The INSIDER Summary:
• “Moana” is a new Disney animated film that transcends stereotypes.
• The story of an empowered young woman is the core of the film’s magic.
• The movie features amazing visuals, fantastic music, and great comedy.
“Moana” is a feat of Disney-movie magic that everyone should see during the holiday season. The two-hour film tells the story of Moana — a 16-year-old living on a Polynesian island called Motunui.
Thanks to the trickery of an arrogant demigod named Maui, a darkness is spreading across the ocean and sapping the islands of their natural resources. Moana sets out to find Maui and convince him to help her restore the Pacific Islands to their habitable state.
Moana is an intentionally atypical Disney character in every way. Not only is she the first Polynesian “princess,” but she specifically refuses to self-identify as a princess and corrects Maui when he tries to say otherwise.
She is the daughter of the Motunui chief, but instead of being told that she must choose a husband (ahem — looking at you “Pochontas” and “Brave”), Moana is following in her father’s footsteps and becoming a leader of her people without the caveat of needing to marry first.
Moana’s conflict also does not arise from an arranged marriage or love interest, but from a desire to explore the open ocean in search of a solution for their island’s deteriorating resources. Moana’s father wishes for their people to stay within the confines of the island’s reef, but Moana chooses to follow her own solution instead.
Throughout the movie Moana proves to be capable and confident. Though she receives help throughout the turbulent journey, the assistance never comes in the form of a cheap “rescue.” Instead Moana almost always takes the first step towards a solution, or works in tandem with Maui. Her mortal capabilities often match his demigod powers when it comes to problem-solving and self-motivating.
Moana demonstrates a fearlessness while oozing compassion and the awareness of a bigger world in play beyond herself. She shoulders the responsibility of being her people’s chieftess-in-training, and risks everything against her father’s wishes because she trusts in a larger power.
Directors Ron Clements and John Musker didn’t just take the time to flesh out a real heroine — they made sure to go about telling the story of Polynesian culture from the right perspective, too.
For the past five years, Clements and Musker have been making trips to the Pacific Islands including Samoa, Tahiti, Mo’orea, and Fiji. Over time they created a coalition of anthropologists, historians, choreographers, musicians, and linguists called the Oceanic Trust. Together this group helped to shape “Moana” and keep the writing and design as authentic as possible.
This was a much needed step on Disney’s part, since the studio has often faced criticism for mishandling culture narratives or reinforcing stereotypes.
The cast of “Moana” also reflects the extra efforts of Disney to include actors from within the Polynesian cultural sphere. Hawaiian newcomer Auli’i Cravalho shines as Moana, bringing a maturity and charm to her character’s inspiring storyline.
Moana’s father, Chief Tui, is played by New Zealander Temuera Morrison, while the much-loved “Flight of the Concords” comedian (and fellow New Zealander) Jemaine Clement sings as the hermit-crab monster Tamatoa.
Rachel House lended her voice to Moana’s Gramma Tala — the “village crazy” who provides inspiration along with emotional and spiritual support to her granddaughter.
Everyone who already loves Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson will adore his larger-than-life onscreen presence as Maui. His character’s inflated ego and swagger carry energy throughout the film, and Maui’s musical number “You’re Welcome!” is a tune you’ll be whistling on the way home from the theatre.
The other star single from the “Moana” soundtrack — “How Far I’ll Go” — is sung by our heroine throughout the movie. Though it likely won’t match the high bar set by “Let It Go” in “Frozen,” the song is a standout from the start. I found myself playing Alessia Cara’s pop radio version on repeat in the days after seeing “Moana.”
The music’s catchiness is partly owed to “Hamilton” star and creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote and composed the music alongside Somoan musician Opetaia Foa’i and Disney veteran Mark Mancina (“The Lion King” and “Tarzan”). You can hear Miranda’s unmatched lyricism and creative wordplay throughout the stellar soundtrack.
In addition to being a solid cultural representation and setting a new standard for independent female leads in animated movies, “Moana” delivers on the laughs and visuals. Comic relief is sprinkled throughout the awesome adventure sequences with the help of Moana’s low-IQ pet chicken HeiHei and a cute mini pig named Pua.
The ocean waves and lush island landscapes are beautifully rendered, and the art of drawing realistic hair — that Disney animators perfected in “Frozen” — was carried over to Moana and Maui’s character designs.
There are dazzling and sometimes spooky sea creatures, of course. One sequence involving anthropomorphic coconuts called kakamora reminded me of a PG take on the deranged car chases in “Mad Max: Fury Road.”
From start to finish, “Moana” will keep a smile on your face when you’re not crying because, you know, it’s Disney and (spoiler alert!) someone has to die. But the warm-fuzzy feeling Disney movies usually deliver will be in your heart.
At a time when positive examples of female leadership are needed and respectfully celebrating different cultures is vital to unity, “Moana” shines through. The movie is on par with Pixar’s reputation for appealing to child and adult audiences alike, so all moviegoers will find something to love.
“Moana” sails into theatres on November 23, just in time for the US holiday season.
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