Review: Moana Is Beautiful, Heartbreaking, And Nearly Perfect
Director: Ron Clements, Don Hall, John Musker, and Chris Williams
Summary: In Ancient Polynesia, when an terrible curse incurred by Maui reaches an impetuous Chieftain’s daughter’s island, she answers the Ocean’s call to seek out the demigod to set things right.
There are plenty of people, including myself, that believe that Disney is entering a second renaissance when it comes to their original movies. The Pixar movies seem to be coming back around as they got stuck on prequels and sequels, the Marvel Cinematic Universe feels so well done it might as well be the water cycle it’s so consistent, Star Wars is opening up the universe to new and old fans alike and the live action remakes look poised to take over the imagination of an entirely new generation. They are also completely redoing how they are approaching the princess movies that have made up so much of the Disney brand. Both Tangled and Frozen took cliches from the Disney formula and turned them on their heads and Moana seemed ready to do the exact same thing with the added benefit of giving recognition to an often overlooked culture.
Moana is a fantastic movie for the entire family with a great story, fantastic songs and moments of true heartbreak.
The things that make Moana work as well as it does is that everyone on the team seemed to have a clear understanding of what they wanted to accomplish. At its core Moana is a fairly traditional Disney story about a headstrong young woman who goes against her destiny to go save the world with a wacky sidekick. It’s the details that make the movie so great such as the fact that the people it is portraying are explored in a way that some people might not even know exist. Moana is next in line to be the chief of her people but no one ever brings up her gender. There isn’t a doubt among anyone that Moana is next in line. When Maui
tells her that she is a princess, Moana immediately rejects that notion. She is no princess, she is a warrior and a leader, and she’s here to save the day! She is masterfully brought to life by Auli’i Cravalho, a newcomer who just celebrated her sixteenth birthday, who breathes real life into this character and makes us fall in love with her.
Moana gets help from shape shifting demigod Maui in a role that feels very similar to directors Ron Clements and John Musker’s previous work, Aladdin. The DNA of the genie is in Maui but he is also very much his own character. He isn’t nearly as nice as the genie for one and seems keen to abandon, and at some point even kill Moana because he doesn’t want to do what she says. It’s a tough line to have a character act like that much of a jerk and still have them come across as likable but thanks to the extremely charismatic performance of Dwayne Johnson he makes it work. This man is well on his way to being a superstar and he deserves every second of it.
The final thing that really makes Moana not only one of the best movies of the year but one of Disney’s best is the music. The songs have been brought to life by the breakout star of broadway Lin Manuel-Miranda who has won nearly every award on the planet for his play Hamilton. Miranda has a very certain style as he mixes song with rap that fits perfectly for the movie’s tone. Maui’s song, ‘You’re Welcome’, is a clear highlight but Moana’s theme, “How Far I’ll Go”, is amazing and heartbreaking at times. The entire soundtrack is fantastic and the songs never feel out of place or forced.
Moana is yet another modern Disney classic that deserves just as much success as Frozen. These directors have shaped childhood through The Little Mermaid and Aladdin and I’m so glad they get to shape this next generation with this fantastic movie. Moana will make you laugh, it will make you cry and you won’t forget it. Also, stay through the credits for a great Disney inside joke.