Moana offers up something different for Disney animations without breaking the mould.
Disney have found a formula that works. It’s been tried and tested for decades upon decades and pretty much guarantees a certain standard of success every single time but arguable doesn’t offer up anything new. Moana is definitely inside the parameters of the ‘Disney design’ but there’s enough change from previous outings to not feel stale. I really enjoyed this film.
Okay, disclaimer, as a childless 22 year old male, this film isn’t marketed at me and it’s been a long time since I’ve even watched what you would describe as a ‘traditional’ Disney animation. I did really love Wreck it Ralph and I enjoyed what I saw of Big Hero 6 but I don’t think either of these can be classed as traditional Disney Animated films. Moana in certain senses could be described as traditional Disney but I also think it’s aware of what people are saying about the appropriateness of having a Princess searching for love. Moana has no love interest at all in fact. And neither does it have a princess. Moana is the ‘daughter of the clan chief’. The writer’s even go as far to have Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson’s Demi-God Maui tell Moana that she is a princess, a fact she very much distributes in a very comical, winking at the audience, scene. It’s entertaining to see them directly addressing and poking fun at the criticism that has been levelled at them in recent years.
Okay, so what actually happens in this film? Through the prologue we’re told that Te Fiti, a Goddess, has a heart that has the power to create life. It’s inevitable that people will try and steal this power from her. In an Indian Jones-esque sequence we see Maui (Dwayne Johnson) steal the heart from Te Fiti and escape with it. However as he makes his escape a demon named Te Kā comes forth and both Maui and the heart of Te Fiti are lost to the depths of the ocean. With the heart lost the world is starting to perish; crops won’t grow, fish are fleeing and the inhabitants of Motunui are desperate. That is where Moana comes in. As the daughter of the chief it will one day by her job to look after her people; a task her Father encourages her to take up early. However Moana has always felt the call of the sea, something that her Father has outlawed on the island for fear of lose of life. Yet nothing will stop Moana, she believes it is her fate to find the heart of Te Fiti and Maui and take him across the sea so he can give it back.
There’s a lot of fun to be had with this film; there’s some genuinely funny and exciting moments and the relationship between the, at first reluctant Maui and the ever persistent Moana is incredible strong. It’s a relationship that you have to buy into as for the majority of this film we’re alone with these two characters. Auli’i Carvalho makes her acting debut here as Moana and is brilliant! She lends a great believability as well as a fantastic singing voice to the role. Although the actors didn’t necessarily record their lines at the same time, it’s no mean feat to go toe-to-toe with this years highest paid actor, but she pulls it off. No doubt she’ll go into great things. They’re relationship develops from one of frustration with an air of reluctants, to a genuinely touching one. And as I said, there’s a lot of laughs to be had along the way as well as a hilarious chicken sidekick.
How about the songs? They’re pretty great! Very Disney-esque but that’s no bad thing. They’re catchy, enjoyable and you’ll be humming the tunes as the lights come up. Plus who knew The Rock could sing? Not us! There’s also a brilliant song and cameo by Flight of the Concords Jermaine Clement as a giant crap that shouldn’t be missed.
What about the moral, because lets face it all Disney films have a moral. As I mentioned, this film doesn’t try and push the idea, in anyway shape or form, that only finding true love will make you happy. It has, what I think, is a really great message. It’s a message to believe in yourself, don’t let people dictate what you can and can’t do, chase your dreams but also honour your responsibilities. It’s cheesy when you lay it out like that but it doesn’t mean it isn’t good advice. As an adult you should already know the life lessons that Disney are trying to teach children but that doesn’t mean the films should be pushed aside because of it. They’re trying to spread good and are generally pretty enjoyable.
The only place I’d say this film falls down is its use of ‘destiny’. I’ll put this down to me being a cynical adult however, and it’s up for debate in the end whether or not it’s destiny that drives Moana or her sheer self-belief and determination.
The animation and design is some of the best I’ve seen in a long time, the animators have done a great job of making the ocean a character and filling it with life. I also genuinely believe the motivations of these characters, as even Maui, a Demi-God, isn’t just a straight up hero. He’s complex and flawed and in many ways is just as insecure as Moana, a young character who is trying to find her place in the world, battling between what she wants to do and what people expect of her.
All in all, Moana is a really enjoyable film.