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‘Moana’ (review)

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Produced by Osnat Shurer
Screenplay by Jared Bush
Story by Ron Clements, John Musker,
Chris Williams, Don Hall, Pamela Ribon,
Aaron Kandel, Jordan Kandell

Directed by Ron Clements, John Musker
Starring Auli’i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson,
Rachel House, Temuera Morrison,
Jemaine Clement, Nicole Scherzinger,
Alan Tudyk, Oscar Kightley

 

There are few things as strongly tied to the idea of Disney than their ever-lucrative princess franchise.

The family film powerhouse adds to their collection with a movie that will rival The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and The Lion King in terms of CGI excellence, catchy songs, and memorable storylines.

Disney’s Moana is almost flawless in execution.

Even the few hiccups are endearing and serve purpose.

This is easily their strongest outing in years, and will melt the hold Frozen has had on many little girls worldwide.

The story follows Moana, a young girl destined to be chief of her island tribe. While everyone seems happy to live in the close-knit community with no wonder about what lies beyond the horizon, Moana cannot quell her internal desire to explore past the reef. She is especially intrigued by the ancient lore shared by her grandmother about Maui, the demigod shape shifter who spread a curse throughout the land after stealing a sacred item. When the danger reaches her home shores, Moana takes it upon herself to reverse the curse by sailing across the ocean to find the long lost demigod so that he may restore the item to its rightful place.

The film brings together a powerhouse team from many other Disney blockbusters and the result is a beautifully rendered movie.

Sweeping island landscapes show lush vegetation, sandy beaches, and ocean views that will have you looking at vacation packages to Fiji. The leaps that have been made in CGI are clearest once the film moves to its ocean setting (the vast majority of the movie). Water is notoriously difficult to animate realistically but the team at Disney have done an excellent job of capturing its natural ebb and flow, from the way it breaks upon the sand to the spray from giant waves crashing against rocks and boats.

While this is not the first time that Disney has used a cultural background to tell a story it is obvious that they have spared no small expense to ensure that Moana does not exist as a Polynesian caricature.

Before setting sail the film spends the first quarter on her island to ensure the audience is drawn into the practices and morals of her world. Upbeat choral ensemble songs are used to explain the importance of roles without sounding pedantic, with much of the success coming from the partnership between master songwriters Lin-Manuel Miranda of Hamilton and the award-winning Opetaia Foa’i of the world music group Te Vaka.

A particular gem is their take on the classic “I Wish” song where she shares the desires that will drive her story. “How Far I’ll Go” is a contender to be this generation’s “Part of Your World”, while “We Know the Way” rivals The Lion King’s “Circle of Life”.

Less successful with how it folds in but noteworthy for its composition is a song written and performed by Jemaine Clement of Flight of the Conchords. The side story that leads them to his character is a bit distracting but still worth the jaunt.

Newcomer Auli’i Cravalho is a bubbly, strong choice for Moana. Her comic delivery is excellent and impressive vocals make each song worth the soundtrack purchase. Equally notable is actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson who shines as the egotistical Maui, spending a great deal of the film tempering Moana’s enthusiasm with sharp barbs and self-absorbed statements. There is great vocal chemistry between the two and it is notable to see Disney’s dedication to finding talent representative of the culture they are portraying onscreen.

Happily missing in the story were the standard princess love interest and allusions of dependence. As the film opens to Moana’s responsibilities as future chief of the village, the story rarely veers towards any other feeling except that she is the master of her own destiny, as well as that of the people depending on her. It is a refreshing turn for the franchise, and one that will hopefully continue. Moana is sure to be a movie that warms the hearts of patrons through its anthemic songs, breathtaking visuals, and uplifting princess-for-today story.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

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