MOANA (2016): Review
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“The ocean chose me for a reason.”
Moana Waialiki, Auli’i Cravalho

[dropcap]M[/dropcap]oana is Disney’s 56th animated film directed by Disney regulars Ron Clements and John Musker – famous for their work on The Little Mermaid, Aladdin and The Frog Princess. Moana follows the extreme success of Disney’s last princess film, Frozen – giving it a lot to live up to! But with a beautiful new culture to explore, a couple of catchy songs and a stellar cast, Moana maybe Disney’s first Polynesian princess, but she looks more than ready to kick some bad guy’s butts and set a few movie records!

The film is set among the idyllic South Pacific islands, following Disney’s newest heroine Moana Waialiki (Auli’i Cravalho) in her journey venturing across the forbidden seas to restore peace to her homeland. On the way, she meets the infamous shape-shifting demigod Maui – voiced by Dwayne Johnson – and together, they set off on an adventure of mystical and mythical proportions.

The thing that Moana has in abundance is its beauty. From the picturesque backdrops to the charming secondary characters and intricate clothing design, it’s easy to find yourself lost in the details of this film. I think one of my favourite things about the entire film is that everything fits so harmoniously together and that is down to how Clements and Musker approached the film. Instead of exploiting a culture to appear “inclusive”, Disney instead took the time to create a beautiful (and respectful) ode to the Polynesian people and their culture.

Another thing that is important to point out, is the realism of the CGI. With CGI becoming an “expected” part of modern movies, it’s important that we don’t overlook Moana for the great strides in CGI improvements. Things like hair, natural elements, clothing textures and body movement (especially in the dancing scenes) were astonishingly life-like and had my jaw-dropping flapping for most of the film. It’s also interesting that even though Moana follows Disney’s stylised character design, I didn’t feel like I was watching a cartoon.

With Moana being an entirely character-driven story, it is interesting to realise that although I liked the two main characters (Moana and Maui), I actually preferred the secondary characters – like Gramma Tala and Tamatoa. I loved Gramma Tala so much that I wish she had come along on the journey (which to some extent you could say she was) – but I guess there wasn’t that much room on that boat!

Moana herself was delightful and quirky, with a personality and awkwardness that resounds with people growing up today. Unlike past years were the roles of the Disney princesses and characters have gone to well-known celebrities or singers, Disney made a point to look for talent ‘outside of the box’. According to an interview by the film’s casting director, Rachel Sutton, Cravalho was actually the last person that they auditioned for the role and they knew instantly that she was the one.

Maui was a great comic relief, but he was a bit of a love-hate character for me. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and has always been a family favourite, going all the way back to his teeny tiny shorts wrestling days in the WWF. But was Maui was everything I had ever wanted of Johnson in cartoon form? Well… kind of. Maui’s comedic relief was a nice complement to Moana’s stubbornness, but at times his jokes cut a little short. Maui just seemed to be a slightly more “controlled” version of Johnson – and not necessarily in a good way.

While it’s not the best movie to come out of the Disney Revival, it’s far from the worst. Moana herself is a likable protagonist, the animation is stunning and the songs were catchy (if a little forgettable). In essence, Moana ticks every favourite Disney trope – girls wants to go out into the wider world for an adventure, her family forbids – so she does it. Disney have done their fans justice by giving them undoubtedly one of Disney’s most colourful and beautiful films.

Moana is a must-watch for any Disney fan. Will it be as big a hit as Frozen? Honestly, I’m don’t think so, but it definitely has the potential to become a remarkable film in itself. And with a hoard of awards – including two Academy Award Nominations for Best Animated Feature Film and Best Original Song (“How Far I’ll Go”) – it’s definitely proving itself popular with the critics. So give it a go and release your inner Disney princess.

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