Film Review: "Moana"

Moana longs for adventure on her home island. (Photo from Disney UK)

Moana longs for adventure on her home island. (Photo from Disney UK)

From the deep blue sea in “The Little Mermaid” to the slums and swamps of New Orleans in “The Princess and the Frog” and all the way to the frozen landscape in, well, “Frozen,” Disney films have been able to span across the globe throughout Disney’s nearly 100 years. And they have now reached the Polynesian Islands to give us “Moana.”

Moana is a teenager filled with enthusiasm and a sense of adventure, who lives with her tribe on an undisclosed Polynesian island. While her parents wish for her to lead her people as their princess, she wants to set sail and find out what’s out there in the ocean. But, when an evil force threatens her island and her people, she must journey across the sea and join forces with legendary demigod Maui in order to combat the growing threat, while also figuring out her own identity along the way.

Disney has been on a roll for the past few years with the release of films like “Zootopia,” “Frozen,” “Tangled,” “Wreck-It-Ralph,” and “The Princess and the Frog.” Moana is no different. In fact, it is one of Disney’s best, if not their best, piece of work in this “neo-renaissance” of theirs, thanks to a slew of inspiring characters, luscious animation, catchy songs, and a great message.

When it comes to the characters, the standouts, unsurprisingly, are Moana, voiced by Auli’i Cravalho in her very first performance, and Maui, voiced by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. The majority of the film centers on these two learning to work together and appreciate one another. This leads to incredible chemistry and it really feels as though they are learning to grow on one another. And it helps that both characters were brilliantly cast as both Cravalho and Johnson embody the personality and charm of their respective characters.

When it comes to the two, however, while Maui does possess a great arc throughout the movie and a likable personality filled with charm, hubris, and wit thanks to Johnson’s performance, Moana is the true standout. Moana herself may very well be one of the greatest Disney princesses to ever be conceived due to not only her adventurous and courageous personality, but also the fact that she can learn to take care of herself and doesn’t require a love interest to become successful. She will surely be a true inspiration to little girls for years to come.

What is just as beautiful and charming as Moana and Maui is the environment that surrounds them both. The animation is absolutely mind-blowing; so lush and beautiful. In fact, the ocean itself is so central to the story that it is itself a character . And it’s made even better with the fact that in the movie, Maui has a tattoo of himself that has its own personality and can make all his other tattoos move. This creates a beautiful blend of the 2-D hand-drawn animation from many Disney classics and the 3-D CGI animation of the 21st century. Disney Animation Studios just keeps on evolving their animation techniques every year with every film they release.

But the real star of the film is Lin-Manuel Miranda, who was the perfect choice to compose the music in the film thanks to his work in the Broadway musical “Hamilton.” While many of the classic Disney films do possess iconic and memorable songs, most of the time they’re sung simply for the sake of being sung. The music in Moana is not only super catchy and fun to listen to, but is also central to the plot and the characterization of both Moana and Maui. And, as a bonus for parents out there, it will definitely get children to stop singing “Let It Go.”

Moana and Maui. (Photo from People Magazine)

Moana and Maui. (Photo from People Magazine)

When it comes to flaws within the film, it really comes down to mostly nit-picking. The film does contain a few familiar Disney tropes and clichés, such as the girl who wants to see beyond her world, which was featured in “The Little Mermaid.” However, they aren’t enough to overwhelm the quality of the movie as a whole.

Overall, “Moana” is a beautiful blend of humor, heart, emotion, adventure, and inspiration all sewn together through breathtaking animation and colorful characters while also acting as a sweet throwback to many of the classic Disney films that preceded it. A few Disney tropes aren’t enough to lessen the quality of the film and thus can be forgiven. Moana’s journey both across the ocean and as a character makes her one of the best Disney characters in the company’s entire roster, which is really saying a lot. At this point, after making a film like this, there’s no telling where Disney will go in the next few years, let alone 10.