Review: ‘Moana’

© Disney

Disney turns the princess movie genre on its ear with the authentic, gorgeous, and massively entertaining Moana.

The Disney princess movie has long been a staple in the Disney Animation arsenal. From 1937’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to 1950’s Cinderella to 2010’s Tangled, the Disney princess movies have followed a certain formula and have been enormously popular. 

Now comes Moana, Walt Disney Animation Studios’ 55th full-length animated feature, which is also technically a Disney princess movie (Moana the character is the daughter of the chief), but this time it’s a coming of age film and a grand cinematic adventure. (Also, a Prince Charming is not in the picture either as Moana has other things to focus on instead of romance during the narrative of the film.)

Set in ancient Polynesia, Moana frames its story within the context of the great wayfinders of Oceana who navigated and discovered the islands throughout the Pacific. The wayfinding stops at a certain point (I’m keeping this review spoiler-free) and Moana’s people stop venturing beyond the reef of their own island. However, when some bad things start to happen on the island, the ocean calls to Moana in a big way and she must decide whether to answer the call or not (given the previews, I think you know what she decides to do). Enlisting the help of the mischievous demi-god Maui, Moana sets her course to do what she must do in order save her people, regardless of the obstacles.

© Disney

What unfolds is really a delight. Longtine Disney Animation directors Ron Clements and John Musker hit it out of the park. They also did their homework by creating an “Oceanic Story Trust” for the film with experts from across the Pacific Islands to help keep the story and visuals rooted in cultural sensitivity and authenticity.

The stunningly gorgeous CG animation from the artistic and technical pros at Walt Disney Animation Studios made my jaw drop. Everything looks incredible–from the animated water to the character designs to all of the art direction.

The creatives made great musical decisions, too, by assembling an A-team of composers for the film’s songs and score. Lin-Manuel Miranda, Mark Mancina, and Opetaia Foa‘i have written a memorable and terrific soundtrack for the film.

© Disney

The film’s all Polynesian vocal cast (with the exception of Alan Tuduyk, who voices Heihei the IQ-impaired chicken) also shines. Auliʻi Cravalho, the voice of Moana, has a lively, warm voice which lends itself very well to the character. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson aces the role of Maui (including singing a song in the film, too!). All of the other voices are wonderful, including Temeura Morrison, Jemaine Clement, Nicole Scherzinger, and Rachel House. (Alan Tudyk is brilliant, and hilarious, too.)

Moana is another stunner from Walt Disney Animation Studios — a genre-busting princess film that hopefully will inspire us all to be more courageous and to follow our hearts, wherever the journey takes us.

My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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