids are like a barometer for this; if they are wailing/crying then you’ve got it right. Yep, we had that in the cinema! Again!), leaving just enough time to attach yourself to the characters and their plight before throwing in some event that makes you doubt whether this film will make it to a satisfying conclusion.
The songs in this are all very good and fit really well into the narrative, even if they haven’t stuck in my head yet. I’m sure with repeated viewings as a father of a daughter they will become as commonplace as the last Disney animated musical behemoth (and it’d be nice to replace some of those songs in my head!).
“Shiny” sung by Jermaine Clement, who also had an excellent role in Rio as Nigel, the avicidal Cockatoo, was a personal favourite, linking the visuals to the song perfectly. The only issue I had with it was that I was trying to place the voice and I couldn’t for the life of me remember in which animated film I had heard it before!
Moana is wonderful film, great for the kids and adults alike, beautiful animation, great songs and a well thought out story. There is nothing in here not to like, or indeed love.