Oh my god, this film.
You’re going to have to forgive me with this review because I think I could talk about this film for ages and ages and not get tired of it. Hopefully, I won’t ramble too much and this will all make sense in the long run.
Moana is literally the best Disney film since The Lion King. I am not even joking. Yes, Frozen is good. Yes, so is Big Hero 6. But, dangit if this movie didn’t blow them both out of the water. It was rich in three dimensional characters. It was rich in mythology. It was beautifully animated. It was the whole package. Not to mention our main character, Moana, was voiced delightfully by newcomer Auli’i Cravalho who carried the character extremely well with a vocal prowess that was on par with Idina Menzel. (Plus, I like the song How Far I’ll Go far more than Let It Go.) Plus, the girl is literally sixteen years old and she blew me away, especially seeing as this is her acting debut. Like, how?
The most important part of this film is Moana herself. As a character, she isn’t the typical example of a Disney princess. She’s vulnerable, sure, but she isn’t driven by the desire to find a prince (or even a demigod) to marry. She’s strong on her own but that doesn’t mean she’s stubborn and doesn’t learn new things. Maui (Dwayne Johnson) teaches her how to wayfare which is practical but Moana, though at an indeterminable age, teaches Maui so much more. Moana shows Maui that he is so much more than just a demigod with a hook. In return, in a way, Maui shows Moana that you can parlay fear and uncertainty into an unstoppable strength.
The exchange of knowledge is amazing here. It’s completely different than any other Disney princess. Before, our princess protagonists would scoff at the idea of learning something new or even attempting to find themselves before finding someone to share their lives with. Moana doesn’t even have love on her mind. It’s clear from the very beginning. She cares more about her people and her duty as chief of the island of Motonui more than anything else. If anything, Moana has a bit of a romance with the sea but who doesn’t? Who doesn’t crave the ocean once they’ve been in contact with it?
It’s this change from the typical Disney princess film that makes it feel so fresh. It’s also nice to see a Disney film tackle the topic of identity and what defines a person. Do your actions define you or does your heart and your spirit? That is an overarching theme that culminates in the climax when Moana encounters the lava god Te Ka. That entire sequence gave us this powerful display of strength and dignity and grace.
It also gave us the idea that no matter how far gone you are, you can come back from whatever has beat you down. That’s what’s so important in Moana. I mean, yes it’s important to have a strong, female, character of color kicking ass but it’s equally as important to have a moral as strong as this one.
That’s not the only thing that makes Moana so amazing. Disney’s animators gave us a beautiful story accompanied by equally as mesmerizing animation. The ocean looked like the ocean but it was also a fully realised character with expressions and thoughts. Not to mention the goddess Te Fiti was gorgeous and immaculately detailed. They also captured bioluminescence rather brilliantly for an animation. In all, the detail and beauty in the animation just bolsters the story and makes it pleasing to look at.
While I miss the hand drawn stories of old, this animation is truly one of the most amazing things I’ve seen in a long time. Way better than Frozen. It’s pretty darn astonishing what can be accomplished in just a few years between films.
The most surprising thing, for me, in this film was Dwayne Johnson. He’s really establishing himself as a formidable comedic actor. There were so many moments when I laughed out loud because of something he did or said. The animators and writers even gave characteristics to Maui’s tattoos which added to the comedic nature of Maui. It was just subtle moments of comedy that I wasn’t expecting from Johnson for some reason. An equally important thing I wasn’t expecting was his vocal ability. “You’re Welcome” is proof that the actor really needs to do more musicals. Not even going to lie. I’ve seen a lot of musicals in my day and it was a very pleasant surprise.
Last, but not least, Jemaine Clement as a hermit crab with a shiny fetish was the greatest thing ever. I laughed throughout his entire sequence. Clement really needs to cross over more to American cinema. He would give Johnny Depp a run for his money as perhaps the funniest, most weird, and eclectic actor in modern cinema. Not even kidding.
Go out and watch Moana right now if you haven’t. You won’t be disappointed.