Moana: The review

As we head away from the wintry climes of Frozen, Walt Disney Animation Studios brings us to sunny Polynesia with Moana (in summeeerrrrr). While it’s hard to Let It Go, Moana brings with it a warm heart and and sunny disposition – and a welcome update to the Disney heroine. Also: Manta rays. It brings manta rays.

Manta Rays: The Movie, this is not. Moana is the titular heroine, a daughter of a chieftain who is in line to be the island’s next chief, but yearns to explore the great ocean. However, her father – worried about succession – doesn’t approve. Adventure finds her anyway, after her island is threatened with destruction. Her task: Find missing demi-god Maui (Dwayne Johnson), and save her island.

With Moana, Disney Animation have created an beautiful tale that continues the trend of recent “Disney Princesses” like Elsa and Merida – she doesn’t get a love interest. There’s a strong, simple, almost well-trodden moral behind all this: That you have to chase your dreams and not let others define you. But it’s delivered with such earnestness, and there’s a little spin where tradition is embraced, which makes it perfect for the family. (The kids will love it.)

In "Moana," Walt Disney Animation Studios' upcoming big-screen adventure, a spirited teenager named Moana (left) sails out on a daring mission to prove herself a master wayfinder. Along the way, she meets once-mighty demi-god Maui (right). Featuring Native Hawaiian newcomer Auli'i Cravalho as the voice of Moana, and Dwayne Johnson as the voice of Maui, "Moana" sails into U.S. theaters on Nov. 23, 2016. ©2015 Disney. All Rights Reserved.
Moana and Maui. No prizes for guessing who is who.
So what you get is a tale that harkens back to the years when directors Ron Clements and John Musker told their now-classic tales like The Little Mermaid and Aladdin. Except now Polynesian myth and legend gets the limelight, and it comes with spiffy little updates which make it feel timeless, not dated.

In Moana, newcomer Auli‘i Cravalho does an great job as the heroine, while Dwayne Johnson is perfect as the proud Maui. These two do most of the heavy lifting – they get most of the screen time, together with Hei Hei the chicken (Alan Tudyk). I have to admit – Hei Hei should have been very irritating, but instead there’s a certain charm to all the easy jokes and idiocy.

ALAN TUDYK, Walt Disney Animation Studios’ lucky charm (“Zootopia,” “Wreck-It Ralph,” “Big Hero 6”), is behind the voice of HEIHEI, a dumb rooster who accidently stows away on Moana’s canoe. ©2016 Disney. All Rights Reserved.
Hey, it’s Hei Hei!
And it’s really Moana’s trials that drives the show forward. From “Mad Max” coconuts to the climatic finale, each step pushes Moana to succeed against all odds. There’s really a lot to see and absorb, especially the visual gags. Especially the one with the shark.


Visually, Disney Animation have outdone themselves. It’s mere months after Pixar’s’ Finding Dory, but the movie’s rendering of the ocean is absolute magic – at points indiscernible from a real ocean. The Abyss might have brought CGI water to the screen, but watching Moana – look at how far we’ve come! From Moana’s first moment with the ocean, the film is filled with wondrous moments that will take your breath away.

The KAKAMORA, an intense team of crazy, coconut-armored pirates who will stop at nothing to get what they want. ©2016 Disney. All Rights Reserved.
The Kakamora: Mad Max meets coconuts.
On the musical front, we have Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda joined by Mark Mancina and Opetaia Foa‘i, that turns in a fun, hummable soundtrack.The biggest problem? At first listen, the movie’s songs aren’t quite going to make children Let It Go. Yet, Moana has a more cohesive score that doesn’t need any fixer-upping, and I have to admit the “luelue” refrain did worm itself into my ears by the end of the movie.

JEMAINE CLEMENT (“The BFG,” “Despicable Me,” “Rio,” “Rio 2,” “What We Do in the Shadows,” Flight of the Conchords) provides the voice of TAMATOA, a self-absorbed, 50-foot crab who lives in Lalotai, the realm of monsters. ©2016 Disney. All Rights Reserved.
Tamatoa. Crab. Not Jamaican.
Moana, however, isn’t perfect – the adventure goes a little off-kilter when the duo meet the giant bejewelled crustacean Tamatoa (voiced by the unmistakable Jermaine Clement). There’s some amazing visuals here, no doubt, but  it feels a little out of place. That said, it’s all worth it when you catch Tamatoa’s nd-credit scene. It’s an obvious wink and nod to a famous character, but also shows that Tamatoa knows has has some way to go before he can claw his way among the ranks of the animated crab canon.

(There’s also the short film that starts the movie, Inner Workings, that might be Disney’s weakest yet. It’s well animated, but it’s moral of “listen to your heart, not your brain = success” is as unsubtle as they come.)

MOANA’S MISSION — Maui (voice of Dwayne Johnson) may be a demigod—half god, half mortal, all awesome—but he’s no match for Moana (voice of Auli‘i Cravalho), who’s determined to sail out on a daring mission to save her people. Moana's first challenge is convincing Maui to join her. Directed by Ron Clements and John Musker, produced by Osnat Shurer, and featuring music by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Mark Mancina and Opetaia Foa‘i, “Moana” sails into U.S. theaters on Nov. 23, 2016. ©2016 Disney. All Rights Reserved.
Moana more than hold’s her own against Maui. And they don’t fall in love!
But these are minor quibbles. At once thrilling, inspiring, breath-taking, Moana deserves to stand tall in the Disney cannon. And really, how can you go wrong when you have a movie that treats manta rays with such reverence? 

Moana isn’t Disney’s best princess – she’s one of their best heroines yet.

Moana opens in Singapore Nov 24.

Moana: The review

Hot crustacean bands
A whole new world
Beauty doesn't need the beast

What a splash!

Moana is a treat for young and old, and a deserving entrant to Disney's list of heroines.


The technological backbone of, Alvin’s machinist-nature also ensures that this blog remains alive when the unpredictable Murphy’s Law comes into effect.

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