A young islander has to seek out help from a demigod to save her people.
Disney’s latest is the tale of a young girl living on an idyllic Polynesian island who might just maybe feel like she’s a little different. Apart from the rest of the people in her small community. It’s a very familiar set up to be sure, and there are few enough real surprises along the way as Moana’s journey takes her out past the safety of the reef and into the wide, wild ocean.
Instead, most of the fun comes from the other elements like the gorgeous visuals, over the top characters and some of the best songs Disney has conjured up in years.
The combination of elements from Polynesian culture and mythology, as well as their language adds a lot to the musical side of the film, recalling similar uses in films like The Lion King and Pocahontas.
Mostly though the songs are just big and joyous and full of energy, thanks to the writing by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Opetaia Foa'i, along with composer Mark Mancina.
‘How Far I’ll Go’ is an early highlight, along with the bigger sound for ‘We Know the Way.’ It’s all great really, with young Hawaiian actress Auli'i Cravalho providing some incredible pipes and even The Rock getting in on the action and acquitting himself reasonably well in ‘You’re Welcome.’ I wasn’t mad about Jemaine Clement’s full-on-Bowie ‘Shiny’ when I first heard it but like everything else here it’s a grower.
When you move away from those songs (which don’t take up too much of the running time), things feel a little less assured. Veteran directors Ron Clements and John Musker (The Little Mermaid, Aladdin) lean on familiar tropes and a silly chicken to keep things moving. But the chicken is genuinely hilarious so it’s not really a problem. And he’s voiced by Firefly’s Alan Tudyk.
Moana herself is a bit thinly drawn, and represents a bit of a step back in terms of the strong female characters of something like Frozen. Still it’s good to see her not being defined by a romantic plotline, though there isn’t a lot else in its place.
Moana is a simple enough film about finding your place in the world, and how it that might be in the last place you could look. The focus on a female minority character is timely, along with less widely known myths and it all looks absolutely gorgeous. Add in top notch songs and a crazy chicken and it’s well worth seeking out.
4/5 -Daniel Anderson