The story of Moana begins with the tale about an ancient demigod named Maui, who stole Te Fiti’s heart, a small jade stone that provides life to all the Islands. Many years later a little girl named Moana who is the future Chief in the Island of Montunui, discovers that she has been chosen by the ocean to find Maui and return Te Fiti’s heart before the curse starves her people and kills the Island. Moana is told as a coming of age story about a brave young girl who starts out helping a baby sea turtle make it to the ocean into becoming a fierce descendant of Voguers who must travel where her people are forbidden to go to save her island. Moana is voiced by 16-year-old newcomer Auli’i Cravalho. Cravalho is stellar in his first major role carrying the majority of the voice work as well as singing the music for the film.
Now I’m not a huge fan of Disney original music, which sounds weird considering this is a musical, but for me, the songs were hit or miss. If you comparing this film to Frozen, there won’t be any songs you have to hear your kids sing for 3 years past its expiration date. With that said, the singer excels given the monumental task asked of her for this project.
Cravalho is the emotional avatar for not only the story but the songs performed in the feel are very emotional and really inspiring for her character. The animation reminded lot of Lilo & Stitch except this film had the technical ability to present a much better product visually than they had in 2002. The two best displays of visuals in the film are a battle scene pulled straight out of Mad Max Fury Road and the nighttime scenes get very creative with their illuminating color schemes
I haven’t even mentioned the Great One yet (That’s Dwayne Johnson for you non-wrestling fans). The Rock plays Maui, a demigod who has been around for thousands of years. He wields a hook that was crafted by the Gods which allows him to shapeshift into any animal he chooses. While Maui views himself as a hero to the people, his selfishness is what caused the peril in the first place as he stole the Fiti heart and curse the island. Moana must team up with Maui to return the heart and defeat the lava monster Te Ka if she is to save her people. The Rock is serviceable in his role but really he isn’t the star here despite having the most memorable song in the film. His character is a cocky arrogant goof but he is funny enough for your kids to enjoy and really there isn’t much to dislike outside a few nitpicky issues. As a big fan of Johnson (Shut Up), I wanted a little more from him outta this role but understandably I’m not the target audience for this and it’s not necessarily a bad thing.
For my money, Moana is the best Disney animated film of the year. Over five years of great work and research went into the details to represent the Polynesian people and their culture. These days, that kind of effort in films have to be rewarded. There are a few elements that we have already seen in Disney movies in the past but Moana is surely not your typical Disney Princess film. Moana is just a stunning movie to watch and a fun film for the family.