By: Oberst von Berauscht –
Moana is the daughter of the Chief of her island community, and has been kept away from the Ocean by her father, who believes everything they will ever need is provided on their island. When crop disease and overfishing leaves the islanders in danger of starvation, Moana strikes out on her own on board a seafaring boat of her ancestors. For years growing up, her Grandmother filled her with myths and legends, and Moana is convinced that fulfilling one of them can save her village. The myth in question is that of Maui, a Demigod whose love of humanity led him to steal a gem from the heart of an Island Goddess, which inadvertently began the plague that is now overtaking the islands. If Moana can find Maui and take him and the gem back to the Goddess, the curse will be lifted.
Disney Animation has had its ups and downs over the years, but since Tangled they have experienced a bit of a Renaissance. Moana continues that trend, and doubles down with a story that manages to tread some familiar Disney waters while doing something utterly fresh in the process. Disney Animation films have often looked to world cultures for their stories, but have rarely immersed themselves as deeply and respectfully as they do here. The Polynesian myths and culture explored in Moana feel well researched and reverent while avoiding the mawkish faults that plague many Disney features with “ethnic” elements
The biggest thing Moana does right is casting. Every actor who plays a major speaking role has Pacific Islander roots, and there’s a strong community sense that comes from this. Auli’i Cravalho voices Moana, and delivers a solid and inspiring performance that earns a top spot in the Disney Princess canon with her strong resolve. As the mythical demigod Maui, Dwayne Johnson fits the bill perfectly, drawing equally from his natural affability and of the self-assured if not quite self-aware “The Rock” wrestling persona. Rachel House shows her range as an actor with her second excellent performance of the year (following Hunt for the Wilderpeople) as the voice of the Grandmother who inspires Moana to embark on her adventure.
While the film’s trailers do their best to hide the fact that Moana is a musical, the film itself isn’t so coy. Moana features a host of songs, many which will undoubtedly be stuck in your head for days after viewing. But what differentiates Moana from other Disney musicals is that each song serves a purpose in the narrative, and the film doesn’t feel like songs are shoehorned into the plot unneccessarily. Sometimes the film goes a long time between songs, because the story doesn’t call for one. When the songs happen, they mostly feel organic to the setting. Highlights include Maui’s song “You’re Welcome” in which he introduces himself and all of his awesomeness, as well as the faux David Bowie number “Shiny”, in which a treasure-obsessed crab (Jemaine Clement) sings about his riches.
The art design and Animation in Moana is another major strength. Films like Frozen and Tangled often feel like they could have been done just as easily with cell animation and lost none of the visual impact. Use of CGI in Moana feels natural to the oceanic setting of the story, as the world above and below the sea is truly that of multiple dimensions. The film has some 2d animation spread throughout, in the form of Maui’s sentient tattoos, which serve as a constant reminder to Maui of his past achievements and undercut his ego.
Moana is an Oddessy, with its main characters moving from one major setpiece to another. In that sense, it perhaps is inevitable with the film’s 113 minute runtime that some of these lack in development. One group that Moana and Maui meet is the Kakamora, a group of comedic sentient cocoanut-pirates. They seem to be in the film for little other reason than to provide minion-like comic relief for a couple of sequences.
Moana is Disney Animation’s best musical film in years, with excellent songs, clever writing, perfect casting, and a vivid, colorful visual style.
Moana (2016) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: for every song cue
Take a Drink: whenever Moana falls/is knocked into water
Take a Drink: for shapeshifting
Do a Shot: each time the Ocean gets mentioned