Hot Take: Disney does it again! Actually, it’s a female heroine not driven by a potential suitor or being held back… unless you call being told you can only be chief of the entire island being held back. So, when I say Disney does it again, I only mean it in the sense that they made yet another great animated tale.
Every second of Moana is excellent. It might the most watchable film of 2016, so far. It’s a heartwarming tale of bravery, responsibility, dreaming big, survival and independence. It’s not groundbreaking but it doesn’t need to be. It embraces a culture that deserves to have its story told. It emboldens a female protagonist without tying her to a handsome prince or another equally attractive suitor. (There’s actually no suitor at all.) It’s hilarious for kids. It’s equally funny for adults and not even in the sense that it has adult jokes that will fly over the heads of children, either. The music is great. The songs are memorable. Even The Rock sings!
Even though Moana follows the Disney template, it does it so well it’s hard to criticize the movie for that. Aul’il Cravalho provides the voice of Moana, a young girl set to be the next chief of her island despite her desires to explore the ocean and go beyond the reef. Her grandmother tells her the story of Maui, a demi-god who stole the heart of Te Fiti and cursed the people of her island. The story speaks of a brave islander who will find sail beyond the reef, find Maui and return the heart of Te Fiti to its rightful place and lift the curse.
Once Moana embraces her heart’s desire to sail beyond the reef and save her people from eventual famine and hunger (the trees are dying inexplicably and the seas within the reef are bereft of fish), we meet Maui voiced by Dwayne Johnson. Johnson as the demigod has impeccable comedic timing. Combined with his entertainingly animated tattoos and ridiculous mansplaining of why he doesn’t need Moana’s help (only to find out seconds later that he has underestimated her yet again), Johnson is the perfect fit for the role. He even sings and those of us who know him from his days as “The Rock” know he doesn’t even have a terrible singing voice.
As the film progresses, it is easy to immerse yourself into this wonderfully animated world of untold Pacific Islander lore. Moana is the female character we needed right now with all that is happening around us and it’s refreshing to see a Disney character who isn’t supported by some sort of romantic companion. It’s a step toward a more enlightened Disney princess even though Moana technically isn’t one. She’s a chief, an explorer and a wayfarer. She’s also a story I’ll make sure to enjoy again in the near future. It’s the best animated film of the year and has all the magic you’d expect from a classic Disney film.
“Spoiler Free” Pros
- The Animation
Disney’s animation gets better with each film. Earlier this year, I lauded Zootopia for its impressive animation and Moana goes one step further. The combination of CG animation, 3D animation and 2D animation (in the form of “Mini Maui” — the tattooed version of Maui that comes to life on his chest and acts as the demi-god’s conscience) is a pleasure to watch.
- The Music
It’s doubtful there’s a “Let It Go” in the bunch but there’s plenty of other songs from Moana that will stick in your head and have you leave the theater humming.
- Hey hey, it’s Heihei!
Director Ron Clements described Heihei, Moana’s pet rooster, as the dumbest character in the history of Disney animation. He might be right but he left one important detail out. Heihei is one of the funniest characters in the history of Disney animation, too!