I love Disney movies of all types – Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, live action. But my favorites are always going to be the animated Disney Studios films. There’s just something special about them, especially the musical ones! So I’ve been looking forward to Moana and finally got the chance to see it last night. I’ll keep this review free from any major spoilers and just include basic details, but if you don’t want to know anything at all I’d skip reading until you’ve seen it!
Moana is the story of a girl living on a Polynesian island. Her dad is the chief and as his daughter she is expected to take over as their leader. Life on the island has always been happy, but Moana feels like the ocean calls to her, even though sailing beyond the reef is forbidden. But when things on the island seem to suffer, Moana knows it is because of the demigod Maui who stole the heart of Te Fiti (the earth goddess). So Moana sets on a mission to find Maui and make him return the heart.
I’ll address my one major issue with the film first to get it out of the way. Despite being an entertaining film, Moana felt rather formulaic. So many parts of the movie triggered a comparison to previous Disney films. The beginning felt very Little Mermaid-ish (girl wants to go a place she isn’t allowed, dad forbids it). It’s all just very typical – the quest, the at first unwilling companion, the coming of age story, even the “twist” at the end. Not to say that’s necessarily a bad thing – Disney is relying on a very classic method of storytelling. And while there are certainly some unique elements in the film, I would have just liked to see something slightly more original. Not that it really affected my enjoyment of the movie!
One important thing to note is that Moana is definitely a powerful figure for women. She’s incredibly smart, brave, and determined. And there is no romance in the movie – none at all. It’s just not a factor that comes into play at all and that’s pretty cool. I love a good romance but I love that a story can be told without it too!
The film relies on a lot of gags to be humorous, but it works well. We were laughing throughout, and many of the kids in the theater thought it was hilarious. There is a scene where Maui keeps throwing Moana off the boat and she keeps coming back, and the kids thought this was the funniest thing ever. Maui is a funny character, and speaking of “unique” Moana’s animal sidekick on this journey had us cracking up. He’s a chicken named Hei Hei who doesn’t seem to have any sort of a brain. And then there’s a scene in which a large crab voiced by Jermaine Clement has a whole song to himself, and that’s all I say about that – you have to see it for yourself 😉
For me the highlight of the movie was probably the music. Like I’ve mentioned earlier, music is a really important part for me. I loved the Polynesian style of music, and felt like there was a lot of it throughout the whole film (not just a few songs thrown in here or there). My husband also pointed out something unique in this movie, and that’s that the resolution of the ending is done through song as well. The Rock sings – and he’s actually quite good, and his song is great! Newcomer Auli’i Cravalho, who plays Moana, has a beautiful singing voice.
It’s also a visually stunning film. The setting of course lends itself well to that – what is more beautiful than the Polynesian islands? They do some really cool things with the visuals of the ocean, which is of course the centerpoint of the movie.
Overall I found Moana to be a good, enjoyable movie. It’s probably not making my top 5 (or even top 10) of Disney movies, but there’s a lot of amazing competition in that category! It’s funny, has a good message, great music, and a plot that keeps you engaged. While it may not rise above the high bar Disney has set for itself, it’s definitely a movie that is worthy of being in the Disney canon.