Review: ‘Moana’

Tesni Jones is impressed with this well-researched and heartwarming addition to the Disney Princesses

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Say what you like about 2016, but it has been a massive year for Disney’s animation. With Zootopia and Finding Dory both breaking $1 billion at the box office, the pressure really was on the brand-new addition to the Disney Princesses: Moana.

Moana focuses on the titular character, voiced by newcomer Auli’i Cravalho, who is the daughter of a South Pacific Island Chief. But, when her island is threatened by an ancient curse, Moana must set sail to try and find the demigod Maui, voiced by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, to help her on her quest.

Disney has also cast some of New Zealand’s top talent, featuring Rachel House (Hunt for the Wilderpeople) and Temuera Morrison (Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones), showing that casting locally really works. Jermaine Clement also makes an appearance, proving that his vocals are not limited to Flight of Conchords, but are also well-suited to upbeat OK GO-style tunes that will absolutely stick in your head.

With the rest of the cast starring singers such as Nicole Scherzinger, and music composed by the massive award winner Lin Manuel Miranda, it is no wonder that the soundtrack has been listened to a few million times on Spotify. Miranda is currently holding the 2016 Tony Award for Best Musical (as well as ten other Tonys) for Hamilton, and thanks to Moana, Miranda is well on his way to becoming the third person to achieve the prestigious“PEGOT” (winning the Pulitzer, Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony awards). With just that elusive Oscar left to go, Miranda has a pretty good chance with the ballad ‘How Far I’ll Go’which has already been nominated for a Golden Globe.

The song You’re Welcome is so perfectly suited to Dwayne Johnson – easily the closest thing we have to a demigod on this earth – that it may as well be called ‘Can you smell what Maui’s cooking?’. Dwayne Johnson, who usually plays his characters very seriously (See Fast and Furious 7 and The Tooth Fairy), really has fun in his role as Maui. His seamless combination of cheeky and cocky is entertaining for adult viewers, and his physicality imparts the perfect amount of slapstick for the younger members of the audience.

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It’s also worth noting that Moana is well researched. For example, tattoos feature in the some of the island scenes, and lots of Pacific islands place a strong impetus on tattoos to convey a sense of heritage and ancestry and to show where you are originally from. The traditional method of navigation that Maui teaches Moana is also fairly accurate; sensing the swell of the ocean and mapping the stars is a conventional method for Pacific Islanders, and it’s nice to see Disney accurately and respectfully portraying Polynesian culture.

Although not necessarily festive, Moana is an ideal film to see with the family this vacation. Not only is it fun and bright, but it has some really moving scenes to warm your heart this winter.