"Moana" Review

I admit, I’ve been excited about this film since it was announced, and that excitement only grew as more material and information got released. So the day before Thanksgiving, I went to the theater to see Disney’s latest, Moana.

Moana tells the story of Moana, a Polynesian Islander and daughter of the chief, which makes her next in line to becoming the chief. Despite that, she longs to sail and be out on the ocean. As her island falls under threat, Moana journeys to find the demigod Maui so he can return the “heart” which he previously stole, a stone which holds the power of creation. While the two don’t precisely see eye-to-eye at the beginning, they eventually come to terms and work together to save the islands.

The characters are compelling. Auli’I Cravalho, who plays Moana, steals the show with her strong-willed, but still vulnerable, portrayal. Moana is a young girl still learning about the world, and you clearly see that in her interactions. Also, Moana’s relationship with her grandmother becomes a driving force in the story that will have you crying. Cravalho’s co-star, Dwayne Johnson, voices Maui and nails the cocky exterior but soft interior of the demigod, which makes you just want to hug the character. The only character who fell flat for me was Tamatoa, a demon crab who collects shiny objects to put on his shell. He has a song too, which felt out of place in the storyline.

The film has stunning visuals, from the ocean animation to the variety of tapestry style sections, to the various body types of each character. It presents a full and beautiful world that viewers can’t wait to explore. The music also draws the audience in, with gorgeous and compelling tunes but also more fun numbers. Auli’I Cravalho has a beautiful voice, and Dwayne Johnson also gets a song number that he nails, rap section included. One song also features Christopher Jackson (George Washington in Hamilton) who takes on the singing voice for Moana’s father. Not all of the lyrics are in English, but even if the viewer doesn’t understand the words, the musical accompaniment helps to carry their purpose and meaning.

Then there are just some details that Moana manages to kill, as in I couldn't believe I was seeing a movie like this.

Despite their blooming friendship, at no point does the film imply that Moana and Maui ought to be romantically interested in each other. Unlike many other Disney films, there’s no pressure for the protagonist to marry or even find love. Instead, they form a strong platonic friendship that builds throughout the film, which seems far more realistic given the fact they know each other for perhaps a week. On a similar note, Moana’s expected to become the next chief of her village. Her father explains that he became chief after his father, and his father before him, but no one ever questions Moana’s legitimacy. She’s a woman, yes, but she’s still fully capable of doing all of the tasks required of her. Her gender doesn't even come up in the debate. Also, in a surprising turn from other Disney films, Moana’s willing to give up her dream of sailing and the ocean to help her community. She recognizes that she can be of more help by taking on her role as future chief and staying with them. It’s only once her island comes under threat that she follows through with her original dream, and then it’s combined with her second goal of protecting her island and the people on it.

The film is brilliant and does a lot of good for women’s representation in animated films. They even poke fun at the idea of what makes a Disney princess. If you can catch it, I would definitely recommend seeing it.

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