Look, I’m not gonna say Moana was a great movie, but it was a great Disney movie. Like many others I grew up on Disney movies, so I was more than satisfied with the film. Unlike Inside Out or Song of the Sea, though, this isn’t an animated film I would recommend to just anybody. This is because the story isn’t breaking the narrative mold that Disney sticks by through thick and thin. But hey, if it ain’t broke, right?
That being said, I would also recommend it to anyone that tends to like pretty films because, holy crap, this one is beautiful. Ron Clements and John Musker were pretty much the last holdouts at Disney when it came to CGI, but with Moana they decided to go for it and they got the prettiest animated film I’ve seen in a long time.
Speaking of Clements and Musker, I felt like they were doing with Moana what many people have criticized another film of theirs (this little project you may have heard of, The Little Mermaid) for: Ariel gives up her agency in order to be with the prince. Well let me promise you this, Moana doesn’t give up agency, and she sure as hell doesn’t need a prince to be happy.
I know a lot of reviews that I’ve read talked about how happy they are that there was no love story in this movie, and I agree. I think Disney rests on that laurel in too many films. Frozen was a step in the right direction by focusing on the sororal (yes that’s a word, trust me I had to look it up) relationship but still, Anna was awfully boy crazy. And while Merida was being forced into marriage in Brave, she wanted no part of it, so I didn’t see Moana as completely revolutionary as I’ve seen some say. And I did see a lot of parallels with The Little Mermaid (rebelling from father, singing crab, animal sidekick, etc.) but when I think about the fact that this is from the same directing team, I can see where maybe they were giving the story a sophomore effort if that makes any sense. Especially considering Taika Waititi’s original script was so different from the final product, obviously Clements and Musker had a goal in mind.
Next on the docket: the music. I don’t think Disney has their next “Let it Go,” but I did enjoy the tunes in the movie and Lin-Manuel Miranda killed it with the songs, not that anyone has come to expect anything less from Mr. Hamilton himself. There was a balance of lightness with Maui’s “You’re Welcome” that I thought The Rock did a great job on. He’s not winning any awards for his singing, but it fit the tone of the song perfectly so I don’t think that matters. I assume the featured song, “How Far I’ll Go,” will be the big push for best song at this year’s Oscars, and it was catchy, but with La La Land out there this year, I’m not sure they’ll get that one this year. Jemaine Clement’s song was appropriately entertaining, and the Polynesian music throughout was a very welcome addition that helped create the world of Moana.
As for the voice acting, I thought that newcomer Auli’i Cravalho did a good job. Sometimes the performance was a little stilted, but most of the time she captured some nice emotional beats.
The Rock was great as Maui and the bit players did good too. Temuera Morrison was Moana’s dad so I was waiting for him to strap on his jetpack and pull out his blaster the whole time. Jango Fett reference in a Disney review? Nailed it.
As I mentioned with regard to the songs, Jemaine Clement played the big evil crab. He was fantastic, but I either wanted much more of him or none at all. The scene with him was so inconsequential. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to tell you that the villain (Clement) they encounter halfway through the movie doesn’t beat the heroes. He’s literally in one scene. And Moana and Maui never seemed that worried in the scene. And no, a post credits scene where he reappears is still not enough (but make sure to stick around for it!).
Another small gripe, and this one is a little spoiler-y, but if you know the Disney formula, it really isn’t. There is a literal Deus Ex Machina in the final battle, and it didn’t feel appropriately earned. It seemed like a point where Jared Bush (the film’s screenwriter) had written himself into a corner, which is exactly why the Deus Ex Machina convention exists. It just diminished Moana’s strength to me a little bit.
All this being said, if you like Disney films, family films, pretty films, or just want to not think too hard and enjoy some fun music while you’re at it, check out Moana for sure. If you’re looking for something completely fresh, maybe skip this one.
Wait, one more thing! Did anyone else think that Maui looked like The Rock ate Umaga?