Since the release of The Princess and the Frog back in 2009, Walt Disney Animated Studios have been on one hell of a run. They’ve written stories with characters that are more diverse than their princesses from decades past, they’ve written compelling storylines which hook the audience in, and they’ve made a boat load of money. Especially Frozen.
But in 2016 Disney released two movies: Zootopia and Moana. The last time they did that was in 2002, with the very enjoyable Lilo & Stitch stealing the hearts of all, and the very forgettable Treasure Planet acquiring dust in bargain bins at your local HMV. With this in mind. With the reviews for Zootopia (eventual Oscar winner) showing acclaim, I was worried about watching Moana – especially after its early criticisms.
I needn’t have worried, however, as Moana is a fantastic, eye-popping and moving film, full of charm, humour and emotion.
The film finds the eponymous character (Auli’i Cravalho) braving the open ocean in an attempt to save her people and her home from decay and destruction. Her parents refuse to travel the waters due to tragedy in the past, but she is drawn to the ocean and (with the encouragement of her grandmother) sets out to find help. Her efforts lead her to the path of demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson), and the pair join forces to tackle monsters and restore peace to the world.
The back-and-forth of Cravalho and Johnson is excellent, and the latter fuels the humour of the movie thanks to his undeniable charisma. But for what Johnson brings to the table, Cravalho matches with emotion and vocal prowess. The performance of her songs are breathtaking (for anyone who watch this year’s Oscars will understand), and her performance packs a powerful punch which might leave you needing a tissue at the ready.
The songs also require a huge amount of credit to Lin-Manuel Miranda, who brings his Hamilton talents to Disney with inevitable success. There’s also a fantastic turn from Flight of the Conchord‘s Jemaine Clement, whose performance on screen left me grinning from ear to ear.
Perhaps the best thing about the film – which also applies to Zootopia – is its storytelling. It is so encouraging to see one of the world’s – if not the world’s – biggest movie studio approach their narratives with progressive, diverse storytelling. They’re happy to poke fun at this obviously, with Maui saying: “If you wear a dress and have an animal sidekick, you’re a princess.”
Credit to directors Ron Clements and John Musker that they didn’t panic and force a love angle in there. Instead, they chose to focus on a powerful role model and focus on her identity and personal development.
Moana is a great movie, and recent animation has shown a superb step in the right direction for diversity in film. It’s about time we stop treating animated movies as films for kids, and let them take the spotlight.
Dir: Ron Clements, John Musker
Cast: Auli’i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Rachel House, Temuera Morrison, Nicole Scherzinger, Jermaine Clement, Alan Tudyk
Prd: Osnat Shurer
Music: Opetaia Foa’i, Mark Mancina, Lin-Manuel Miranda
Runtime: 107 mins
Moana is out in cinemas now.