MOANA is the next high-flying adventure from Walt Disney Animation and it should prove to be a popular one. There’s a lot going on to really make this a worthy picture to join the ranks of the timeless tales in the Disney library.
Auli’i Cravalho is the perfect Disney princess. She is equal parts lovingly sweet girl and tenacious go-getter. While her personality may at this point seem slightly derivative next to all of her other strong-minded princess-folk, she is a tough cookie and spends no time worrying or waiting for a prince to come around.
What helps to temper a predictable “tough but determined” princess was also the fact that despite striving to chart the way to save her people, Moana is also also completely filled with self-doubt. Still, she pushes on, figuring out her next move as she goes and that adaptability is what helps make her character so likable.
Dwayne Johnson as Maui also works surprisingly well. I do love the Rock but I was worried about how his very modern personality would work in context of the story. An early clip that I saw featuring him making a Twitter joke left me even more uneasy; and while the scene did grate just a tad, it works for the character who, as a demigod, is somewhat other-worldly in his scope and experience with life. It also afforded him a few other tongue in cheek moments including a fun one about princesses and their sidekicks.
The music is also top notch. I’ve been obsessing over the “We Know the Way” song that works a bit as a main theme with its epic, sweeping, and uplifting vibe. Moana’s “want” song “How Far I’ll Go” also follows in the great tradition of classics like “Part Of Your World” and “A Dream Is Wish Your Heart Makes.” It has an infectious hook and translates as sweet, honest, and memorable.
The DNA of Lin Manuel Miranda is unmistakable with the songs and while there was obviously a lot of input with collaborators Mark Mancina and Opetaia Foa’i, some of the songs seem to radiate his special brand of magic. And if you were worried like me, let me assure you that is NOT Hamilton of the Sea. The music and songs work perfectly well without feeling like a cheap attempt to cash in on Lin’s newest found superstardom (even though he was actually booked to the project before “Hamilton” really blew up.)
While there certainly is a lot to love, my feelings overall for MOANA were also slightly mixed. The plot itself seemed to be a little manic and undecided. For instance, the ocean as a character worked essentially as a comedic sidekick which was great but it was also unclear when and why it helped during the plot. And despite loving the songs and music, their inclusion at some points felt slightly jolted and somewhat “INSERT SONG HERE.”
On the other hand, I also found a very lovingly crafted narrative that leaned on authenticity to bring to life the ancient world. In that sense, MOANA is a culturally beautiful creation, unlike anything we’ve seen probably since THE LION KING. Tradition, culture, and story are weaved together into a beautiful tapestry (or in this case, a tapa cloth) that feels very intimate and special but also swells as a modern-day action adventure film.
If there was one sad thing for me it was that the absolutely adorable Pua the pig (who seemingly does not age) was such a small foot-note to the entire adventure. While I understand why filmmakers leaned more on HeiHei the rooster to help bring needed levity to several scenes, I was bummed to have so little screen time with the adorable little guy.
With small bits of rough water in terms of story and pacing, MOANA overall is a fantastic film that should sail into golden box office waters when it opens in theaters on November 23, 2016.
The MOANA SOUNDTRACK is available starting November 18, 2016.