I have been waiting for MONTHS to be able to write this.
Not only did Moana get released in the UK later than it had been in the US, but then it took weeks to get my family’s schedule’s synced up so we could see it together (we try really hard to see new Disney films with all three of us). All I can say is that it was well worth the wait & my heart is so, so happy right now.
Walt Disney Studio’s latest animation follows Moana, a young woman chosen by the sea & a journey she takes to save her island. It stars newcomer Auli’i Carvalho & Dwayne Johnson, with music from Opetaia Foa’i, Mark Mancina & Lin-Manuel Miranda. It’s written & directed by dream team John Musker & Ron Clements, in their first full length computer animated Disney film – their previous work includes The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Hercules & more. I didn’t even need to know what the story was about, with that cast & crew lineup it’s bound to be incredible.
The film is set in Ancient Polynesia, on an island village where Moana, daughter of the Chief & future Chief herself is chosen by the sea. She grows to accept her role as future chief & leave her desires of the sea behind, but when a thought to be legend curse threatens the survival of her island & her people with it she throws herself into a mission to save it, & seeks out the demigod Maui to set things right.
The film doesn’t have many characters, but each is so beautiful that it’s better that way.
In lead is obviously Moana, a young woman & daughter to the chief of her island. She’s strong, she’s fiesty & follows her heart whilst thinking with her head & I love her. She’s voiced by now sixteen year old Auli’i Carvalho, & se is phenomenal in her debut speaking & singing role – yes, she does both.
I really hope we see lots, lots more from Auli’i.
Tui & Sina are Moana’s parents, her father being village Chief. He is protective & knows that she is capable of being a great chief after him, so he struggles with Moana’s other interests & tries to keep her from other passions. He doesn’t do this out of malice, he does it out of fear & his belief in her following in his footsteps – which is why his wife Sina is his perfect counterpart.
She is kind, & understanding, & ultimately pushes Moana into following her heart though it’s difficult for her. She is GORGEOUS, & voiced by Nicole Scherzinger!
Gramma Tala is Moana’s grandmother, & her guide towards her destiny. She is a wonderful woman, known as the “village crazy person” but she is wise, calm, caring & true to herself. She’s a source of police for Moana as Tala does not only accept Moana’s desires, but encourages her to fulfil them. She is the perfect guide in her journey & the most wonderful woman & maybe my favourite character in the film. I knew I loved stingrays for a reason.
Then there’s Pua the adorable pig & Hei Hei the Chicken as Moana’s animal sidekicks. All the trailers & promotion implied that Pua was going to have a much bigger part in the story but it was actually Hei Hei that ended up in the role of signature sidekick & I am not complaining. He was such a simple character (literally) that brought the same recurring gag to the film but it got me every single time. He was also voiced by Alan Tudyk, which really makes me want to see the recording footage.
Last but not least is of course, Maui. He’s a shapeshifter, a demigod of the wind & sea & hero of men. He’s also a self obsessed, selfish, scared & ultimately vulnerable. His growth in his character is wonderful to watch & his song is definitely going to rise to be one of the Disney greats for years to come. Is there anything that Dwayne Johnson wasn’t born to do?
One of the most outstanding things about this film is the amazing cultural understanding that it displays. The filmmakers spent years researching and even immersed themselves in the Polynesian culture in order to make the film respectful to the culture and mythology of the Polynesian people. Almost the entire cast is of Polynesian heritage too which is massive – it’s the first time that Polynesian actors have been he main focus of a Disney, & Hollywood film.
I highly recommend you watch this short featurette from Disney abut how they approaching learning about the Polynesian culture, because the level of commitment to showcasing the true passion of the culture is present every single second in the final film.
The story is beautifully crafted. Showing the progression of the plot from village legend to actual mission is really elegantly done so that it doesn’t feel cheesy. It’s just fun, with some thrills & self discovery along the way. It’s a perfect family film, with heart & laughs & songs along the way.
There’s a teeny tiny bit of forced ‘oh we’re in 2016’ humour e.g. the “tweeting” joke that’s featured in the trailer. But it’s more endearing than irritating. The character of Tomatoa is maybe the best representation of that that did split opinions in my family: my mum loved him & thought he was hilarious whilst my sister thought he was a forced character to try & be cool & hip with the kids. I was somewhere in the middle, but LOVED the post credits scene featuring him. I won’t spoil it, so make sure you stay till the end of the credits.
But did anyone catch that Sven from Frozen appearance?
The animation is gorgeous: that ocean!! The hair!! The lush forests!! The teeny little turtle at the start!!
Though it’s mostly computer animation, Maui’s tattoo’s are actually hand drawn animation! It’s a really beautiful homage to old school Disney, & the writing/ directing team behind the film whose previous work for Disney had all been hand drawn animation. The blend of the two makes it really special, & Maui’s communication with those tattoos is like a nice little relationship between the computer & hand drawn animation styles.
Obviously it goes without saying that all Disney soundtracks are incredible, but Moana really excels – & it’s not surprising with Lin-Manuel Miranda behind some of that music.
Auli’i is stunning providing the singing voice for Moana too & it’s shocking to think that she was only fourteen at the time of recording. And Dwayne – oh Dwayne. Damn does he have some pipes. His lead song “You’re Welcome” is brilliant & easily listenable to hundreds of times (which is exactly what I did driving home from the cinema. Lin-Manuel’s compositions are truly astonishing, always the right level of catchy, clever & meaningful & I adore him for it. Hamilton was an amazing soundtrack to start the year with & Moana is the perfect way to end it.
I mean, could The Rock get any cooler?
Moana fits perfectly beside other previous Disney films. It follows the same morals & heartwarming story premise but it shows progression & self awareness, at times even making jokes about itself. Moana is also the second Disney Princess with an original story (i.e. not based on a fairy tale/ legend) or have a love interest, the first being Merida in 2012’s Brave. Can we also talk about how she’s going to become the first female chief of her village & it’s just not a big deal at all? Nobody is freaking out at the thought of a woman being in charge which was so nice to watch for a while.
Disney’s commitment to researching the culture so as to celebrate it without offence is inspirational & absolutely miles ahead of the rest of Hollywood & it’s completely faith-restoring after this year of hatred. I am so, so grateful.
Moana was beautiful. It was a wonderful story told with passion to truly celebrate the Polynesian culture & it was just stunning.
Moana is in cinemas worldwide now.