Moana (2016)

11:54 AM

The Ocean is Calling
This review contains spoilers
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 Moana is directed by Ron Clements and John Musker (Aladdin, The Little Mermaid) and features the voices of Auli'i Cravalho and Dwayne Johnson (Fast & Furious 6, G.I. Joe). It is also important to note the film features original music by Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton). "In Ancient Polynesia, when a terrible curse incurred by Maui reaches an impetuous Chieftain's daughter's island, she answers the Ocean's call to seek out the demigod to set things right"1 . Zootopia was brilliant so Moana has a lot to live up to but to raise the bar even more, this is Disney's first princess film since Frozen...will it reach those phenomenal heights?

Disney have done it once again! 2016 really has been their year - they have had more wins than misses and Moana is another big win for the house of mouse! What an excellent film! Now, I am a big fan of Frozen (dir. Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee, 2013) - Elsa is one of my favourite film characters of all time mainly for how strong and empowered she is. Moana is very different to Frozen but it still manages to be just as good, if not better. Lin Manuel Miranda has done an excellent job with the soundtrack and in general, this is just another Disney masterpiece. If you can't tell already, I truly loved Moana - it is almost flawless.

As I previously mentioned, one of my favourite things about Frozen was the characters - the same applies to Moana - Moana (the character) is brilliant and I am sure she will become beloved within the Disney family. Moana proves once again women don't need a love interest to go on adventures and be happy. However, whereas Frozen was all about girl power, Moana shows that everyone can work together - Moana needs Maui just as much as Maui needs Moana. Even though Moana isn't as strong and empowered as Elsa, instead of being a princess or royalty, she is the hero of this story. She gets stuck in with all of the action (I was worried at one point she was going to sit and watch but she really does have her own great action moments). I think where Moana will win over viewers is that it is not too heavy on feminism - it is there (I wish there was more) but it isn't being shoved down your throat like some would say Frozen or Maleficent (dir. Robert Stromberg, 2014) did. However, this is still a progressive film for more reasons that just the portrayal of an independent and strong female character. What I liked about the character - even before watching - was her appearance. She wasn't as thin as previous Disney princesses, she is more hands on and much more natural. Moana also helps to add some more diversity to the Disney princess lineup - she joins Tiana, Mulan and Pocahontas as a refreshingly diverse princess. It must also be nice for Polynesian people to see themselves represented in a film - Moana herself and the rest of the cast are all of the Polynesian origin and it was very refreshing and pleasant to see. Lets speak about the voice of Moana - Auli'i Cravalho. When you consider that this is her first ever piece of work, I am blown away. She did an excellent job and her singing was sweet - her voice got stronger throughout the film as did her character. I also appreciate that Cravalho is almost the mirror image of Moana - they are both of a similar age and are both from Hawaii - this may be the closest casting ever and it was certainly nice to see. In summary, Moana is an excellent character and her ark is moving and inspiring. 

Before we get on to the demigod, a special mention should go to the scene stealers of the film - Pua, Heihei and Gramma Tala. I was a little disappointed that Pua was not actually Moana's sidekick as he is definitely much cuter than Heihei but his limited screen time was always a pleasure. Heihei - at first you would think this character would get very annoying and lean very child-friendly - he does but he is also admittedly very hilarious. It is funny to think a chicken is Moana's sidekick but I'm all for it. Finally, Gramma Tala - she really is the heart and soul of this film. Tala is the one who sends Moana on her way and really helps Moana to discover who she is. The character definitely brought back reminders of Grandmother Willow in Pocahontas and when she dies, it is very sad but then when she is back in spirit, it is very effective and is a part of one of my favourite music sequences. 

Maui would not be happy he has been sidelined to the third section of this review but leaving him till last does not mean he wasn't a great character. Maui helps to provide many of the jokes and humourous moments throughout the film. His character's lines are very self aware and he makes many funny jokes on Disney's princess formula - the sidekick and the songs. However, when he challenges Moana, she stands her ground and informs us she is more than just a princess. Maui is a little cocky and unlikeable to begin with but that is all part of the fun. Dwayne Johnson also does a good job voicing the character and so much so that he loses himself in the character - I thought I would never see the day where Johnson is convincing enough that you forget it is him voicing the character. The Rock becomes Maui. His tattoo's were a visual treat and a nice touch. I did think he got in the way at times and it was annoying to think Moana was only going to watch him save the day  but the table's turned in the final act as Moana rightfully became the heroine of her story. Maui is definitely the biggest scene-stealer out of them all and I wouldn't be surprised if audiences demand a spin-off TV series of Maui's adventures. 

Lin-Manuel Miranda really hit the jackpot with Hamilton but he definitely isn't a one-hit wonder as the songs in Moana are refreshingly different but all as good as any other Disney film. I think all of the songs are ones you will want to go back and listen to...they definitely grow on you with time. However, standouts for me were How Far I'll Go and You're Welcome. I thought the latter was a funny theme throughout the film and I liked how Disney cleverly tied it back in towards the end. However, my favourite musical scene by far was 'I Am Moana' - it kind of counts as a How Far I'll Go reprise but I just thought this was when Moana really reveals who she is and is when her character has her arc. The visuals in the scene were excellent and they added a lot more meaning to How Far I'll Go as a song, so much so that it wouldn't surprise me if it became the next Let it Go. Well done, Lin-Manuel Miranda - you have done it again. 

The story for Moana really is quite simple but that is not a bad thing - it is actually quite nice as everything else is so complex (the characters, music, animation). Moana simply has to find Maui and return the heart to the goddess to save her island. On the way, she finds herself and Maui surprisingly findings himself as well. There is plenty of humour along the way and there is never a dull moment. There are some good action sequences - the finale definitely is the stand out though. When Moana controls the waves and walks towards the goddess, that moment really was memorable and possibly iconic. Despite its simplicity, the story is still very entertaining. 

Recently Disney always seem to insert great messages into their films - Zootopia did this brilliantly. Even though Moana doesn't have quite as much to say as Zootopia in terms of social commentary, it still has a lovely message at the heart of it. The message of Moana is to be you, do what makes you happy and follow your dreams - yes, they make seem like generic themes but honestly, this film is very focused on the idea of 'finding yourself' and it definitely does a very good job. Zootopia is timely, Moana could possibly be timeless. 

Finally, the animation. Wow. Wow. Wow. Every shot in Moana is a screensaver - it is such a beautiful film (inside and out). The characters are extremely well realised - Maui is an animators dream, he has so much going for him - the creatures he can transform into, his tattoos and all that hair. Water is the hardest thing to animate and Moana does an excellent job - the ocean is personified flawlessly. This is just a really beautiful and visually perfect film. Surely the Oscar for Best Animated Feature is a two horse race between Zootopia (all that world building!) and Moana (amazing visuals) and to be honest, they are the top contenders for my favourite film of the year. 2016 is a perfect year to look back on and think 'that's why I love Disney'. 

All-in-all, Moana is fantastic. Bringing together elements of Lilo & Stitch, Pocahontas, Frozen, Aladdin and The Little Mermaid -this is basically the perfect Disney movie. Even though Moana isn't your typical princess, she should definitely be welcomed to the line up with open arms. The animation is fantastic and definitely awards worthy. Auli'i Cravalho and Dwayne Johnson both do a fantastic jobs with their characters who are also very great - Moana is another great role model for younger viewers. Moana has a brilliant message at the heart of the film and it is filled with catchy and fun songs. Disney are certainly going out on 2016 on a high. 


What did you think of MOANA? Better than Frozen? - COMMENT BELOW

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1 IMDB: Moana (2016), (accessed 2.12.2016)

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