Reviewed by GREG KING
Directors: Ron Clements, John Musker
Stars: voices of: Auli’i Cravhalo, Dwayne Johnson, Temuera Morrison, Rachel House, Jermaine Clement, Alan Tudyk.
The 56th animated film from Disney, Moana is a crowd pleasing comedy/drama that offers up a wonderful sea going adventure filled with fantasy, catchy musical numbers, action and some clever comedy, and is sure to prove a winner with family audiences during the holiday season.
The titular Moana (voiced by newcomer Auli’i Cravhalo) is the feisty, curious and impetuous 16-year-old daughter of the chief of Motunui, an island in the South Pacific. She is the next of kin and therefore next in line to become leader of the tribe. Her father Tui (voiced by Temeura Morrison, recently seen in Mahana) warns her about leaving their beautiful lagoon and travelling beyond the dangerous reef that protects the island.
Ancient lore tells of a curse unleashed upon the islands when braggart heavily tattooed shape shifting demigod Maui (voiced by Dwayne Johnson), who was also something of a trickster, stole the heart of island goddess Te Fiti, causing a darkness to descend that threatens the life of the islanders. Moana has been enthralled by these dark tales spun by her elderly grandmother Tama (Rachel House). With the encouragement of her grandmother Moana defies her father’s warnings and sets out on a boat to find the recalcitrant Maui and return the heart shaped jewel to Te Fiti, thus restoring order to the world.
Along the way she and Maui battle the Kakamora, vicious pirates that look like coconuts, in a surreal sequence that could have been lifted straight from Waterworld; a fearsome and narcissistic giant crab named Tamatua (voice by Jermaine Clement) who hoardes treasure; and fight Te Ka, the powerful lava monster. The pair bond over the dangerous journey, and the prickly chemistry between them drives the film.
Moana is another animated feature that centres around a spunky heroine on an epic quest and a journey of self-discovery. Moana follows the template of a determined and intelligent female heroine finding her place in the world, challenging the traditions of her people, and it probably most resembles the wonderful New Zealand rites of passage drama Whale Rider. The story, concocted by some seven writers, serves up a mix of fantasy, myth and colourful legends, and is rich in subtext, but it also serves up a strong moral message about following your destiny and that “strength is often hidden beneath the surface”.
The computer generated animation is superb, with some breathtaking visuals, and the natural environment of the land and the sea is superbly realised and detailed. Directors Ron Clements and John Musker (veterans who have worked on previous Disney animations like Aladdin, Treasure Island, etc) visited many South Pacific islands to ensure authenticity with the creation of the various environments and settings here, and they also managed to incorporate many Polynesian myths and legends into the film. The film also has a positive message about conservation and the importance of tradition and protecting the environment. Another clever touch has Maui’s tattoos seemingly come to life as they interact with some of his tall tales.
This crowd pleasing film also features some infectious, catchy musical numbers and songs of empowerment written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, the man behind the current Broadway smash hit musical phenomenon Hamilton.
The filmmakers have assembled a strong vocal cast to bring the characters to life. Johnson brings a lot of his own personality to the role of Maui, and he actually sings in one scene. Cravalho and Johnson develop a wonderful odd couple dynamic. Their lively banter and exchanges add to the movie’s bouyant tone. Cheap laughs and comic touches are provided by the clumsy chicken Heihei (voiced by Alan Tudyk).
But with a generous running time of 113 minutes the film seems a little long and there are quite a few flat spots throughout the sea voyage.