Directed by Disney duo Ron Clements and Jon Musker (The Little Mermaid, Aladdin), Moana follows the titular Moana (Auli’i Cravalho), the daughter of the chief of a Polynesian tribe, who is chosen by the ocean itself to reunite a mystical relic with a goddess. She sets sail in search of the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) as she hopes to save her people.
I was really excited for this movie, mainly because the Polynesian culture is a culture that is very rarely seen in films. And the film did not disappoint. Right from the start, the film immerses you in Polynesian culture, to the point that I am still humming and listening to “We Know the Way” even days after watching it. Though, I guess I could say that of every song in the film as each song is catchy and powerful, and the soundtrack as a whole is more focused and thematically linked than Frozen, which suffered from a soundtrack and sounded like it was written by fifteen different people.
Everything from the music to the design of the characters instantly makes the film stand out from other similarly animated films such as Frozen and Tangled. I make those comparisons mainly because the animation style (or at least the style of the characters) reminds me a lot of them. Though I guess it’s no surprise considering that they are all animated by the same team. It’s by no means a problem nor is it a distraction, though I almost wish the art style was different in order to differentiate the movies from each other artistically. I remember how Mulan was animated to almost appear like a Chinese painting and I wish Moana was more Polynesian in style as well as story.
That issue is just a minor one for me, however. While I was watching I didn’t care about the style because I was wrapped up in the story, the characters and the music. While the story suffers in certain places (the beginning sort of drags and meanders while a character’s return at the end feels abrupt), it is the characters that sell it. Moana is strong-willed but also unsure of herself. In fact, it is her internal struggle that ends up being more interesting than her external struggle and I will always love movies like that. It gives the film it’s center, it’s heart and it’s how we latch on to a character. I don’t care who you are, at some point in your life you struggled with the age old question of “who you are.”
This theme of identity also extends to Maui, who at first appears to a somewhat charming yet brutish and selfish warrior, changes towards the end as we explore where he came from and why he is the way it is. His struggles never overshadows Moana’s struggles, however, and the focus always remains on Moana and her adventure. I say ‘adventure’ and not ‘story’ because this film really is an adventure form start to finish. The common sentiment with this film is that Moana is Disney’s first action princess and they are absolutely correct. She knows what she needs to do and she rarely hesitates.
Moana was an absolute joy from start to finish. It’s funny, it’s endearing and I found myself enjoying it a lot more than I thought I would. You should absolutely watch this movie.