The Walt Disney Co. train has not let up at all this year, and the only thing that will be surprising is if it stops anytime soon—which it won’t. In this year alone, Disney has released two major Marvel Studios films, two other animated films—one in conjuction with Walt Disney Animation Studios and the other with Pixar Animation, and it has a new Star Wars anthology film coming out later this month. However, before we get to that, over Thanksgiving week Disney decided to grace us with the release of the hotly-anticipated film, “Moana,” Disney’s fresh take on a Polynesian princess and her culture. Disney gave the reigns of this film to veteran Disney filmmakers and animators Ron Clements and John Musker, known for “The Princess and the Frog,” “Aladdin,” “The Little Mermaid” and “Treasure Planet,” with this being their first digitally animated film. Despite this, they managed to create yet another mesmerizing world for the Disney, along with the rest of the team that worked on the film.
“Moana” follows its titular character (Auli’i Cravalho) who lives with her tribe, led by her father, Chief Tui (Temuera Morrison), and her mother, Sina (Nicole Scherzinger), on a picturesque Polynesian island. While she is destined to lead the tribe, Moana longs to travel beyond the reef surrounding the island to seek out adventure in her early years, then later for the survival of the tribe after a failed harvest. Supporting Moana is her grandmother, Gramma Tala (Rachel House), who believes the island’s perilous situation is due to the actions of the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson), who stole the heart of Te Fiti, an island goddess who brought life to all until he stole her heart as a gift for humanity. Faced with the impending destruction of her family and tribe, Moana journeys off to find Maui and gain his help in putting the heart back in its rightful place, while also trying to understand who she was meant to be and learning what her tribe once stood for.
Right off the bat, it must be said that these will be some of the finest animated water effects that you will ever see this year, rivaling the blockbuster animated film, “Finding Dory,” and even live-action films. It’s not just the water; everything is outstanding to look at, from the simplest of particle effects to the grandiosity of spectacular action sequences involving coconut pirates, a glam-rocking crab and so much more.
The story does the animation and voice acting justice as well, although the story can feel rather familiar at times. However, the Polynesian cultural aspects give it a fresh perspective. Speaking of voice acting, Cravalho’s voice acting and singing make it hard to believe she was only 14 during the making of the film. Johnson is also just as surprising in his role as Maui, which is an extremely well-done animated version of Johnson himself. This is showcased in his musical number, “You’re Welcome,” arguably the best song in the toe-tapping and immensely replayable soundtrack, courtesy of the talents of Lin-Manuel Miranda, Opetaia Foa’i and Mark Mancina, who is also the score composer.
The soundtrack is the other major reason to see the film. The Polynesian cultural sound is showcased in songs such as Moana’s “How Far I’ll Go” and the tribe theme “We Know the Way.” The rest of the album also incorporates freestyle rapping in “You’re Welcome” and David Bowie-esque glam rock with the villain’s theme “Shiny,” which is sung by an eclectic monster crab, Tamatoa (Jermaine Clement, in a thoroughly enjoyable but unfortunately small role). Side animal characters, most notably the stupefying and ridiculous Heihei (Alan Tudyk), a rooster that may just be the most stupid character created by Disney, are very endearing.
Overall, the film has strong emotional weight that is pulled together by the mastery of voice acting, music and lyrics, breathtaking animation and an overwhelmingly enjoyable energetic feel. While it does not reach the meteoric heights set by “Kubo and the Two Strings” or fellow Disney film, “Zootopia,” it is still a pleasing ride to go through, especially with all of these wonderful characters, locales and music. It’s definitely an experience worth having.
Directed by: Ron Clements and John Musker
Release Date: Nov. 23
Rating: 5 out of 5