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.)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.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.
LOOKS GOOD, SOUNDS PRETTY
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.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.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.)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.
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Moana is a treat for young and old, and a deserving entrant to Disney's list of heroines.