There are few films that can take you out of whatever current situation you’re in and allow an escape from the world. Moana succeeds in painting a beautiful world of its own while being fun.
Upon hearing the news of Dwayne Johnson being onboard for the role of Maui, plenty of people’s interests were piqued. Although, the addition of Lin Manuel-Miranda glued this film together. Riding a large wave of success due to his Broadway hit “Hamilton,” there isn’t a part of this world out of reach for the 36-year-old.
Disney films are known for their soundtracks and catchy ballads, but, man, Moana is the first Disney film in years that has me humming along to the likes of “You’re Welcome” and “How Far I’ll Go.” With the original music helmed by Manuel-Miranda Mark Mancina, and Opetaia Foa’i, this film had set a high-ish bar for itself before anyone sat down to witness the final product. The heavy Manuel-Miranda influence on each original musical number bled through the speakers as he took a Broadway vibe and mixed it with a hip-hop flow. “The Rock” rapped about eels and coconuts, and it didn’t sound zany to sing aloud.
The music was nearly perfect, which leaves the bits of dialogue in-between. Disney’s first Polynesian princess, Moana (Auli’i Cravalho), happily distanced herself from any Lilo and Stitch comparisons. She was a strong character with an innocent charm underneath it all. She was also not your typical princess. She didn’t wear a crown, elegant dress or anything you’d expect from a Disney princess. Moana was tough as nails through her journey of self-discovery. Auli’i Cravalho captured this role with her dynamic voice and her ability to naturally deliver lines in times of happiness and despair. Plus, it helped that she had the direction of legendary animation directors Ron Clements and John Musker.
Johnson’s transition to voice acting felt challenging in Moana, since his Hawaiian accent isn’t strong compared to the rest of the cast. However, his charisma and humorous mannerisms were expressed well through Maui, demigod, shapeshifter, yadda, yadda. You can practically envision Johnson’s acting behind the microphone in the studio. Maui is a fish-hook-wielding warrior who has a clear-cut mission of his own: Get off this darn island of his!
The overall story of Moana is simple, yet ambitious: Mother Island, where Moana, her family and people live, is beginning to undergo hard times. Trees are drying and not producing fruit, schools of fish are vanishing near the island — it’s beginning to become unlivable. Talk about a tall first order for the young princess-to-be Moana: Find a way to save your people!
The film takes you on this journey by first showing you a glance into Moana’s past, allowing you to understand her adventurous persona. She wants to travel beyond the reef, but her father, Chief Tui (Temuera Morrison), tells her numerous times, “Nothing good is beyond the reef!”
Eventually, Moana listens to her grandmother, Gramma Tala (Rachel House), who motivates her to find Maui, who is the only one that can put Mother Island’s heart back into place to allow Moana’s home to thrive once more.
It’s a fun tale that allows the beauty of Hawaii to spill onto your lap. There’s never a dull moment. A fun fact I learned after the film is Moana means “the ocean,” which gives reason to the ocean — yes, the ocean — aiding Moana in her and Maui’s journey.
When the film reaches its climax, it felt as if it didn’t matter whether the final fight to preserve Mother Island and its heart would be successful or not. The story had been a success in itself. Maui and Moana’s journey together was heartfelt –they learned how to show compassion for one another, and the story fared well on its own.
The film’s beauty lied in not only the music, but its telling of a story full of life lessons, as plenty of Disney films have done in the past. Moana takes its viewers on a pleasant vacation to a beautiful island where an abundance of love, smiles and relatable characters await.
P.S. Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords) makes an amazing cameo in this film.
I attended a 3D screening of Moana thanks to Sly Fox. The film’s runtime is 113 minutes and is rated PG. Moana releases in North America on Nov. 23rd.