Disney has had a quite a run with its animated division. Both Pixar and Disney Animation Studios have been delivering successful hits for more than half a decade, ushering maybe a third Golden Age of animation. With each succeeding film however, the bar is set ever higher of audience expectations, that’s maybe why they piled no less than four directors behind their newest film: Moana.
Moana is mostly an original story with a bit of Polynesian folklore as a base for their story. Our main character is Moana (Auli’I Cravalho) the daughter of a tribal chieftain, but who has a longing for the sea. Her duties as the next chief keep her away from her passion, but as her island begins to suffer ecological problems (no more fish in the reefs, trees begin to become infertile) she is told by her grandmother that she must find a demigod hero named Maui (Dwayne Johnson) and help return the stolen heart of a goddess in order to restore natural order.
To not keep you in suspense, I’ll say that the film is incredibly enjoyable and it meets your high expectations; this is due to many facets. One is the great voice cast, Cravalho is a complete newcomer to Hollywood and she is not only incredible in the singing parts, but as a general voice actress as well. As for Dwayne Johnson, is there anything this man cannot do? The wrestler-turned-actor couldn’t be a better pick for the legendary Maui, and his singing is dazzling.
Then there is the story, an incredibly rich epic that has all the classic Disney requirements: animal side-kick, wise old person telling our protagonist to follow his or her heart, life lessons for children watching, and even a cheesy ending. The film also infuses it’s own important messages of feminism with an incredibly strong female lead with no need for a love interest, and even a climate change awareness message. The film as a whole reminded me of another great animated film of this year: Kubo and the Two Strings, which also mixed local mythology with original elements. However, unlike Kubo,Moana’s ending might be a little too perfect and convenient; and I understand that this is a family movie and a Disney product, but I was nevertheless hopeful the film would take a risk and surprise us.
And then there’s the music. Disney also arrays a diverse musical talent, from local artists to the Broadway sensation Lin-Manuel Miranda. The songs are beautiful, and loyal to the culture it’s portraying. I don’t think it rises to the level of Frozen in terms of potential for being viral, but it’s nevertheless a delight to the point that, unlike most musicals I consume, I was urging the characters to break into song again.
The film is classic Disney (even if that means it becomes a bit generic towards the end): great music, great story, and memorable characters. The beautiful animation is a joy to behold, and the experience is a testament to the incredible moment that Disney continues to live.