Moana full movie review - Moana is a Great Adventure, Magical at Times and at Worst a Little Over-The-Top
People want diversity in their animated movies, female main characters and some deviation from the formula. Disney has answered the call. It's commendable of them and I applaud them for it.
We don't get to do much travelling to exotic locales like in some of the older Disney movies. In Moana, we get to travel to Polynesia and although some elements of the plot are familiar, the movie has a different flavour to it and I enjoyed it. Was the rest of the movie as fresh as the environment the movie was set in? The answer is both yes and no, I'm not trying to be secretive but just like any other movie, there are bright spots and things that aren't quite perfect.
*Minor Spoilers Ahead* We get a short introduction from Gramma Tala (Rachel House) on how the islands came to be. Te Fiti is a goddess who sprang from the ocean and began to create life. It wasn't long until other life forms wanted her power for themselves. A demigod named Maui (Dwayne Johnson) traveled to her island and stole her heart. When he tried to make his escape, he was confronted by Te Ka, a monster made of lava. The two battled to a standstill and the heart was lost. This left Te Ka in power and even 1000 years later, he still exacts revenge by draining fish from the oceans and swallowing up islands. It's a cool story but the problem is that she's telling it to a bunch of small children who begin to cry and run around frightened. All except one, little Moana (eventually being voiced by Auli'i Cravalho) who is already a little adventurer at heart. She's drawn towards the sea and despite the objections of her father Chief Tui (Temeura Morrison) ventures out to the beach to pick up shells and help a baby turtle make it across the beach. The waves begin to literally begin to play with her (it's an adorable scene) and part to reveal more shells for her to collect. Her father stops her but even as she grows, she always still feels the call of the ocean and tries to balance her responsibilities with her longing for adventure.
There's so much to talk about with this movie, I already touched on how beautiful the atmosphere is. The animation is beautiful the whole way around. From the island life to how the water moves and interacts with the characters, to the character design (the coconut pirates were particularly awesome), it all looks great. You expect this from Disney (between their work and Pixar, they represent the gold standard) but it's worth noting all the same. It's definitely one of their better looking movies and although the rest of the movie is up to the task, I don't think it would have been the same without the efforts of the animators.
The next thing to mention is how great the music was. I didn't love every song ("Shiny" wasn't bad but it wasn't my thing) but when the movie really hit the right spot with the musical numbers, it took me back to the Disney movies I watched when I was a kid (The Lion King, Aladdin just to name a couple). There were some pretty powerful songs in here that were not only fun to listen to but were also very emotional. My favourite was "You're Welcome" which is when Moana is introduced to Maui and he thinks she's come to him as an adoring fan. Who knew that Dwayne Johnson could sing? I had a big grin on my face for the whole song. I think kids will love the music and adults will get something out of it too.
The characters are new and well developed but they aren't without familiarity either. I think this is where some people will have problems with the movie. Moana is technically like some Disney princesses and her journey isn't without some familiar elements. This is something I didn't take a big issue with, sure it would be great if it was something that we hadn't seen before but I don't have a problem if you can follow the formula but put a new twist on it. Moana is a great role-model for the kids out there, balancing her duty with her enthusiasm for adventure and although Maui comes across initially as very self-involved, he's actually pretty vulnerable and there was a reason for doing what he did.
I want to finish up with the voice acting, which was also pretty great throughout. This was an especially strong debut performance for Auli'i Cravalho. She not only was great in the musical bits but I felt like her performance had a lot of emotion in it. She had a character with a lot of conflict about what she was doing and through her performance, she made the audience care about what happened to Moana. Dwayne completely nailed it as Maui, it almost felt like him just showing off his newly found range. The guy honestly just keeps getting better as an actor. The supporting actors were also good, I didn't like his song but Jermaine Clement just has a voice that's perfect for animated movies, he does fine work. Rachel House and Temeura Morrison were noteworthy in their respective supporting roles.
I didn't love everything about this movie but the aspects it got right, they were ultimately pretty great. Anything that makes me think of the older Disney movies I grew up with was doing something right and I was left reminiscing more than a few times. I didn't love the ending but it did end on a nice hopeful note and they over-played the chicken sidekick. I liked this better than Frozen but not as much as Inside Out. If you have kids, they're going to absolutely love this movie, I give it an 8.5/10