Moana (2016)
Moana (2016)

Genre: Fairy Tale and Musical Running Time: 1 hr. 53 min.

Release Date: November 23rd, 2016 MPAA Rating: PG

Director: Ron Clements, John Musker Actors: Auli’i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Rachel House, Temuera Morrison, Jemaine Clement, Nicole Scherzinger, Alan Tudyk

 


 

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n the beginning, there was only ocean. Then Mother Island Te Fiti arose from the water and created a haven full of life, and from there more islands surfaced and prospered throughout the seas. But all that changes when shapeshifting demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) steals the jeweled heart of Te Fiti, triggering a battle over the prized possession between the thief and an enraged lava monster that spews forth darkness. Or so the stories go, which young Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) hears from her spirited Gramma Tala (Rachel House). Growing up in the tight-knit Motonui Island community, Moana knows her destiny is to become the next leader of the isolated land. But the defiant girl still longs to go beyond the reefs and explore what beckons in the endless waves. When her village is beset by perishing crops and diminishing fish, Moana determines to take up the quest from her childhood fables and cross the treacherous seas to find Maui and force him to return the heart of Te Fiti to its rightful place.

“No one goes beyond the reef.” Although it starts with the same formula that plagues most Disney fantasies – here making use of a narrator who talks about the legends of a demigod of the wind and sea battling a demon of earth and fire – it’s not enough to fully stop the momentum of what is to come. The jaws of inescapable death and a descendant of royalty bound by duty are the basic ingredients (fueled at times by montages), along with destiny and a yearning for adventure, but the ensuing sequences of action and fortitude swiftly overtake the commonplace setup. Tradition and fear govern an isolated society; a vast unknown and a brave young heroine must rediscover a long lost heritage. But the surrounding music and visuals are far beyond the norm.

The look of the film is one of the first elements to astound. Even though the characters are still designed with exaggeration in physical attributes (including an arguably stereotypical chubbiness for Pacific Islanders), the expressions and movements have grown more realistic than ever before. Paired with such convincing motility are water effects and hair/clothing animation that could be mistaken for the real thing. As always, the environments are also breathtaking, frequently appearing as if filmed in live action.

As has become standard in Disney’s non-Pixar productions, “Moana” is a musical, evidenced early on with spontaneous singing and dancing (a barrage more prominent than the story itself). It’s a bit jarring at first, though it’s handled much better as the picture progresses. “How Far I’ll Go,” the recurring theme for the title protagonist, is the first of the truly pivotal numbers, providing the forcefulness that audiences will hope for, especially after the Oscar-winning original song from “Frozen.” And Maui’s signature tune (“You’re Welcome”) is also catchy and powerful, most notably betraying the influence of songwriter Lin-Manuel Miranda with a familiarly rapped bridge. One of the villains is also given his own composition (Jemaine Clement as monstrous crab Tamatoa), which just might be the crown jewel of the bunch, highlighted by its strangeness, it’s similarities to the sequences for other Disney baddies (Ursula and Jafar, among others, perform morbid, moody songs), and its self-reflexive nature – something that ingeniously eases modern audiences into the inherent difficulties of movie musicals (namely, the imagination necessary to embrace singing while undertaking serious activities).

“Moana” also features the anticipated staples and formulas of such likeminded animated endeavors. Humor is posed at consistent intervals (primarily through a comic-relief animal sidekick – itself a product for nearly every Disney princess); innovative ideas, such as a magical tattoo tapestry or an obviously Mad Max-inspired army of coconut warriors, boost the originality for this spiritual universe; and Moana’s strong personality and unshakeable confidence are consummate qualities for a Disney role model (even though she’s expectedly challenged at the last minute with doubts and abandonment). The finale is also more cinematic than most, boasting a nemesis reminiscent of Chernabog from “Night on Bald Mountain,” some tremendous reprises, and a soundly winning conclusion.

– The Massie Twins

  • 8/10