Disney, as of late, has had quite a bit on their plate. Their handling of both the Marvel and Star Wars movie franchises would be enough for multiple studios to deal with. This does come at a cost of other Disney franchises, namely the Disney princess movies. The last traditional hand drawn Disney princess film from 2009, “The Princess and the Frog”, drew on Louisiana and Cajun lore and had the first princess of African descent. “The Princess and the Frog” isn’t remembered as fondly as “The Little Mermaid” or “Mulan, but because of Pixar, Disney embraced computer animation and with the success of “Frozen”, Disney has been hard at work crafting a new and diverse princess, and her name is Moana.
Living in Hawaii, it’s understood how rich and wonderful the Polynesian culture is and how it’s cultivated by its people today. Disney has done its due diligence and is ready to mine Polynesia of its wealth of history and folklore with the animated tale of the would-be island chieftess, “Moana”. “Moana” focuses on the all encompassing Polynesian culture, pulling from the Hawaiian, Samoan, and Fijian heritage. “Moana” starts with the legend of Te Fiti the creator of the islands and all its life. A demigod by the name of Maui has come along and stolen the heart of Te Fiti, which if not replaced will slowly see the island’s resources and in turn its people die. It’s now the duty of a young, bright, stubborn and wide eyed girl named Moana to seek out Maui and have him replace the heart of Te Fiti which will restore the islands back to life. Moana will have to harness a power she never knew she had for this adventure and find the strength within herself to save her home of Motunui and its people.
“Moana” is an incredibly beautiful animated feature. The movie looks like a postcard you’d send to your family in the mainland to make them jealous. The detail in this feature is stunning, I can’t recollect when Disney computer animation looked this magnificent. The people, the islands, the ocean, demigod Maui, and especially Moana herself are all expertly crafted eye candy that you won’t be able to take your eyes off of. The voice performances in “Moana” is dominated by two very capable actors. Dwayne Johnson plays Maui like he is the god’s gift to the human race, regaling Moana with stories of his mighty feats. Johnson’s performance is charming at the beginning, but slowly starts to annoy and grate on the nerves because of its consistent and boisterous nature. That can’t be said about the performance of Auli’i Cravalho as Moana. Auli’i is wonderful as Moana. She brings a heart, charm, and a youthful determination to her role. You certainly fall in love with Moana and can’t help but cheer her on as she embarks on her journey of self discovery. Auli’i’s performance is the backbone of this film and sadly, the only shining star in this animated feature.
I would like to report that “Moana” is one of the best Disney animated features we’ve seen in a long time, but it’s not. “Moana” has weaknesses and it is it’s story and it’s music, two of the parts Disney normally gets right. The story never seems to make much sense as to why events take place when and how they do. Moana’s power over the ocean is underexplored and feel as if it could’ve been used more advantageously. Also, two silly adversaries, the Kakamora’s, a race of coconut pirates and Tamatoa, a coconut crab that’s never given real purpose as to why they exist and why they are adversarial toward Moana and Maui. The other aspect that was a complete disappointment was the music. Disney’s music department never feel like they phone it in on big budget affairs, but Moana’s music felt second rate with the exception of the song “How Far I’ll Go” performed by Auli’i Cravalho which felt like a proper representation of the character of Moana herself, but Dwayne Johnson’s performance of “You’re Welcome” was second rate and the strange choice of “Shiny” performed by Jermaine Clement, who played the coconut crab, felt out of place. The traditional Polynesian music performed was the only musical pieces that even felt proper for “Moana”.
“Moana” will surely make a ton of clams at the box office without this review and I’m sure the younger set will love it, regardless of culture or color. But, I don’t think that this film has the mass appeal to make it a classic. Disney animated films capture the imagination of both old and young alike and stand the test of time. “Moana”, on the other hand, is hampered down by its length (It was stretched by an extra 20 minutes that could’ve easily been cut), a mess of story ideas that never come together, music that won’t be fondly remembered, and a message for young girls that was better served in the Disney film “Mulan”. I wanted to love “Moana”, but Moana never loved me back and I felt taken for granted. If it wasn’t for Auli’i Cravalho’s stirring performance as Moana, this film would be under the sea.