Ron Clements & John Musker
Auli’I Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Rachel House, Temuera Morrison, Jemaine Clement, Nicole Scherzinger, Alan Tudyk
November 23, 2016
A Review by Michael David Anderson
The eponymous Moana continues a recent tradition of lead female characters in Disney animation who, while they may be princesses, do not need to seek love or find a significant other in order to complete themselves. Moana is a princess on the Polynesian island of Motunui who, as a young child, was chosen by the sea to one day seek out the demigod Maui (voiced by Dwayne Johnson) and return the heart of Te Fiti, an island goddess, to cease a blight that is spreading throughout the seas. When the blight spreads to Motunui, Moana defies her father, the chief, and sets sail to find Maui and stop the blight.
From a technical standpoint, the film is a wonder. I have never seen water animated as it is in Moana. The effects are impressive and lend a character to the sea to make the story believable. That and the sand effects are incredibly well-rendered. The film sports an amazing attention to detail to allow for an immersive film with a deeper message than so many of the films in Disney’s older pantheon. Moana, following a trend also seen in this year’s Zootopia, tackles a thematic problem we’re facing in today’s world. With Zootopia, racism is addressed in a blatant fashion; in Moana, the threat to our environment and nature is blatantly addressed with the taking of Te Fiti’s heart, seen in the film as a green stone.
Another standout is Dwayne Johnson’s portrayal of Maui, a fun character with a darker edge to him. As a demigod, Maui once gave and gave to humanity in an effort for them to love him. By taking Te Fiti’s heart, he hoped to gain favor once more, but the consequences were far more dire, leading to the spread of the blight. The interplay between Maui and Moana forms the backbone of the film’s driving force, and the obstacles they are forced to overcome are well-devised. I won’t spoil it for you, but let’s just say I hope Kingdom Hearts III features a Moana world, because this film has several potential boss fights that would work exceptionally well in that game series’ world.
Also, Moana’s pet chicken Heihei is great for comic relief. Described as the most stupid character in Disney animation history, Heihei more than lives up to the description and offers some of the film’s best laughs.
Above, I spoke of the environmentalist theme in Moana, but there are other themes and morals at play in the film worth thinking about. The film also boasts one of the best depictions of a character’s death and subsequent passage into the afterlife I’ve ever seen.
Check out Moana. It’s definitely worth it.