She’s not your average princess, technically she’s not a princess at all. Despite being the newest member in Disney’s impressive heroine line-up, Moana tries to break the mold. She’s a future chief of a Polynesian tribe, and her first order of business just so happens to be saving her entire island from a terrible curse. Team her up with a wise-cracking demigod and you get the wonderful film Moana, a Disney animated film starring Dwayne Johnson and newcomer Auli’i Cravalho. With everything you expect of Disney, and (to infinity and) beyond, Moana has the magic to instantly solidify itself as a Disney classic.
Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) has had a connection to the ocean since she was a baby, something her chieftain father isn’t fond of. The people of her tribe on Motunui Island stay within the land, only fishing along the shores. However, their fearless existence is threatened by a mystical curse. The adventurous Moana knows it’s up to her and takes on the challenge without hesitation. She leaves behind the beauty of her home for the ocean, an unlikely ally, to find Maui (Dwayne Johnson), the legendary demigod whose selfishness caused the curse.
Directors Ron Clements and John Musker (the duo behind The Princess and the Frog, The Little Mermaid) spent five years developing the story and diving into heavy research with experts to accurately represent the people of the South Pacific. Taking into consideration the mythology and livelihood of the people they were about to bring into the Disney family. Many of the voices in the film are of people with ancestry rooted in the culture. The film was also a passion project for Johnson and his characters likeness was pulled directly from his own grandfather. Something they beautifully accomplished.
The story itself is only elevated by breathtaking animation. Which was fully created using CG, something new for Clements and Musker. The reason? CG could bring to life the beauty of the islands and the flow of the ocean unlike any other form of animation. In 3D, the film is only more wondrous and the attention to detail stands out.
Zootopia writer Jared Bush once again delivers a hilarious screenplay which makes for the type of movie parents can enjoy alongside their kids – or in my case, myself and a friend. There is a likeness to classic Disney tales like The Little Mermaid and Mulan, but Moana holds itself in a slightly meta, self-aware place. In part due to the comedic relief of Maui, especially when he quips “if you wear a dress and have an animal sidekick, you’re a princess.”
Aside from a quality story, great animation, and lovable characters, every classic Disney film has a great soundtrack full of songs you can’t get out of your head. For Moana, that honor went to the incomparable Lin-Manuel Miranda. Take a listen:
Make sure to see Moana when it comes out Wednesday, November 23.