Moana is the type of movie that Walt Disney would appreciate, a hero’s journey set to a backdrop of beautiful musical numbers and a vibrant culture. It represents the peak of modern animation, as well as proof that a progressive viewpoint can benefit all of cinema; it also happens to be a wonderful film. 

    The titular character (newcomer Auli’i Cravalho) is a Polynesian princess who is set to inherit a gorgeous island with faithful followers, but something is wrong. She longs for the ocean, but is urged by her father to stay and rule the land. But she’s pushed out by forces beyond her control; a mystical disease is taking over the ocean and starts killing the nature around her.

    It’s a simple set-up, but the joy is in how we learn it. Moana is another Disney film that enjoys revealing so much by showing so little; we understand that the princess enjoys the sea with how she doesn’t recoil hearing about dangerous exploits. We get her restlessness by seeing her look to the ocean amidst a celebration. By not spending too much time on simple beats, directors Ron Clements and John Musker keep a pace breezier than an ocean day.

    Moana goes on a journey to find fish for her people, and soon encounters the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson). He’s a shapeshifting force of nature that stope a valuable gem from Te Fiti, which caused ocean life to begin dying off once Moana reaches her teenage years. Casting johnson is saavy, as he is Samoan himself, but the real joy is watching him sink his vocal talents into portraying an arrogant showman.

    But while Johnson’s performance is great, Cravalhlo makes this movie her own. A big reason why this movie succeeds comes from her plucky and determined voice acting. She could  hurl insults at the audience and you would still love to hear her voice. She is a newcomer that I hope to see more of in the future.

    Moana and Maui go on a journey to recover the demi-god's lost cane, which transforms him into various animals. Their travels take them to an undersea cavern, where they encounter a creature who looks like the evil step-brother of Sebastian from The Little Mermaid (Clements and Musker directed that one too). His scenes are a trippy hoot, again consistent with Disney’s philosophy to weird you out at least once during a 90 minute cartoon (Dumbo says hello).

    Clements and Musker take the quality voice acting and combine it with skillful animation to portray all the characters so well that you almost forget you’re watching a cartoon. Moana and Maui are animated so precisely that they come across as real humans expressing legitimate emotions, rather being the product of simple formulas on a computer.

    The action is wonderful too, with a bright intensity to the sailing scenes that can make being stuck in the open ocean exciting. It’s smart to stick some musical numbers in their to help the audience not notice that we’re basically watching a little girl and her chicken stranded in the ocean.

    Disney has gotten flack for some of their cultural insensitivity, but that’s no where to be found here. Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton) co-wrote many of the songs here, and all are top-notch. It never feels like you’re watching someone spontaneously breakout into song; rather, they’re celebrating their culture by singing about it. Moana dives so deep to portray the people accurately that you immediately notice the genuine love put in to making this.

    Moana herself is frequently referred to as a princess, and I hope she represents the future of what female protagonists. Her strong nature makes her immediately compelling, and it’s refreshing that Disney didn’t feel the need to make Maui, with his large muscles and A-list movie star voice, the main character. Moana’s journey is compelling enough on her own, and by the end of it I wishing for her to become a demigod and have strong powers of her own.

    Moana is the kind of politically correct movie that is actually entertaining. It’s proof that you can respectfully adhere to a culture and promote diversity without stuffing it down an audience’s throat. Turns out that Disney magic can still churn out something special.

Published by Jagger Czajka