Disney’s latest princess tale brings in a world of change. Moana is Disney’s first Polynesian princess and more importantly she is about as real as they get in terms of appearances. Gone are the trademark tiny waists and big eyes. Also this daughter of the chief of Motunui is no damsel in distress.
Featuring the vocal talents of Auli’i Caravalho as Moana and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as the demi-god Maui the story is about Moana’s quest to return the heart of island goddess Te Fiti which Maui stole and as a result of which death and darkness is spreading to Motunui. What follows is a series of adventures as Moana first seeks Maui, trying to convince him return the heart of Te Fiti, then them jointly looking for his magical fishhook that allows him to shapeshift and then them returning to Te Fiti only to be confronted by Maui’s nemesis Te Ka the Lava monster.
Moana is bursting with Polynesian influences, the music and the dance, the myths and the legends all lend to a beautifully layered and mostly unconventional story telling as far as Disney clichés go. Maui played by The Rock is a tattoo clad haka-tribesman character. The Animation in Moana is amped up a notch beyond just the main characters. The tattoos on Maui also tell a story, they come alive, its animation within animation! It’s Anim-ception. Also the animation during the song “you’re welcome” where the 3-d animated Maui and Moana run through 2-d hand drawn animation you get a strange but pleasant surprise where visually the animated characters look real. Also in some of the scenes shot on the ocean it almost feels like the animated characters are superimposed on actual panoramic live photography of the sea.
The vocal talents of Auli’i and Johnson are fun and never once do they get annoying. The characters of HeiHei the stupid rooster and Pua the teacup pig are cute. Moana is bursting with colour and happiness. Like in any typical Disney movie you never once doubt that the heroine will complete the task at hand but the somewhat predictable ride is made fun by stunning visuals that are full of colour and textures. Featuring the musical talents of Opetaia Foa’i, Mark Mancina and Lin Manuel Miranda – the superstar creator of the Broadway hit Hamilton, Moana has a very unique soundtrack that still has the familiar operatic notes of the Disney staple.
I love animated films and the simple joys they offer. But Moana is extra special. It somehow feels a little grown up and the unbridled happiness and humour that it has to offer makes it one to be revisited many times. The only film I can compare this to visually was the stunning and colourful world of Nemo that Disney created nearly a decade ago. Go with kids if you have them or just go by yourself but don’t miss Moana.