Reviewed by: Mark Geraghty
Moana won't rate as an outright Disney classic, but it’s a fun, family-friendly affair that maintains the studio’s long-run of successful animated feature films. Moana continues the recent Disney trend in telling the story of a young female heroine in search of greater meaning in life. On paper it sounds quite profound, but up on the screen, the story unfolds in a fashion that prevents the film from becoming top-heavy with the existential burdens of human existence. It has its serious moments, but the people at Disney know better than to dwell on the downside of life for too long!
The film starts with a prologue, explaining how an Island God named Maui, who stole the pounamu stone from the Goddess Te Fiti, was banished for his reckless action and brought ongoing suffering humans as a pestilence spread from island to island. The story cuts to Moana as a little girl on her island home and her desire to voyage out onto the ocean. Her father, Chief Tui (voiced by Temura Morrsion) has other ideas. He wants his daughter to learn the ways of her people so she can take her rightful place as the next Chief of the tribe. Unbeknownst to him, the Ocean itself has chosen his daughter to be the one who makes amends for the strife that the God Maui has caused for so many of the island people. A few years later, when the scourge that has destroyed island after island finally makes its way to Moana’s island, she must take a stand against her father and go in search of Maui. Now a young woman, Moana (voiced by Auli’i Cravalho), with the help of her Gramma Talu (voiced by Rachel House) embarks on her quest to save her island and her people!
The real highlight of Moana is Dwayne Johnson’s vocal performance as Maui, a God who possesses an extremely inflated sense of his own importance. This is highlighted in Johnson’s introductory song, “You’re Welcome”, where he educates Moana about all the fantastic things he has done for humans! Johnson is no Robin Williams, but he adopts a similar approach the great late comic did with the Genie in Aladdin, ramping up the character’s energy so that everything he does is huge; much like the man himself. Moana also gets a huge boost from Jermaine Clement’s crazy performance as the Undersea deity Tamalou. Clement goes all-out with his musical number and, while it’s hard to make out some of the songs lyrics, the music matched to the animation makes for the film’s most visually dynamic sequence.
It’s more than just Johnson’s vocal performance where Moana bares a similarity to Aladdin and it's no surprise that Big Hero 6 Directors Dan Hall and Chris Williams were teamed up with Aladdin directing veterans Ron Clement's and John Musker for Moana. Disney-philes will recall that Clements & Musker were part of the 1990s Disney animation resurgence that reinvigorated the studio and, arguably, provided the platform for the behemoth it has become on the current entertainment landscape. Combining similar elements from those 1990s films, such as Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King and The Little Mermaid, Moana is entertaining fare. While Johnson and Clement get the most memorable musical numbers, young Cravalho carries the film’s musical themes for the majority of its 107 minute running time. Moana uses the talents of three different individuals to deliver the Pacific Island sound the film delivers. Opetaia Foa’i and Mark Mancina wrote a number of the songs both separately and together, while Macina delivered the score. Lin-Manuel Miranda write the lyrics to go with the songs. Moana keeps the Disney animation hot streak going. The film will appeal as much to adults as it does to children. Dwayne Johnson is hard to resist as Maui, but he’s well supported throughout by likes of Cravalho, Clement and Morrison, helping to deliver yet another winning film from the Mouse House!