Moana is the latest computer animated film from Disney; it tells the story of a young woman who must defy her Father in order to cleanse her island of an evil deity that is wreaking havoc on their way of life…but honestly, I found the main storyline was pretty flat and boring. The highlight of Moana, for me, was the story of the arrogant demigod Maui, played by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Let’s face it, Johnson is one of the most entertaining performers around right now, so if you put him in a movie it’s very likely he’s going to steal the show. Auli’i Cravalho’s portrayal of the titular character isn’t bad, it’s just that her storyline is very familiar; Disney Princesses’ defying the wishes of their parents to go on a journey of self-discovery is an extremely familiar concept, and nothing that this movie does seems like new and fresh. Even Maui’s character journey of fallen hero turned selfish coward has been done a million times before, but its Johnson’s performance that elevates it beyond the mundane and into something mesmerizing.
To delve into it further, the story begins with Maui stealing an amulet with the intention of giving it to mankind as a gift. While taking the form of a hawk, Maui is incapacitated by Te Kā, a giant monster made of lava; losing the stone and the source of his powers, a magical fishhook. A thousand years later, evil is taking hold over Motunui. Moana believes that the solution waits out at sea, and her Father (played by Temuera Morrison) is vehemently against her voyaging out away from the island. With the encouragement of her Grandmother, Gramma Tala (played by Rachel House), Moana defiantly sets sail to find Maui and force him into retrieving the amulet. Maui has no interest in doing any of that, and all he wants is to leave his island prison. The two go on a series of adventures leading up to the final battle against Te Kā. Again, there’s nothing new about Moana or her motivations, but Maui is something unique and special. His backstory is tragic and relatable, and his motivations are self-serving almost to the very end. His road to redemption feels organic and earned. Gramma Tala is another standard Disney trope; the wise character that knows all joins the ranks of Rafiki from The Lion King, Grandmother Willow from Pocahontas, and Grandmother Fa from Mulan, just to name a few. Nothing new here, and it’s almost comical how cliché’ how characters like this have become.
Visually, Moana is a gorgeous film. Walt Disney Animation Studios has been doing fantastic work since the beginning of the decade, almost on par with Pixar. The flora and fauna of the Island of Motunui is vibrant and realistic, and don’t get me started on the water effects; water is notoriously hard to animate in convincing way, and everything I saw had me convinced. The characters are stylized in a way that, honestly just doesn’t appeal to me. Maui is an ugly mound of misshapen terror, and that poor mentally challenged rooster, Hei Hei (played by Alan Tudyk) looks demonic. The soundtrack in Moana is not my cup of tear either, but I know I’m in the minority on this. I did enjoy “You’re Welcome”, Maui’s own song recounting all the glorious things he’s done for humanity. Dwayne Johnson preforms this song, and it gave me a few laugh out loud moments. I also loved “We Know the Way”, written and preformed by Opetaia Foa’I and Lin-Manuel Miranda. The song captures the spirit of adventure better than any in recent memory. The other songs weren’t very memorable, with the exception of “Shiny”, which is one of the worst songs I think I’ve ever heard in a Disney film. That song almost instantly got on my nerves.
Overall, Moana is decent enough, but it’s simply unremarkable. 2016 had way better animated film, like the highly enjoyable Zootopia, or the masterful Kubo and the Two Strings just to name two of my favorite. Kids will love it, and adults can take comfort in the fact that it’s not boring and mindless. Give it a watch if the trailers held your interest, you’re basically getting what you see out of them.
Moana (2016) Directed by: Ron Clements, Don Hall, John Musker, Chris Williams. Written by: Jared Bush. Starring: Auli’i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Temuera Morrison, Rachel House, Jemaine Clement, Alan Tudyk
7 out of 10