A few years ago it seemed that Disney animation was slightly heading into the wilderness, but more recently they’ve come back with a vengeance, and a series of major hits including Wreck-It Ralph, Frozen and Zootropolis. That has continued with Moana, which brings us a new Polynesian Disney Princess.
Moana is the daughter of the chief of her island. While her grandmother talks of her people’s proud seafaring past, the Chief has banned people from going too far from the island, due to the dangers of the deep. However, the crops are failing and they can’t catch any fish. The reason for that is that years before, the demigod Maui caused the blight by stealing the heart of the goddess, Te Fiti.
Moana decides that despite her father’s rules, she must head out onto the ocean, find Maui and get him to return the heart. However, when she finds him, she discovers that the arrogant Maui has lost his powers, and isn’t interested in having a young woman telling him what he needs to do. That isn’t going to stop her though, especially as it seems like the ocean wants her to succeed.
While critics often bemoan the fact that Hollywood has a tendency to repeat itself, Moana is proof that if done well there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that. Despite taking things out into the midst of the Pacific Ocean and setting it within Polynesian culture, there is undoubtedly a sense of déjà vu about a lot of the plot points that the movie hits along the way. Disney has done the basics of this story and dealt with these themes plenty of times of times before.
But while you may occasionally get the sense you’re seeing something old in new clothes, it doesn’t matter, as it’s beautifully animated, has lot of humour and enormous dollops of charm. They also invest in bringing complexity to Moana herself, so that she is far from the rather passive Disney Princesses of the past, instead exploring ideas of leadership and bravery, as well as determination and persuasion. She is beautifully counterbalanced by Maui. He could easily have come across as a pretty unpleasant, arrogant and rather bullying characters, but thanks to a lot of humour and the charm of Dwayne Johnson’s voice and timing, he’s a lot of fun and is purely in need of learning a few lessons.
And thanks to bringing in Hamilton’s Lin Manuel Miranda, it also has plenty of great songs, a couple of which are so catchy you’ll be humming them for days afterwards. However, the one thing you’ll probably really remembers is just what a beautiful movie this is. The animators have really gone to town on creating something that is gorgeous to behold, bringing variety to a world of islands and oceans that could have been rather bland. Some of the set-pieces are real pieces of art, helping make this feel like a very real world, despite it being completely computer-generated.
As you’d expect, the Blu-ray really brings out the best of the visuals, with the movie accompanied by a great selection of special features that should be appreciated by both young and old.
Overall Verdict: Fun, fast-paced and gorgeous to look at, Moana may feel rather familiar in the story department, but it’s still a great ride.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac